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From the Archive: Yeshiva U. and the medical school Einstein welcomed

One of the buildings on the Bronx campus of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the buildings on the Bronx campus of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Wikimedia Commons)


This week Yeshiva University announced that while it will remain the degree-granting institution with a “key role in the educational aspects of the entity,” it is handing over operational control of its Albert Einstein College of Medicine to the Montefiore Health System.

While the renowned physicist died several months before the opening of his namesake school — the first American medical school under Jewish auspices — he was officially notified about the naming two years earlier during a luncheon in Princeton, N.J.,on his 74th birthday.

At the event, attended by 100 community leaders from 20 North American cities, Einstein was presented with a model of the projected medical college building bearing his name and “welcomed the new College as a contribution of real significance to the general welfare,” JTA reported, quoting him as saying:

I am grateful that Yeshiva University has honored me by using my name in connection with the new College of Medicine. There is a shortage of physicians in this country and there are many young people, able and eager to study medicine, who under present circumstances – are deprived of the opportunity to do so.

Einstein’s first graduation ceremony, in 1959, had some distinctively Jewish features, JTA reported:

Highlighting the ceremony was departure from taking by students of the traditional 2,000-year-old Hippocratic Oath. Instead, the students chanted in unison the Declaration of Geneva, a statement of ethics and principle in which genocide is foresworn. They pledged not to use their “medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity” nor to “permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between duty and patient.” The ceremony included the recital of the Prayer of Maimonides.

Einstein, which has a diverse student body of Jews and non-Jews, has been one of the top-ranked U.S. medical schools in recent years, but a financial drain on Y.U., which, a Moody’s Investors Service report warned two months ago is at risk of running out of money by the end of 2015.

Balancing the needs of the Orthodox Jewish-run university with the secular medical school has not always been easy. In 1999, two lesbian couples and an LGBT student group sued Einstein for barring same-sex couples (who could not then legally marry) from living in its subsidized, on-campus married-student housing.

Their original lawsuit was dismissed, but the case was brought again on appeal in 2000. In covering the case, JTA noted:

Although commonly thought of as an Orthodox institution, Yeshiva University has been chartered since 1969 as nonsectarian, enabling it to receive state and federal funding.

That nonsectarian status means it must abide by various anti-discrimination laws, forcing it at times to adopt policies offensive to the religious sensibilities of some of its alumni and donors.

In the mid-1990s, it refused to ban gay student groups at Einstein and its law school, despite demands from some Orthodox students and alumni.

In 2002, the case was still wending its way through the courts, but Einstein changed its policy anyway, allowing same-sex couples to live in the married-student housing nine years before New York State would legalize same-sex marriage.


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