Culture, Global, Politics, Religion

It's Offical: Eisen Chosen As JTS 7th Chancellor

Fresh from the inbox, confirming Rooftopper Rav‘s annoucement the other day:

April 10, 2006
I am delighted to announce that Professor Arnold M. Eisen has been elected to serve as the seventh Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
He is an extraordinary individual and, I believe, uniquely qualified to lead JTS at this important time in the history of Conservative Judaism and the American Jewish community.
Prof. Eisen is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University. He is one of the world’s foremost experts in American Judaism. For the past twenty years, he has worked closely with synagogue and federation leadership around the country in analyzing and addressing the challenging issues of Jewish identity, the revitalization of Jewish tradition and the redefinition of the American Jewish community.
He is a strong advocate of JTS as the premier center of scholarship in the Jewish world and hopes to bring that scholarship to bear on the pressing issues of the day. He is also passionate about making Israel a greater part of American Jewish life.
He received a PhD in the History of Jewish Thought from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; a BPhil in the Sociology of Religion at Oxford University; and a BA in Religious Thought from the University of Pennsylvania. His many publications include a personal essay, Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America (1997), Rethinking Modern Judaism: Ritual, Commandment, Community (1998), and The Jew Within: Self, Family and Community in America (2000), co-authored with sociologist Steven M. Cohen (2000). Previous positions include Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Columbia University.
He will serve as Chancellor-Designate effective July 1. As he fulfills his commitments to Stanford during the coming year of transition, he will engage with JTS students, faculty, staff and donors to fully understand our opportunities and challenges.
There is no doubt that the days and years ahead will be exciting, demanding and inspiring. I am confident that Prof. Eisen is the right person at the right time. His vision and energetic leadership will help to assure the vibrancy of JTS, the Conservative Movement and the Jewish people.
I look forward to your having the opportunity to meet him. In the mean time, my best to you and your loved ones for a Chag Kasher V’Sameach.
Gershon Kekst

Comments, criticisms, reflections, and more links on the story forthcoming.
[Update] I just attended the pre-press conference reception in honor of Dr. Eisen at JTS. I got to shake his hand and introduce myself along with the others in line who included professors, JTS staff, and various students. He was very friendly and asked my friend Ita if she was enjoying rabbinical school. Since I wasn’t at the press conference, all I can report is that he was not wearing a kippah (or other head covering) during the meet and greet (which I only noticed after just about everyone I schmoozed with in the room pointed it out).
However, just as the room was clearing out and he reached for some food, he pulled a kippah out of his pocket and put it on his head. Not to read into this small act too much, but I feel like it’s a testament to many modern Jews out in the world – we keep certain traditional rituals, like covering our heads during holy acts such as eating, but there may not be a need to wear a kippah to declare our Judaism to the world at all times. Put another way, it was validating to me, especially as a graduate student at JTS (and not a rabbinical school student) that one can be both an academic and a religous Jew without being an outwardly observant Jew at all times. The rabbinical school is certainly an importnat program at JTS, but it is neither the only one nor even the largest one – many of my fellow graduate students will be pleased to see a chancellor who is an academic with his own Jewish practice rather than a posek (one who decides Jewish law).

6 thoughts on “It's Offical: Eisen Chosen As JTS 7th Chancellor

  1. But how much of that was also done consciously because if he wasn’t seen saying brachot over his food at his press conference…. Also, I don’t understand why one can’t be an outwordly observant, kippah wearing Jew AND a halakhic Jew AND an academic who cares about all the critical stuff you study, pro-social science research (ala Eisen)? Why can’t he do all that AND be halakhic (bad term, I know) and wear a kippah?

  2. i think he can do it all, i was just saying that for me, as someone who only covers her head during prayer and study (and eating on shabbat and chag), i feel i can identify with him more than, say, someone (rabbi or not) who wears a kippah all the time.
    btw, big thanks to amecha for writing and updating the wikipedia entry on eisen which includes all the articles about him in the media so far:
    A Biography of Arnold Eisen
    Sources say JTS Set to Select Eisen As ChancellorForward
    Arnie Eisen: Teaching Religion Raises Devlish Questions
    Arnold M. Eisen Named New Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (press release)
    Conservatives tap dynamic scholar, not rabbi, to head theological school

  3. Incredible. Who would’ve thunk that JTS grads would gloat that their leaders DON’T wear kippahs rather than do.
    It’s quite clear that Kaplan’s influence outweighed Heschel’s on how Cons.Jud evolved. Sad.

  4. If “Kaplan’s influence” means “not wearing a kipah”, then it hasn’t won out at Kaplan’s own synagogue. At the SAJ, someone goes around on patrol to make sure all men are wearing kipot, a level of micromanagement unlikely to be found in an Orthodox shul.

  5. I think it’s more that Heschel’s influence, and it’s important to note here that I see him as a paragon of modern Judaism, was not felt enough anywhere.
    It’s a terrible shame we do not have more men like him in ANY branch of Judaism.
    All in all, the guy seems pretty solid. Just because someone isn’t a rabbi in no way means he doesn’t know as much (if not more) about Jewish law than one who is. I’ve met any number of rabbis that this guy could talk under the table.

  6. let’s not start knocking kaplan. while his feet may not have been doing as much praying, his ideas were really ahead of his time. “the force that makes for salvation” actually fits in really nicely with “awe and radical amazement” -Bri

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