New website is really into denominational trichotomy

71 panelists? Like the Sanhedrin? Really?

There is a new website (newish–It says it launched in 2010, but it’s not clear exactly when…) called Jewish Values Online, subtitled multi Jewish perspectives on morals and ethics. At JVO, you can do a search for an answer to your question or ask new questions.

Let’s set aside their missing hyphen and the fact that their list of categories goes far beyond morals and ethics. Let’s check out their panel of 71 experts:

First of all, they’re all rabbis. There are no Jewish scholars of any other sort of training, no cantors nor any academics.

Second–and more egregiously–the rabbis are listed as being in one of three categories: Conservative, Orthodox and Reform. There are no Reconstructionist, Renewal or unaffiliated rabbis on the panel of experts.

Aside from the exclusion of Jewish voices that don’t fit into the trichotomy, it may also make some people cling to one panelist’s answer, ignoring other answers because they’re from another denomination.

I took a look at a few questions on the site and found that, in many cases, I would have been unable to determine which rabbis were from which denomination based on the answers they gave.

For instance, check out this question about marijuana and the three answers to it.

11 Responses to “New website is really into denominational trichotomy”

  1. DAMW: I found the answers to the question you used for an example to be fairly by the book.

    ML · January 20th, 2011 at 11:18 am
  2. Good for Rabbis Plotkin and Bockman for challenging the question’s ignorant claim that we are “commanded to drink” on Purim (reducing it, correctly, to “some texts that suggest” and a “custom”), but they should have gone further and mentioned the strand of our tradition that opposes getting drunk on Purim.

    BZ · January 20th, 2011 at 1:59 pm
  3. Not a lot of websites actually have rabbis from all the ‘branches’ no matter how small the twig.

    Zero Orthos here for example, surprise, surprise:

    Dave Boxthorn · January 23rd, 2011 at 9:57 pm
  4. Maybe it’s because Orthos stopped caring about human rights. OH SNAP

    Also flagrantly omitted from ANY list above: Sephardic names! Come on, Hakham Abadi isn’t THAT hard to reach. Nor is Rabbi Angel.

    B.BarNavi · January 23rd, 2011 at 11:16 pm
  5. And in a panel dedicated to Jewish ethics, there is no Sephardi Rabbi that I can recommend more than Joshua Maroof. Perhaps I’ll point him towards this site; some of his colleagues are on there too.

    B.BarNavi · January 23rd, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  6. ‘Maybe its because Orthos stopped caring about human rights’

    Based on the original article and your logic that means that the Reconstructionists and the Renewalists don’t believe in Jewish Values. Snap in return.

    Dave Boxthorn · January 24th, 2011 at 1:48 am
  7. >Implying that I’m either of those things

    B.BarNavi · January 24th, 2011 at 11:01 am
  8. DAMW –
    Thank you for commenting on our website last Thursday.
    1. Facts: To answer, the test launch of Jewish Values Online was in March 2010, and the site went live in June 2010.
    2. Yes, the panelists ARE all rabbis. Purposely. That is what the site promises. These are rabbi-scholars, not simply academics or researchers, who volunteer to reply to questions posed to them in their free time. The matters covered are the areas in which they are trained, and in which they have expertise that they apply when approached by congregants and community members with real situations and questions.
    3. You are correct about the general categorizations (Conservative, Orthodox, Reform), though your bias is showing (use of the term ‘egregiously’). In point of fact, some of the rabbi-scholars have themselves expressed qualms about being pigeonholed into these categories, and I am myself not comfortable, being a member of both the Reform (CCAR) and Reconstructionist (RRA) rabbinical associations, but there is no good way to offer what in hoped to be a range of the normative Jewish views and opinions, without somehow indicating the type of training and affiliation of the rabbis who respond. As a shorthand manner of conveying this type of information, the categories selected are as good as any. We know that virtually no rabbi fits entirely and neatly into any one category – just as no person is entirely any one thing.

    B.BarNavi –
    There are no Sephardic rabbinic names, because no Sephardic-named rabbis have agreed to serve as volunteers for this project. Same for all the other missing categories…. We have sought out many dozens more rabbis than are currently affiliated, and these seventy-one are the rabbis who are credentialed, qualified, and have been willing to take part in the project. If you want to send rabbis to the site – where they may find contact information – and they choose to volunteer, we would be delighted! There is no planned or set number of rabbi-scholars in our system, and we are actively seeking others even at this moment.

    Rabbi Joe Blair, Administrator, Jewish Values Online, @jewishvalues.

    R, Joe Blair · January 24th, 2011 at 6:41 pm
  9. As a shorthand manner of conveying this type of information, the categories selected are as good as any. We know that virtually no rabbi fits entirely and neatly into any one category – just as no person is entirely any one thing.

    What about rabbis who don’t fit into any of these three categories? Were they invited?

    BZ · January 25th, 2011 at 9:43 am
  10. Indeed, BZ.

    Joe, you’re missing your own Reconstructionist rabbis, Renewal rabbis and rabbis ordained by Hebrew College and AJR. I don’t see why such a top-level scheme for identifying types of rabbis is necessary. Have bios that show what kind of shul they lead, where they were ordained, etc.

    David A.M. Wilensky · January 25th, 2011 at 11:24 am
  11. DAMW – It is obvious that in the year since you wrote your last comment, you have not looked at the Jewish Values Online website.

    The comments about those participating as panelists were addressed then, and have been continuously since. As I said, we have sought and encouraged Reconstructionist, UTJ, Renewal, Ohalah, and many other rabbis of all strands, stripes, and denominations, so long as they are qualified by the standards set.

    We added the “Other” grouping to simplify expanding the structure, so ANY qualified rabbi from ANY group could be accommodated and included in our panel.

    The question BZ asked was certainly answered in the affirmative – yes, we have asked, and we have had little success in recruiting among those groups. We have constantly reached out to rabbis to seek volunteers to be panelists. Most rabbis we have contacted have chosen not to participate – they are already overworked (or so I wish to believe, based on their stated reasons), and don’t choose to take this on.

    Note: I asked you and others reading this blog to send rabbis to the site, but I have not heard from anyone since who said it was suggested to them by a reader here.

    Based on our other efforts, rabbis have agreed to be panelists, and there are are over 115 rabbis associated with JVO at this time – but almost all of them come from the three largest denominations. Again, this is not by design or our choice – that simply represents those we could find who are willing to give of their time and knowledge. We remain open to and desirous of including others.

    As for your last sentence, DAMW: this sort of dismissive, offhand comment is unworthy, as well as inaccurate. Sorry if you don’t like the scheme or the construction of the website, but unless you plan to do it yourself, this is how it works and looks. There is a very limited amount of time, money, and resources to invest in changing things to suit every whim, so as it stands, what you see is what you get. The goal is functionality and usability in providing information, not suiting everyone’s politics, aesthetics, or style.

    There is already a set of bios which identify whatever each of the panelists choose to say about themselves. Nota Bene: we don’t limit panelists to congregational rabbis – not every rabbi who can teach and has knowledge to share is in a pulpit.

    NEWS: JVO has just recently determined that it will open the panel to scholars (non-rabbis) who are qualified by education, expertise, research, writing, and skill set. Those with an advanced degree or other equivalent accredited training who have five or more years of experience in teaching Judaic studies (specifically including Jewish values, ethics, and morals) at an advanced adult level, are invited to apply to be panelists. Those who have these qualifications, who come recommended most highly, and whose scholarship and ability to respond to questions posed are exceptional will be included in the panel.

    Jewish Values Online has grown since you last looked at it, DAMW. There are now over 500 questions answered, with more than 1500 responses by various rabbis. There is a blog that discusses some interesting matters; and an opt-in email list where one of the questions (and the answers given to it) is highlighted and sent out for use by educators weekly. The onsite bibliography of relevant materials continues to be added to and updated. Other features have been added, and we continue to work to improve the site and expand the information offered. We are seeing more than 12,000 visitors a month (and growing) who are reading materials on Jewish values – a pretty specific niche topic. Given our financial and staffing limitations (there are only five very part-time “staff members” along with the volunteer panelists), I am very proud of what has been accomplished.

    If one of your readers is interested in funding the expansion, and perhaps the renovation of the look of the Jewish Values Online website and offerings, I would be willing to discuss that possibility. I can be reached through the JVO website – just write to me at admin @

    Rabbi Joe Blair, Coordinator, Administrator, & Panelist
    Jewish Values Online –
    Twitter: @jewishvalues
    FB: Jewish Values

    R. Joe Blair · February 26th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik