After a year-long process, Yeshiva University’s presidential search committee has recommended a successor for current school head Richard Joel. “I am pleased to announce that after many months of discussions, interviews and evaluations, the Presidential Selection Committee of the YU Board of Trustees is advancing the candidacy of Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman,” board chairman Moshael J. Straus wrote to the university community on Tuesday. “Over the coming weeks, Dr. Berman will meet with trustees, faculty and other key university stakeholders and acquaint himself with the University, after which it is anticipated his nomination will be forwarded to the full Board of Trustees.”
The search process was not public, but according to sources with knowledge of the proceedings, other candidates considered included former Columbia Law School dean David Schizer; Aaron Glatt, a congregational rabbi and former executive vice president at Mercy Medical Center and professor at New York Medical College; Rabbi Kenneth Brander, head of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future; Mark Rotenberg, former vice president and general counsel of Johns Hopkins University; Pepperdine law professor Michael Avi Helfand; Leonard Matanky of Chicago, a congregational rabbi, principal, and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America; Yossi Prager, executive director of the North American branch of the AVI CHAI Foundation; and Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to Senator Ted Cruz.
Berman received his rabbinical ordination from YU and his PhD in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University. He currently resides in Israel, where he heads the Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem and teaches at Machon Herzog, a teachers college, in Alon Shevut. He previously served as rabbi of the Jewish Center, a modern Orthodox congregation in Manhattan, and taught Talmud at YU.
Berman inherits an institution that has faced tremendous financial difficulties in recent years, and will be tasked with steering Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship at a time when the movement is riven by tensions between left and right. His selection marks a return to the university’s traditional model of a scholar-rabbi president. Joel, the former head of Hillel International, had been the school’s first leader not to possess rabbinical ordination.
Berman’s task will be formidable. As I wrote in October:
On the one hand, Y.U. is the flagship of Modern Orthodoxy. It is an institution that fuses high-level religious learning with secular instruction and consistently ranks in the top 50 universities named by U.S. News and World Report. On the other hand, the school has been beset by financial difficulties and management failures, and has come under increasing attack from a right that views it as too modern and a left that sees it as too conservative. A new president would need to restore donor confidence in the institution and infuse it with an ideological message that resonates more broadly in the Orthodox and wider Jewish world.