Politics, Religion

Reform and Conservative Rabbinical Seminaries Create Interdenominational Fellowship

I’m thinking that this is good for the Jews. And possibly a sign of the warm personal and intellectual ties between JTS Chancellor-Elect Arnie Eisen and several of the heads of America’s other rabbinical schools.
(FYI, I’m not the least bit interested in any prospective kvetchings about how this is just one more sign of the Conservative Movement’s “becoming Reform.” Cross-denominational interaction increases learning and broadens perspectives. Period. Hebrew College, RRC, YCT, and YU should also be included in this effort.)

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is launching an inter-denominational fellowship with Reform and Conservative seminaries.
Foundation chair Lynn Schusterman announced the project with the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion and the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America on Thursday during her graduation address at HUC-JIR in New York City, where she received an honorary doctorate.
The Hevruta Fellowship, which will be open to eight students and will start next fall, is a five-year program for students from the seminaries to work, study and lead programs together based on the shared values of the Reform and Conservative movements. It will be the first time students from the two seminaries have been involved in a sustained collaborative educational program.
The fellowship will pay tuition and provide a stipend for living expenses during the students’ third and fourth years of rabbinical studies. The foundation will spend approximately $2.5 million over the first five years of the program.

9 thoughts on “Reform and Conservative Rabbinical Seminaries Create Interdenominational Fellowship

  1. wow, I was glad to see this post pop up in my Bloglines a few minutes ago. I agree with you 100% this indeed is likely going to be something very good for the Jewish people as a whole. It will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds. Will it flop or will it flourish and evolve into something more inclusive? It’s too soon to tell but I for one certainly see this as a positive first step towards a more flexible 21st-century Judaism.

  2. Yes, yes, very good for the Jewish people, et. c., et. c., But won’t this just promote the mediocrity of the rabbinical students at both institutions?

  3. I was heartened to read about it — more cooperation is a lovely thing!
    For support of Reform & Masorti congregations in Israel, there’s KBY (Kehillot B’Yachad) — check it out at http://www.joinkby.com/index.html … at some point I got an e-mail about this joint project, sent ’em a contribution, and got a nice CD of Shabbat tunes recorded by Reform & Conservative rabbinical & cantorial students (see http://www.joinkby.com/shebalev/index.html).

  4. 2.5 million for more “I’m ok. You are ok. We are all ok. Judaism.” Give the money to tuition help for day schools. Give it to save Darfur. Give it to save the whales. But don’t give it to another think tank that will never think about implementing real programs that real Jews will benefit from and is totally set up to tank.

  5. Kishkeman-
    It sounds like this isn’t just a think tank — it’s paying for tuition and living expenses for rabbinical students, which I think is a worthwhile investment. Orthodox rabbinical students generally have their expenses covered, while most non-Orthodox rabbinical students have to take out loans, work several jobs, and graduate with piles of debt. This situation has an adverse effect on the non-Orthodox Jewish professional leadership and their ability to effect change in the institutional Jewish status quo:
    1) If rabbinical students have to work at pulpits every Shabbat, they lose the opportunity to participate as civilians in vibrant Jewish communities (and if they enter rabbinical school soon after college and plan to be congregational rabbis afterwards, this is their only opportunity to do so in their adult life), and therefore aren’t exposed to models of Jewish community outside the institutional status quo
    2) Many people enter rabbinical school with big ideas about what they want to do afterward, but 5 years later when they have to pay back their loans, the economics dictate that they work for a conventional congregation that can offer more money than a Jewish revolution (the same predicament as many law school graduates)
    If rabbinical school were fully funded, then our future rabbis would have more opportunities to be exposed to new models of Jewish community and would be more equipped to implement them. As I see it, this fellowship is valuable as a step in that direction, and the interdenominational element is just the icing on the cake.

  6. amit: why do you thnk this will promote medicority?
    Because the quality of scholarship the Rabbinical and Cantorial students engage in in both institutions is, well, mediochre. They can’t measure up against their Orthodox colleagues (actually against any well-educated observant Jew, of any denomination) by any standard, with the possible exception of pastoral care, which can be obtained in any good Divinity school. So I agree with BZ – make rabbinical school free – but at the same time make it the most demanding and gruelling five years of a person’s life, or better yet, seven years, and get the people with the education to do it.
    Don’t promote the rabbinate as an easy-track second career to help people feel good.

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