June 21, 2024
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Dr. Shimshon Isseroff, z”l, Remembered

Many obituaries have been written about Rabbi Dr. Shimshon Isseroff, z”l. He passed away right before Shabbat Hazon, which was only appropriate since he was a man of vision. They have all cited his many accomplishments in the field of Jewish education, and rightly so. I wish to focus a bit on the man, his mission and his colleagues. He was the last of his kind. The era that heralded groundbreaking achievements in Jewish education is no more with his passing. He was the last of his generation.

Hebrew was his first language, having been born in Yerushalayim, and his love of language in general led him to master Latin as well. However, Hebrew was his passion and he advocated Ivrit B’Ivrit before it was (theoretically) popular. In fact, when he interviewed rabbinical students for jobs in day schools when he was at YU, he made knowledge of Hebrew a requirement even though the schools did not. He had standards. Before day schools caught on, he was one of the elder statesmen of the Talmud Torah movement in America. His work at the BJE along with his illustrious colleagues shaped and formed the structure of congregational schools all over North America.

Dr. Isseroff was also passionate about Chumash and Rashi and even published some studies on this subject. However, his main contribution to the study of Humash and Rashi in day schools was his parsha targilonim, which were used for decades in all day schools. Yet despite his achievements he was modest about his accomplishments. He always had a smile on his face and was content to let others take on a more public role. But everyone knew that he was the force behind so much.

His work at the BJE has been chronicled, as has his creation of the Chidon haTanach that now carries his name. Not so well known is his involvement with the Educators Council of America. There was Torah U’Mesorah, and there were central agencies of Jewish education mostly affiliated with the federation movement. Dr. Isseroff, along with a few of his colleagues, felt the need for an organization to represent the Modern Orthodox educators who were day school principals or heads of bureaus of Jewish education. Thus the ECA was formed and he remained an active member.

Jewish education as a profession does not require a license. Dr. Isseroff was very active in the National Board of License for Teachers and Principals in North America. The rigorous standards required for licensure were created by his generation of professional educators. For many years, in many communities, Federation funding of day schools was contingent on having teachers with an NBL license. Among the plaques on my nachas wall is my principals license signed by Dr. Isseroff. Sadly, this standard, or any professional licensure, is no longer mandated.

The post World War II era into the ’60s and ’70s witnessed tremendous growth in day schools and congregational schools. Pioneers like Dr. Alvin Schiff, Dr. Joseph Preil, Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky, Dr. Zvi Berger, Dr. Shimshon Isseroff, Rabbi Yitzhak Witty, Dr. Abraham Gittelson and others paved the way for us and accomplished so much. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. That generation is now gone with the passing of Dr. Shimshon Isseroff. Others have taken their place to continue the work, but he and his generation built the foundation for the edifice that is now Jewish education in North America. I am honored to have known him and worked with him.


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene was at various times principal of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy (known then as the Hebrew Youth Academy), vice president of the Torah UMesorah Principals Council, chairman of the Educators Council of America, president of the National Board of License, founder of the Sinai School, and director of Jewish Educational Services for our UJA and for MetroWest.

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