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Our History

Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity was inspired by Richard J. H. Gottheil, a professor of languages at Columbia University and a leader in the early American Zionist movement. On December 29, 1898, Professor Gottheil gathered together a group of Jewish students from several New York City universities to form a Zionist youth society. The society was called Z.B.T.

During this brief period, the society came to serve as a kind of fraternal body for college students who, as Jews, were excluded from joining existing fraternities because of the sectarian practices which prevailed at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. The continuing need for a Greek-letter fraternity open to Jewish students prompted Z.B.T. to change its raison d’etre, structure and emphasis and to become Zeta Beta Tau in 1903.

 

Zeta Beta Tau expanded rapidly. By 1909, it had established 13 Chapters throughout the Northeast and a14th at Tulane University at New Orleans, thereby taking on a truly national dimension. In 1913, it established its first Canadian Chapter at McGill University in Montreal. Five years later, it founded its first West Coast Chapter at the University of Southern California 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.

Spearheaded by the growth of state and municipal university systems, hundreds of new institutions were opened in the quarter-century following World War II. By the 1960s virtually every American had an opportunity to attend college. From 1945 to 1969, the number of ZBT chapters increased from 30 to 80 units.

The history of mergers in the Zeta Beta Tau Brotherhood followed a pattern of linking common traditions. In 1959, Phi Alpha merged into Phi Sigma Delta, and in 1961 Kappa Nu merged into Phi Epsilon Pi. In 1969-70, Phi Sigma Delta and Phi Epsilon Pi merged into Zeta Beta Tau.

Traumatic experiences were generated by the polarization over the Vietnam conflict. The American fraternity system — including Zeta Beta Tau, was subsequently affected by the great wave of anti-establishment feeling that was pervasive throughout the country. Many of the Chapters which survived this period of turmoil did so in a weakened condition. During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, there was a renewed interest in fraternity life, resulting in increased initiation statistics, revival of many dormant Chapters and expansion to new campuses.

During the 1980s, every Greek-letter group continued their efforts to stop hazing. Despite ZBT’s best efforts, hazing continued and increased in frequency and severity. ZBT concluded that all efforts to reform the institution of pledging had failed; pledging was the problem. This was because pledges were considered second-class citizens, with no rights and no chance to refuse even the most outrageous demands of a Brother, unless he quit the Fraternity. In 1989, in a last-ditch effort to eliminate hazing, ZBT eliminated pledging and all second-class status from the Fraternity. In its place, ZBT established a brotherhood program with minimum standards (Brotherhood Quality Standards), as well as programs of education, bonding and earning one’s status that applies to all brothers of ZBT.

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, its elimination of pledging, and its ability to solve enormous problems when others abandoned the effort.

ZBT has built foundations and reached milestones that no other Greek fraternal organization has — we opened our arms to all men of good character while continuing to embrace our Jewish heritage, we rescinded all second-class status in our brotherhood when we abolished pledging, and now we are reaching and teaching our brothers using technology that few other groups have been able to adopt.

Our Founders

Read more on thsee brothers who banded together to form Zeta Beta Tau on December 29, 1898.

  • Rabbi Herman Abramowitz
  • Bernhard Bloch
  • Isidore Delson
  • Aaron P. Drucker
  • Rabbi Bernard C. Ehrenreich
  • Rabbi Menachim M. Eichler
  • Rabbi Aaron Eiseman
  • Rabbi David Levine
  • Aaron W. Levy
  • David Liknaitz
  • Louis S. Posner
  • Bernhard D. Saxe
  • Dr. Herman B. Sheffield
  • Dr. David Swick
  • Maurice L. Zellermayer

Important Dates in Our History

1909 Phi Sigma Delta, the second of Zeta Beta Tau’s antecedent fraternities to be founded, was established at Columbia University. ZBT took on a national dimension in founding Sigma Chapter at Tulane University as the Fraternity’s first chapter outside of the Northeast.
1910Zeta Beta Tau published its first formal membership directory. ZBT also adopted its Crest for use on all items that identify the Fraternity.
1911 Kappa Nu, the third antecedent fraternity of Zeta Beta Tau, was founded at the University of Rochester.
1912 Zeta Beta Tau helped found the National Interfraternity Conference, the first national interfraternity organization.
1913Zeta Beta Tau established Upsilon Chapter at McGill University as its first chapter in Canada. It also issued the Zeta Beta Tau Quarterly as its first Fraternity-wide publication.
1914 Phi Alpha, the fourth of Zeta Beta Tau’s antecedent fraternities, was founded at The George Washington University.
1915Phi Epsilon Pi established Mu Chapter at the University of Georgia from a group known as the E.D.S. Society that was originally founded in 1895. It was the oldest local Jewish fraternity in continuous existence.
1918Zeta Beta Tau founded Alpha Delta Chapter at the University of Southern California as its first chapter on the West Coast.
1924Zeta Beta Tau engaged George Macy as its first full-time paid director. He held the title of General Secretary.
1925 Phi Epsilon Pi became the first Greek-letter fraternity to appropriate funds for activities outside its own organization when it endowed a $10,000 scholarship at the National Agricultural College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
1929Zeta Beta Tau established the National Permanent Endowment Fund (N.P.E.F.) to assist the Fraternity in its financial and operational needs and to help acquire chapter house property.
1930 Zeta Beta Tau presented its first Man of the Year Award to Charles L. Kaufman, Phi (Michigan) 1917. The award is granted to an alumnus “who, as a result of his personal accomplishments in life’s endeavors, has stood forth beyond all of his brothers.”
1941 Zeta Beta Tau established Service Men’s Service, a program that continued through World War II which provided newspapers, books, food, etc., to Fraternity brothers in the Armed Forces.
1950 Zeta Beta Tau established the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation, Inc. to provide scholarship and loan assistance to deserving ZBT undergraduates.
1954 Delegates at Zeta Beta Tau’s International Convention amended the Fraternity’s Constitution to eliminate sectarianism as a qualification for membership, thereby making membership available to all male college students regardless of race, creed, faith or color.
1959Phi Alpha merged into Phi Sigma Delta.
1961Kappa Nu merged into Phi Epsilon Pi.
1963Delegates at Zeta Beta Tau’s International Convention adopted a resolution comprising a statement of principles and beliefs known as the Fraternity’s Credo.
1969 Phi Sigma Delta merged into Zeta Beta Tau. Also, Zeta Beta Tau established and incorporated Z.B.T. Enterprises, Inc. to provide quality merchandise (plaques, jewelry, sportswear, etc.) for chapters and alumni associations, as well as membership credentials and awards for the Fraternity.
1970Phi Epsilon Pi merged into Zeta Beta Tau.
1989 Zeta Beta Tau eliminated the institution of pledging from the Fraternity in an effort to combat hazing, replacing it with the Brotherhood Program, a program with stringent quality requirements, education and bonding programs for all brothers. ZBT also joined the Fraternity Information and Programming Group (FIPG), an interfraternity group created to assist member fraternities in reducing potential liability through a comprehensive risk management policy.
1995 Zeta Beta Tau International Headquarters moved to Indianapolis, Indiana.
1998Zeta Beta Tau celebrated its centennial.
2002ZBT adopts Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals as a national philanthropic partner.
2010 ZBT’s Brotherhood Program is replaced by THE JOURNEY, a program intended to meet the organizational and educational needs of 21st century students. The purpose of THE JOURNEY is to instill the lifelong brotherhood experience in all brothers, both undergraduate and alumni. ZBT adopts Maccabi World Union as second philanthropy partner.
2012Zeta Beta Tau Foundation is adopted as Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity’s third official philanthropy.
2013Zeta Beta Tau established a partnership with the Foundation for International Education to offer study abroad opportunities to ZBT brothers.
2015ZBT adopted Jewish Women International as an official philanthropic and educational partner. Our joint Fund for Safe and Healthy Campuses provides for programming in the areas of dating abuse prevention on campuses across North America.
2017ZBT adopted Gift of Life Marrow Registry as an official partner.
2020ZBT hosts its first-ever fully virtual International Convention.