On July 1, Yeshiva University chancellor Norman Lamm announced his retirement under a cloud of allegations regarding sexual abuse at Yeshiva University High School during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Lamm may be the first Y.U. chancellor to come under that kind of scrutiny, but he is not the first Y.U. leader to find himself in a tough situation. In a piece today in the Forverts, Yoel Matveev recalls the colorful career of Bernard Revel, the first president of Yeshiva College and Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary from 1915 until his death in 1940. Y.U.’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies is now named after him.
Born in Lithuania in 1885, Revel studied in traditional yeshivas, but also received a Russian high school diploma and, after immigrating to America in 1906, received a Master of Arts degree from New York University. More unusually, Revel became involved in the Russian revolutionary movement, for which he was arrested and imprisoned. Matveev writes:
Few people remember that Revel had to leave Russia after he was arrested and had served a term in prison… Not a few religious Jews, including important rabbis, were involved in leftist revolutionary activities. But unlike other leftist rabbis, Revel was a member of the Bund, despite its anti-religious orientation. A rov and a Bundist was indeed a rarity.
As Matveev notes, Revel’s revolutionary fervor cooled with his successful academic and rabbinical career in America, but he remained sympathetic to socialism throughout his life. In contrast with current scandals, however, Revel’s politics weren’t particularly controversial among American Jews — though they got him into plenty of trouble in Russia.