By Cindy Mindell
Two Connecticut natives are among the largest and latest class of rabbis ordained at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).
At the ordination ceremony held on March 23 at the New York school, more than 205 musmakhim (ordained rabbis) from the classes of 2011 to 2014 joined the 3,000-plus young men who have passed through the RIETS batei midrash (study halls) since the school’s founding in 1896, and have gone on to become distinguished Orthodox rabbis, scholars, educators, and leaders around the world.
The 2014 class of rabbis represents an internationally diverse group, hailing from five continents and more than 50 North American cities. While most of the musmakhim will remain engaged in either full-time post-semikhahTorah study or religious work – Jewish education, the pulpit, outreach, or non-profit work –many will pursue careers in other professions, including medicine and law.
Yosef Rosen grew up in Westport, where his family was affiliated with a Conservative synagogue. “When I was about 10 years old, I began devouring books about Jewish history; by my bar mitzvah, I better understood that a Judaism grounded in Halacha (Torah Law) was historically normative and more demographically vibrant,” he says. But Rosen’s “real” Jewish adventure began at the end of high school and during his years at Cornell University, when he gradually explored mainstream American Torah Judaism, as well as various Sephardic and Hasidic communities.
“Jewish assimilation, acculturation, and disaffiliation are really collective symptoms of an unslaked thirst for God,” he says. “The spiritual survival of my six million American Jewish brothers and sisters depends on their Torah education. With my background and motivation, as well as the support of my awesome wife, Hedva, I entered the rabbinate to learn how to be a more effective teacher. I hope that by creating authentic Jewish experiences in both formal and informal settings, I can help every Jew to understand why he or she is chosen and by Whom.”
The Rosens and their children live in Queens, N.Y., where the rabbi works in Jewish education and outreach.
Eric Wittenberg grew up in a modern Orthodox community in West Hartford, graduating from the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield and Hebrew High School of New England in West Hartford.
“Truthfully, I never really thought I would pursue a career in the rabbinate,” he says. While a student at Brandeis University, Wittenberg got involved with leadership opportunities in the Jewish community on campus including teaching, outreach, and tikkun olam. “I really enjoyed these experiences and wanted to help the Jewish community at large so I decided to pursue a rabbinic career path,” he says.
After making aliyah over the summer, Wittenberg lives in Jerusalem with his wife and son, spending the year finishing his rabbinic requirements at Yeshiva University’s Israel campus. He also works part-time for Geerz, an Israeli non-profit organization that uses mountain-biking to help youth learn leadership skills.
At the most recent Chag HaSemikhah, the “ordination celebration” held every four years, RIETS honored philanthropist Jay Schottenstein and Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, a 1949 graduate of RIETS and presiding rabbi of the Beth Din of America and of the Chicago Rabbinical Council Beit Din. Special recognition was also given to those who received semikhah (ordination) 50 years ago, members of the RIETS classes of 1960 through 1963.
Rabbi Eric Wittenberg
Rabbi Yosef Rosen