Since its inception, RJJ has always been broad in its approach to education. It was one of the first yeshivas established in the US and the first to offer a dual curriculum of Jewish and general studies. As such, it naturally sought to appeal to a variety of students and their families.

The “Mama Yeshiva,” as it was affectionately called by students and supporters, was created by Rabbi Jacob Joseph and Rabbi Samuel Andron in 1900. After Rabbi Joseph’s passing two years later, Rabbi Andron renamed the school for his friend.

Originally from Eastern Europe, noted author and scholar Rabbi Andron escaped to New York City with his family to avoid persecution, including the forced conscription of his five sons into the Czar’s army. He tried earning a living as a Hebrew teacher but was forced to stop because his students’ schedules were extremely limited. He opened an insurance business instead. The Andron boys attended the local public school and their father taught them Torah in their spare time.


To Rabbi Andron’s disappointment, he found America to be a challenging place for Jewish observance. His frustration came to a head one day when his son came home asking to attend the school Christmas party. He promptly took his sons out of school and along with 10 of his clients’ children, started a cheder. They learned in a nearby synagogue, studying Torah from 9:00am – 2:00pm and general studies from 4:00pm – 6:00pm. Rabbi Andron’s business struggled while he poured all his energy into the little school, which soon moved to a building on Orchard Street.

RJJ received its first charter in 1903, and moved to Henry Street in 1907 where its students flourished for the next 70 years. By 1910 RJJ had grown to 500 students and was considered the dominant yeshiva of the Lower East Side. A few years later RJJ built an addition to accommodate its growing population.

The school’s policy was to accept any Jewish student who wanted to attend regardless of aptitude or observance. The student body quickly grew into a lively, diverse group of American and immigrant boys. The Ladies Auxiliary set up a fund to provide low-income students with breakfast and lunch. In the early days, there was no uniform which highlighted the range of students and their different backgrounds. They liked it though, because they felt accepted for who they were.


In the early years, the faculty and board often disagreed about how much the school should focus on the secular studies department, which functioned under a separate principal. With no other schools to set educational standards, the teachers and administrators experimented with curriculum and teaching methods. Interesting results emerged such as dual Yiddish- and Hebrew-speaking tracks in the 1920s as more Zionist-leaning families joined RJJ. But as the school developed, it sought to balance the principles of a modern American education while supporting Jewish traditions rooted in Torah.

Many alumni recall the school encouraging fun and games while putting special emphasis on Judaic studies. As one former student explained, “RJJ was a yeshiva with an award-winning scholastic newspaper, a basketball team, and serious Torah learning. It was a strange combination; imagine the dichotomy.” The school had a large gymnasium for students to play sports, although it was later repurposed as a study hall.


RJJ parents and administrators constantly dreamed of opening a boys high school, but the board resisted the idea for many years. After a couple failed attempts, RJJ opened a high school in 1940 and a rabbinical department in 1951. It was and continues to be the only semicha program to offer training in both brit milah and shechitah.

Rabbi Joseph’s grandson, Senator Lazarus Joseph, was a humanitarian, statesman, and philanthropist who used his influence to help RJJ. During World War II he experienced a deep personal loss when his 22-year-old son, Captain Jacob Joseph, was killed in the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Captain Jacob Joseph playground, which is still located on the corner of Henry and Rutgers, is dedicated to his memory.


As Jews managed to escape war-torn Europe, numerous rabbis came to teach at RJJ with brilliant scholarly backgrounds, including two teachers who spent time in concentration camps. They served as a grapevine to the old country, bringing horrific stories about Nazi brutality that spread wildly through RJJ’s network long before the local newspapers reported them. Many RJJ families unofficially heard about what had befallen their relatives and friends. Even in 1942, most media agencies downplayed Holocaust reports as no one believed the Nazis would commit such atrocities.

Throughout its decades-long existence, neighborhood trends in New York City continued to impact RJJ’s student population. Between 1961 and 1963, elementary school enrollment dropped from 900 to 780. Young Jewish families stopped moving to the Lower East Side and most students were commuting to school. Students didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood anymore and enrollment continued to drop. By 1972, the elementary school had shrunk to a one room schoolhouse. Something had to change. Finally, after several incidents of anti- semitic attacks on students and vandalism in the Henry Street building, RJJ moved to the Bronx in 1972

Several years later, RJJ moved to a bigger campus in Staten Island. In 1987 it opened a separate division for girls, a beis yaakov-style counterpart to the boys school. The school’s growth soon led RJJ to open other locations around New York and New Jersey.

Throughout its expansion, RJJ never lost its warm and nurturing atmosphere. Its story of struggle and resilience is one that students and alumni are proud to be part of, and will continue to inspire thousands of lives for years to come.

Rabbi Jacob Joseph

Rabbi Jacob Joseph (1840-1902) is best known as the chief rabbi of New York. Born in Kovno, Russia in 1840, he contributed greatly toward the development of Jewish life in America at a time when assimilation and anti-semitism hit particularly hard. As a teenager, his wit and intelligence earned him the nickname Reb Yaakov Charif (sharp) at the Volozhin Yeshiva he attended under Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. After serving as rabbi for several Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s fame spread and he became the maggid (preacher) of Vilna.

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Julius Dukas

Julius Dukas (1869-1940) was a businessman and philanthropist. He was born in 1869 to a German-Jewish family. Besides RJJ, Dukas supported the Hebrew Free Loan Society, Park East Synagogue, Union of Jewish Congregations, and others.

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Irving Bunim

Irving Bunim (1901-1980) had a deep and long-standing connection to RJJ. Originally from Volozhin, Moshe and Minka Bunim enrolled nine-year-old Irving at RJJ shortly after emigrating to America. Irving’s father worked as a teacher while his mother ran a bakery and took in boarders to supplement the family income. The house was always filled with guests, especially new immigrants from Eastern Europe. From an early age, Irving inherited his father’s passion for Torah study, and his mother’s kindness and business sense. This combination laid the groundwork for him to become RJJ’s next president.

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Marvin Schick

Some acts of kindness remain unknown for years. After his funeral, it came out that Dr. Schick kept files on families that couldn’t afford tuition. In one instance there was a single mother who sent her two children to RJJ, and Dr. Schick instructed the staff not to ask her for tuition. When she was able to she would bring in a payment. Later when the woman considered sending her kids to the local public high school, she ultimately decided to enroll them in a yeshiva. This was solely due to the care and compassion that RJJ had shown her.

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Avi Schick

Avi Schick is a partner at Troutman Sanders LLC. He represents a wide range of clients including government officials, real estate agencies, businesses, public companies, schools, and nonprofits.

He previously worked his way up into the highest spheres of the New York state government, navigating complex legal processes involving civil and criminal litigation, investigation, and appeals at the state and federal level.

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Rabbi Hillel Weiss

Rabbi Dr. Hillel Weiss ran RJJ’s high school from 1939-1954. He became a transformative force for the school with Irving Bunim. Together they often “butted heads” with the board and other powerful people who wanted the school to lean more modern (Bunim and Weiss usually won).

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Rabbi Yehuda Leib Kagan

In the early 40s, Rabbi Kagan was appointed principal of the high school while Rabbi Weiss ran the elementary.

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Rabbi Mendel Kravitz

Rabbi Mendel Krawiec (pronounced Kravitz) became the rosh yeshiva in 1947 at Rav Kotler’s recommendation. He established RJJ’s beis medrash with the support of Irving Bunim. He did it despite pushback from the school board, whose members did not want RJJ to offer rabbinic ordination.

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Rabbi Zeidel Epstein

Rabbi Zeidel Epstein (1908-2008) was known for his heartfelt mussar talks. He exuded respect for each boy and it came through in the way he spoke to them. They felt his regard and responded warmly to it.

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Rabbi Shaya Shimionowit

Rabbi Shaya Shimionowitz (1908-1998) was born in Rubizevich, Poland. He studied under the Steipler Gaon in Bialystock and at the Slutzk yeshiva under Rav Aharon Kotler. Rav Mendel Zaks, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, was his chavrusa for over three years. During World War II, he fled Europe with the Mir Yeshiva to Japan and Shanghai as part of an elite kollel group.

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Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik

Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik (date-1988) was known for his warmth and charisma.

People were often struck by the dignified manner of this Torah scholar. His students described him as princely. They felt he was a link to the European scholars of the previous generation, many of whom were killed in the Holocaust including Rabbi Warshavchik’s esteemed rav, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman.

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Rabbi Isaac Tendler

Rabbi Isaac Tendler (1901-1980) started his tenure at RJJ by accident when his eighth grade son’s teacher called in sick one day. Rabbi Tendler got a call asking if he could substitute. After that Rabbi Tendler remained at RJJ for the next 43 years.

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Robert John “Yisrael” Aumann

Nobel laureate Dr. Robert John “Yisrael” Aumann (1930-present) is among RJJ’s distinguished alumni. The Israeli-American co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics was born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Frankfurt, Germany. Aumann’s father, Segmund, was a decorated World War I veteran and his mother, Miriam, had earned a BA in London, which was somewhat unusual for women in the early 20th century. Segmund Aumann operated a successful textile business and the family lived comfortably until Hitler gained power.

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Ari Goldman

Ari Goldman (1949-present) is a journalism professor at Columbia University. His articles have been published in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSalonThe Jewish Week, and The Forward.

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Louis Henken

Louis Henkin (1917-2010) was a renowned human rights lawyer. He was born Eliezer Henkin in Smolyany, Russia (currently Belarus). His father was a brilliant rabbi and Talmudic scholar. Henkin’s mother passed away from dysentery when he was only two years old (she had been part of the effort to stop an outbreak). Henkin and his six older siblings were raised by their stepmother.

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Today, the modern incarnation of RJJ continues to uphold its original philosophy of providing education to a wide range of Jewish families. This inclusive attitude has prevailed as its family of schools vary from “black hat” beis medrash-style Orthodox yeshivas and Beis Yaakovs to Modern Orthodox coed schools and more.
RJJ is unique in that this spectrum rarely exists in educational institutions.
The school has been in operation for over 120 years and serves more than 1,200 students from nursery through 12th grade.

COVID-19 Response

When COVID-19 hit, each of our schools adopted its own technology solution to continue providing education. Two of the schools launched brand-new summer programs because while in-person classes were canceled, summer camps were permitted to move forward. One high school used a campground in Pennsylvania for a five-week summer program. Elementary schools offered a day camp with a strong educational component for six weeks, since day camp permitted and regular school was not.

The 5 Schools

Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah

Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah in Staten Island opened in 1976 when RJJ moved to Staten Island from the Lower East Side. Enrollment was falling and the school felt it was imperative to meet the families where they were — literally. A girls division was launched in 1987 after parents pushed for an equally stellar education for their daughters. To date it remains the only Jewish school in Staten Island with separate campuses for boys and girls. Rabbi Mayer Friedman is the principal of the boys school; Mrs. Esther Akerman runs the preschool and girls school.
With a small student body of 300 students, Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah focuses on creating a warm and dynamic atmosphere. Students are immersed in a Torah environment where they can thrive. The school administrators and staff are committed to the academic and social success of every student, in accordance with their individual abilities and needs.

Their mission:

Our objective is to provide students with the tools of scholarship and the elements of a value system that will enable them to advance to their next level of education and be a strong link to the next generation of Torah true Jews of whom we will be proud. Infusing a sense of pride in being a Torah Jew and inculcating middos tovos, the goal of the designed curriculum is the development of an individual who has acquired the academic and ethical standards espoused by our Torah.

Jewish Foundation School

Jewish Foundation School (JFS) of Staten Island is a Modern Orthodox co-ed school with 400 students from preschool through eighth grade, led by Rabbi Richard Ehrlich.
Over 60 years ago, a group of parents got together to establish a yeshiva for the Jewish Community of Staten Island where boys and girls would receive a high quality Jewish education combined with excellence in general studies. The result of this effort was the Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island.
JFS first came under RJJ’s attention when Dr. Marvin Schick heard that the school was about to close. Motivated by the thought of Jewish children losing out on their Jewish education, Dr. Schick convinced the RJJ school board to take JFS under its financial protection.
Today, JFS is home to a large campus consisting of 40 classrooms, a lunch room, resource rooms, library, computer labs, basketball courts, a playground, a large gym, beit knesset, and science lab. Their facilities are only an outward reflection of their educational accomplishments in Judaic and general studies.
The JFS student body represents families across Staten Island, Brooklyn, and New Jersey and are served by a faculty and staff of more than 80 professionals. Their graduates go on to excel at yeshiva high schools and colleges in the United States and Israel.

Staten Island Hebrew Academy

Staten Island Hebrew Academy (SIHA) is a coed school that serves [number] students in grades K-8. Most students belong to unaffiliated Jewish families, including members of the Russian-Jewish community. Students bring their knowledge of Judaism back to their families, helping them discover their Jewish roots and connecting them with the broader Jewish community.
SIHA instills students with pride in being Jewish. As many of their students did not previously receive any systematic Jewish education, SIHA’s wide-ranging instruction in Jewish history, culture and tradition, Torah, and Hebrew language nurtures the students’ love and pride in their Jewish heritage.

SIHA is revolutionizing the education of children from unaffiliated Jewish families by offering a superior academic education while bringing the children back to their Jewish roots with a deep love and appreciation of their Jewish heritage. SIHA strives to create the highest educational climate possible with superior academics and excellence in teaching and learning with our skilled and caring professionals that are devoted to the academic, social, and emotional development of each and every student. At our core is a well-defined differentiated instructional and environmental model that recognizes the importance of each individual. By combining a rigorous curriculum with a rich Judaic studies program, we aim to promote an atmosphere of cooperation, tolerance, and appreciation of the cultural heritage of all people and work to mold students of high moral character that can engage and collaborate with the best and brightest of the 21st century. Our students understand what it means to be Jewish, are proud of their Jewish heritage and can carry the torch of Judaism to their families and beyond.

Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion

Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion is a school for grades K-8 in Edison, NJ. It opened in 1990 with 14 Kindergarten students and two dedicated teachers. The next year, enrollment quadrupled and they were able to purchase the building that housed the school.
Since then YST has grown to three divisions with 500 students. It is the only Jewish school in Highland Park/Edison to offer separate campuses for boys and girls.
In 2017, YST joined the RJJ family of schools to ensure financial stability. The school continues to operate autonomously with the same faculty and staff and operates under a Vaad of Rabbonim.
YST has worked to provide a warm, nurturing environment in which all students have the opportunity to fulfill their academic, spiritual, and personal potential. The school offers an excellent dual curriculum, instilling in each student a love of Torah, a strong sense of community, and passion for Israel.

The mission of Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion is to inspire in each of our students a lifelong commitment to Torah and mitzvos, an ongoing bond with the Jewish people, and a meaningful connection with Eretz Yisroel, while providing students with a solid foundation for academic success in both Judaic and General Studies.

Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva

Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva high school and beit medrash in Edison, NJ is an all-boys high school and rabbinical college program. After high school, students typically go on to earn a Talmudic degree at the RJJ rabbinical school. With 70 high school students and 60 rabbinical students, the small class sizes create a warm close-knit atmosphere that helps students achieve academic success. RJJ publishes the annual Journal of Halacha.