This fall, Rabbi Dovid Miller will join the Wilf Campus as Mashgiach Ruchani, a position within the Student Life division of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). Rabbi Yosef Blau has been the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva University since 1977, and will now be the Senior Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva.
The Miller family has been a YU presence for decades, beginning with Rabbi Israel Miller, Rabbi Dovid Miller’s father, who was Senior Vice President of Yeshiva University and played a large role in creating a YU force in Israel. Rabbi Dovid Miller, as well, continued this family legacy, serving as the Rosh Kollel in Gruss since its inception in 1976. The new Mashgiach-ship is planned to last for two years, and Rabbi Miller will commute back to his Jerusalem home during mid-semester breaks to be with his wife and children.
In an interview with The Commentator, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS Rabbi Yona Reiss explained that this was a “collective conversation” that he helped carry out in conjunction with the Office of the President. The goal is for Rabbi Miller to improve the continuation of the Israel experience as students join the Yeshiva community in America.
The initial plans for this coming year, according to the head of the Sganei Mashgiach, Rabbi Elisha Bacon, are represented by three programs. The first is pairing first-year students with older, volunteer chavrutot (Torah learning partners), with the facilitated opportunity to learn at their leisure. To date, there are about 200 pairs of chavrutot, according to Rabbi Reiss. An additional program will implement a continuing effort to expand what is usually a small bayit cham program, which is supposed offer homes in the Heights at which students can feel comfortable to relax or become part of the family. The new initiative will be that, instead of being per request only, students will, at the very start of their YU lives, be given the name and location of a family from the YU community to provide a warmer feel on campus, easing the transition from yeshiva to Yeshiva. Finally, a va’ad program will be set up to meet once a week at the end of morning seder with a Sgan Mashgiach, a kollel member, and a group of students to learn something other than Gemara in the morning, Rabbi Bacon explained. He added that this program will be flexible, with a focus on hashkafa or machshava (philosophy), a change from the regular Gemara-intensive morning seder.
Rabbi Miller is not in charge of the Sganei Mashgiach, but he will work with them to implement his planned programs. The aforementioned programs were arranged with the Sganei Mashgiach and Rabbi Miller, although he declined to comment on his goals for the coming year.
Rabbi Blau’s positional change is mainly in title. Additionally, by his request, he will be spending time on the Beren Campus twice a week. On Tuesday mornings, he will travel on the downtown shuttle for GPATS women, and stay in the Stern beit midrash for the first seder of the day, until 12:30 PM. The second visit will be on Wednesdays from 1:00 PM until 5:00. Torah Activities Council (TAC) President Leora Niderberg (SCW ‘12), member-at-large of the Stern beit midrash, expressed her excitement about having Rabbi Blau on campus. “Rabbi Blau has an amazing ability to connect with many different groups on campus and is an incredible educator. We are honored that someone so loved and respected among the students will be joining us in creating an even more dynamic Torah environment at Stern.” In an interview with The Commentator, Rabbi Blau mentioned that he tried being more involved in the Stern programs twenty years ago and it was ultimately unsuccessful. Now that there are about 75 women, including the GPATS participants, who learn in the Stern beit midrash every day, Rabbi Blau hopes he will be able to have a more significant impact on the women’s campus.
The Gruss Kollel community will suffer from the planned two-year loss of Rabbi Miller. Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh, also a Rosh Yeshiva in Gruss, will take over Rabbi Miller’s on-site responsibilities. Additionally, Rabbi Daniel Mann, previously in Gruss for night seder only, will deliver the second Yoreh De’ah shiur alongside Rabbi Bednarsh. That being said, there has been an immediate drop in the number of members of the Gruss Kollel from about 30 to 20, prompted both by the loss of Rabbi Miller and the new living costs for the kollel families. Instead of the usual meals and living expenses being funded by the kollel, starting this year, kollel families will have to pay for utilities and will receive only a stipend for food. “This is still cheaper than living in the Heights,” said Rabbi Bednarsh. But there is certainly no longer the same level of incentive as there was before to be part of YU’s Israel kollel.
Students wonder if Rabbi Miller will extend his planned two-year stay on campus, like Rabbi Meir Goldwicht did after starting as Visiting Rosh Yeshiva—25 years ago. The initial consensus among those familiar with the situation is that Rabbi Miller will not be here for an extended stay. He has factors pulling him back to Israel, the strongest being that his wife and children still live there, as opposed to Rav Goldwicht, whose family moved to Washington Heights.
In addition to his job as Mashgiach Ruchani, Rabbi Miller will be giving his lauded Yoreh De’ah shiur which, in the past, he gave in the Gruss Kollel. Because his primary role will be Mashgiach of the yeshiva, he will not be giving a Gemara b’iyun shiur (in-depth Talmud course), explained Rabbi Reiss. This is to the dismay of some members of the Mazer Yeshiva Program (MYP), who had heard that Rabbi Miller’s Gemara b’iyun shiur would be similar in style to that of Rabbi Rosensweig, but with a more manageable amount of content.
The Shabbat experience in Yeshiva University should also be impacted by the presence of Rabbi Miller. Rabbi Reiss also says that Rabbi Miller will be a part of the “core Shabbat environment” in Yeshiva. This may provide a welcome addition to the current program run by the Sganei Mashgiach, who have been the facilitators of Yeshiva Shabbat meals in the past.
This addition to the RIETS staff jumpstarts an exciting new semester for the beit midrash of Yeshiva. Students eagerly look forward to hearing from Rabbi Miller and gaining from his guidance.