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Zeta Beta Tau

Zeta Beta Tau

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Zeta Beta Tau was founded in 1898 as the nation's first Jewish fraternity, although it is no longer sectarian. Today the merged Zeta Beta Tau Brotherhood is one of the largest, numbering over 140,000 initiated Brothers, and over 90 chapter locations.


The Zeta Beta Tau fraternity was inspired by Dr. Richard J. H. Gottheil, a professor of language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and a Zionist. On December 29, 1898, he formed a Zionist youth society with a group of students from several New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...


The society was called Z.B.T., the meaning of which is revealed in the fraternity's ritual. In 1998, the meaning of Z.B.T. was announced to the world, though it was listed in the American Jewish Committee's
American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee was "founded in 1906 with the aim of rallying all sections of American Jewry to defend the rights of Jews all over the world...

 annual report as early as 1908. In 1903 Z.B.T. formally became Zeta Beta Tau and its purpose shifted away from that of a Zionist youth organization as other Zionist organizations grew in prominence. The original Hebrew meaning of Z.B.T. is not esoteric
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

. It was publicly revealed in the official written history of Zeta Beta Tau, Here's to Our Fraternity: One Hundred Years of Zeta Beta Tau, 1898–1998, by Marianne Rachel Sanua. The word "judgment" is sometimes translated as "justice".

Zeta Beta Tau expanded rapidly. By 1909, it had established 13 Chapters throughout the Northeast and a 14th at Tulane University
Tulane University
Tulane University is a private, nonsectarian research university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States...

 in New Orleans, thereby taking on a truly national dimension. In 1913, it established its first Canadian Chapter at McGill University
McGill University
Mohammed Fathy is a public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The university bears the name of James McGill, a prominent Montreal merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, whose bequest formed the beginning of the university...

 in Montreal. Five years later, it founded its first West Coast Chapter at the University of Southern California
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian, research university located in Los Angeles, California, United States. USC was founded in 1880, making it California's oldest private research university...

 in Los Angeles. At the 1954 National Convention, the delegates amended Zeta Beta Tau's Constitution, ritual and internal procedures both in theory and in practice to eliminate sectarianism as a qualification for membership.

Today, the merged Zeta Beta Tau Brotherhood is some 140,000 Brothers strong, and ZBT Chapters and Colonies are established at over 90 campus locations. Through good times and bad, ZBT has been in the forefront in pioneering new concepts – as evidenced by its very founding, its elimination of sectarian membership practices, its acceptance of mergers, and its elimination of pledging.

Merging of the Five Brotherhoods

The Zeta Beta Tau of today is the result of a merger with four other national Jewish fraternities, more than any other North-American Interfraternity Conference
North-American Interfraternity Conference
The North-American Interfraternity Conference , is an association of collegiate men's fraternities that was formally organized in 1910, although it began on November 27, 1909. The power of the organization rests in a House of Delegates where each member fraternity is represented by a single delegate...

 fraternity. In 1959, Phi Alpha merged into Phi Sigma Delta. In 1961 Kappa Nu merged into Phi Epsilon Pi. In 1969–70, Phi Sigma Delta and Phi Epsilon Pi merged into Zeta Beta Tau.

Pledging abolished

Zeta Beta Tau was also one of the first National fraternities to abolish the institution of pledging in 1989 as a way to combat and eliminate hazing
Hazing is a term used to describe various ritual and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group....

. This change was not new to the world of fraternities, as in 1971 Lambda Chi Alpha
Lambda Chi Alpha
Lambda Chi Alpha is one of the largest men's secret general fraternities in North America, having initiated more than 280,000 members and held chapters at more than 300 universities. It is a member of the North-American Interfraternity Conference and was founded by Warren A. Cole, while he was a...

 became the first North-American Interfraternity Conference
North-American Interfraternity Conference
The North-American Interfraternity Conference , is an association of collegiate men's fraternities that was formally organized in 1910, although it began on November 27, 1909. The power of the organization rests in a House of Delegates where each member fraternity is represented by a single delegate...

 (NIC) fraternity to eliminate pledging, by replacing the process with an "Associated Membership" process. Lambda Chi Alpha paved the way for Zeta Beta Tau in taking the first steps to offer a completely equal brotherhood experience. Zeta Beta Tau's decision to get rid of pledging did not involve an associate membership process however. Once a brother joins the fraternity he will receive all rights and responsibilities as the rest of the chapter, and shall be eligible for any position within the chapter regardless of how long he has been a brother. Sigma Phi Epsilon
Sigma Phi Epsilon
Sigma Phi Epsilon , commonly nicknamed SigEp or SPE, is a social college fraternity for male college students in the United States. It was founded on November 1, 1901, at Richmond College , and its national headquarters remains in Richmond, Virginia. It was founded on three principles: Virtue,...

 would soon follow with a somewhat similar plan in 1991.

Semi-Annual Brotherhood Review Vote

In conjunction with the 1989 abolishment of pledging, ZBT National instituted a very progressive concept in fraternities, even now, the S.B.R.V. (Semi-Annual Brotherhood Review Vote). All ZBT Chapters, twice a year (once a semester) have a vote to see who, if anyone, should be removed from membership within a Chapter. The criteria for voting during the SBRV are the Chapter Standards, which all chapters must make known to their membership.

Votes are counted by the President and a executive member of his choice. If a brother receives a simple majority of Nay votes, he is expelled from the fraternity. The SBRV distinguishes ZBT from all other NIC fraternities, in that ZBT does not consider any man to be a brother for life simply because he is initiated. Any brother has the possibility of being voted out during his college career if he does not meet the Chapter and National Standards. Brothers of Zeta Beta Tau become brothers for life when they are granted alumnus status, most commonly after graduation. A former ZBT brother who has been voted out by the Semi-Annual Brotherhood Review Vote may request an unconditional release from ZBT National, and if granted, may join another NIC fraternity. However, very few individuals are ever released.

The Journey Brotherhood Program

Twenty years after ZBT eliminated pledging, the Supreme Council, based on feedback from undergraduates and alumni, voted to continue the evolution and development of what was initially called the Membership Development Program, then became the Brotherhood Program. The newest evolution is called the Journey.
The Journey implements a number of significant changes. It is a structured, user-friendly program that develops college students into ZBT men. The Journey adds the position of Provost, in addition to the Brotherhood Development Director (BDD). In the past, the BDD was responsible for all education in the chapter. Now, the Provost guides brothers along their Journey by teaching them about the history, values, and traditions of ZBT. The BDD oversees the Provost, and still is responsible for brotherhood bonding, Big/Little programming, and the overall Journey program.

Through the first six-eight weeks of the Journey, newly initiated ZBT men learn the history of the Fraternity, delve into the credo, mission statement, and ritual, the skills needed to succeed in college, and how to make wise life decisions. Upon initiation, all ZBT brothers are given full rights and privileges, within days of accepting their bids. This is true for all versions of the Journey.

The Journey then continues to develop brothers for the next four years, offering education on building a better brotherhood and strong leadership skills. The Journey also offers a leadership track.

The Supreme Council also approved two variations on the Journey that certain chapters can implement, contingent upon approval from the Supreme Council. The Pilgrimage and Journey (P&J) offers chapters the option of deferring some esoteric material until after the eight-week initial education program. However, P&J chapters are subject to tight oversight by the National Fraternity, to ensure they do not slip into pledging.

The most ambitious iteration is the Journey Challenges Program, currently implemented by some of ZBT's top chapters. The Journey Challenges Program is identical to the Journey for the initial period, then offers challenges that brothers may choose to embark upon, with incentives and privileges offered to those brothers who pass the Challenges. The Zeta, Beta, and Tau Challenges consist of a blend of education, community service, involvement with the National Office and the Jewish community, and leadership.


Since 2000, ZBT has been focused on expansion. This includes the revival of dormant chapters and the colonization of new ones. Groups of young men on campuses across the country contact ZBT to colonize at their schools for two primary reasons- the non-pledging policy and ZBT's inclusive Jewish heritage.
The Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity Strategic Plan calls for the establishment of 63 new ZBT colonies by the conclusion of the 2015–2016 academic year. In order for the Fraternity to achieve this goal, it is ZBT's intention to utilize alumni, undergraduates, parents and friends of ZBT to identify schools and students that want to be a part of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity’s future.


Zeta Beta Tau currently recognizes 90 chapters and colonies across the United States. The state with the most chapters is New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. Currently, the oldest active chapter is Gamma at New York University
New York University
New York University is a private, nonsectarian research university based in New York City. NYU's main campus is situated in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan...


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