Dr. Bernard Revel was the first president of Yeshiva University. He was born in Kovno, Lithuania, and was recognized at age six as an “ilui,” a Torah genius. He immigrated to the United States at age twenty one, to an America where it was extremely difficult for an Orthodox Jew to maintain his spiritual identity and make a living. Shabbos first, then Kashrus observance and Jewish Education went by the wayside. As a result, many Orthodox Jews left the fold.
He enrolled in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, one of the predecessors of Yeshiva University. He also attended Dropsie College in Philadelphia, and received the first PhD that they awarded.
He felt that for Judaism to succeed in America, there needed to be an institution that would combine classical Jewish Talmudical Studies with modern studies in all secular disciplines.
Yeshiva University traces its origins to Yeshivas Eitz Chaim, founded in 1886 on New York’s Lower East Side. In 1896, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary was also founded there. With the merger of those two schools in 1915, Yeshiva University was born, and Dr. Bernard Revel was elected as its first president.
Under the leadership of Dr. Revel, who was president from 1915 till his death in 1940, the university embarked on a plan of educational development and growth. In 1929, the institution moved to a magnificent campus in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights. Liberal arts programs began with the establishment of Yeshiva College in 1928, and the first graduate curriculum (in Jewish studies) was introduced in 1935.
Dr. Revel adopted the theme of “Torah U’Mada,” Torah and secular knowledge, as the guiding philosophy of the institution that would to a large extent define Modern Orthodoxy in the United States and in the world.
In honor of its first president, Yeshiva University named its graduate school of Advanced Jewish Studies the Bernard Revel Graduate School.