Dr. Samuel Belkin was born in Swislocz, Poland, and studied in the world-famous Yeshivos of Slonim and Mir. He studied for the rabbinate and was ordained at the age of seventeen.
Rabbi Belkin immigrated to the United States as a young man. He enrolled at Brown University, where he studied classics, specializing in the works of Philo. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and received his doctorate in 1935. An elaboration of his Ph.D. thesis was published in 1940, under the title of “Philo and the Oral Law; the Philonic Interpretation of Biblical Law in Relation to the Palestinian Halakah.”
Shortly thereafter, he joined the staff of Yeshiva College, as an instructor in Greek. He became a full professor in 1940, and that same year was appointed dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. In 1943, he was elected President of Yeshiva University, succeeding the first president, Dr. Bernard Revel.
The election of Dr. Belkin as president in 1943 inaugurated a new era of expansion. University status was granted in 1945 by the NY State Board of Regents. The institution initiated programs of general and professional studies, research and special projects, such as a college of liberal arts and sciences for women, graduate schools of medicine, law, social work and psychology.
Dr. Belkin continued a tradition whereby presidents of Yeshiva University delivered an annual “shiur,” a lecture in Talmud. This helped define the focus of the institution, its reason for being, as the Torah.
In one of his works, “In His Image,” Dr. Belkin explains that Judaism is fundamentally a Democratic Theocracy. A Theocracy – because Jewish thought has always accepted as its first principle the Kingship of G-d. And a Democracy – because the Written and the Oral Law place great emphasis on the infinite worth of each human being.
Dr. Belkin served as President of Yeshiva University until his death in 1976.