Funeral services were field Sunday for Rabbi Morris Besdin, director of the James Striar School of General Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University for 25 years and pioneer in the educational direction of the Baal Teshuvah (Jewish retumee) movement. He died last Saturday at the age of 69.
Bom in Poland in 1913, Besdin come to this country in 1921. He was an alumnus of Yeshiva College, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1936, and of the university’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he received Semikhah (ordination) in 1936.
Besdin joined Yeshiva University as a lecturer in Talmud in 1946 and later also was an instructor in Bible. He was named director of the School of General Jewish Studies in 1948, a school founded in 1956 in memory of industrialist James Striar of Bongor, Me.
PIONEERED IN BAAL TESHUVAH MOVEMENT
Besdin revitalized the school, which is now celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding and, at the same time, pioneered in the educational direction of the Baal Teshuvah movement. In the 1960’s and 1970’s this movement generated a widespread revival of interest among Jewish youth in the sources, traditions, and practices of Judaism, and sought to counteract the ongoing process of assimilation threatening the survival of Judaism.
The common denominator among Baal Teshuvah youth is a strong desire to deepen the roots of their Jewish identity. The James Striar School provided these students — some of whom, though born Jewish, came to Jewish studies as to a new and unfamiliar faith, and some of whom were graduates of yeshiva day schools but had not learned the fundamentals of Talmudic study — an opportunity to learn Bible and Talmud texts and commentaries, a process that required learning two ancient languages and two distinct scripts.
Prior to his Yeshiva University directorship, Besdin served for 22 years as a pulpit rabbi, as spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikai Hadas in Scranton, Pa., of Beth Hamidrash Hagodol in Washington Heights, New York, and of K’hal Adas Yeshurun in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y. where the funeral services were held, as well as for three years as a U.S. Army chaplain.
Besdin was one of the founders and also served as chairman of the boards of education of Yeshiva Rabbi Moses Soloveichik, New York, and Yeshiva Dov Revel, Queens, NY. He wrote articles that were published in a wide range of scholarly journals and was a member of the Rabbinical Council of America.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.