Richard Joel’s Term at Y.U. Is a Study in Promise and Turmoil

Financial and Cultural Problems Grow in Decade

Power Player: Richard Joel has been president of Yeshiva University for a decade. What is the vercict on his tenure?
yeshiva u.
Power Player: Richard Joel has been president of Yeshiva University for a decade. What is the vercict on his tenure?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 04, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Richard Joel spoke of renewal when he became president of Yeshiva University in 2003, promising higher academic standards and broader horizons. At first, the charismatic lawyer delivered.

Then came 2008 and Bernard Madoff and the economic collapse.

Today, Modern Orthodoxy’s educational core is showing cracks. Secular faculty members are furious over salary cuts. Students, aware that their professors are polishing their resumés, have challenged Joel over his own salary. Moody’s has downgraded the school’s credit rating, citing deep financial troubles. And a $380 million sex abuse lawsuit has the potential to take a chunk out of the school’s reserves.

Young Leader: Joel (left) in 1988 with Hillel colleagues and Soviet refuseniks.
courtesy of Hillel international
Young Leader: Joel (left) in 1988 with Hillel colleagues and Soviet refuseniks.

Meanwhile, the number of undergraduate applicants has dropped, forcing the school to become less selective. And centrist rabbis worry that the religious side of the institution is swaying ever more to the right, alienating moderate students.

Brought in to modernize Y.U., Joel, 63, has presided over a period of greater turmoil than it has faced in decades. Is it Joel’s fault?

“I think this is the reality catching up with the dream,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a former president of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America who has taught at Y.U. Goldin, who supports Joel, said, “The fact [is] that reality has caught up with us, all of the Jewish community.”

Many at Y.U. believe that Joel has done as well as he could under the circumstances. “I think President Joel’s leadership through this has been the best it can be,” said Gavriel Brown, a senior at Yeshiva College and the editor of The Commentator, the official student newspaper.

Others are more critical of Joel’s role. “I look at his leadership with profound disappointment,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a Y.U. graduate and a congregational rabbi in Washington. Herzfeld said that he no longer encourages congregants to apply there.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.