Excerpted from “Bernard Revel: Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy” by By Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff
The ideals of social justice and human betterment were of paramount concern even within the yeshiva world. Many yeshiva students abandoned their studies and completely cast their lot with the revolutionary groups. Others envisioned plans whereby these secular ideologies could be merged with the Torah outlook. Dov [Revel] was caught up in these crosscurrents and debates which dominated the conversations of many yeshiva and kloyz students… Dov became an idealistic follower of the social justice for labor that was preached by Bund leaders, and he joined this movement. Years later his son was to write in a eulogy: “He possessed a many-faceted personality; he had a profound grasp of historical events, and while yet in Lithuania he contributed to the ideology of the movement for social betterment which later turned to Leninism.”
During the Russian Revolution of 1905, when general strikes and demonstrations—more political than economic—partially paralyzed the empire, many arrests were made by the czarist government. In Kovno thousands of reform agitators were detained. Dov Revel was among those arrested following his printed contributions to the political and social unrest of his time. The Kovno jail for political prisoners, a large building behind a high wall, was filled with defendants during the unrest of 1905. Revel found himself in a large, crowded, dimly lit cell. Boards to sleep on ran the length of the whole rear wall of the cell. In the middle of the cell there were also boards which were cut in the middle to allow passage. Dirty hot water and bread served as the main sustenance of the inmates, while the lavatory facilities were even more miserable. One small receptacle, which was cleaned only once a day, served the needs of all the tens of prisoners in one cell.
Here in prison Revel began to give serious thought to his future. He realized that his idealistic plans for universal social justice and improvement would not come to fruition in Lithuania in the immediate future… Released from prison, Dov Revel, using the name Bernard Revel, arrived in the United States in 1906 at the age of twenty-one.