Critics Charge JTS Board With Power Play in Search

By Jennifer Siegel and Ami Eden

Published July 15, 2005, issue of July 15, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Board members of the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism have executed what critics are describing as a power play aimed at limiting the say of the faculty and other arms of the movement in selecting a new leader. Movement insiders say the maneuvering could tilt the selection in a more traditionalist direction.

Last month, the longtime chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, announced he would retire in June 2006, setting off a search to fill the post commonly seen as the titular head of Conservative Judaism. Initially, movement insiders said that under existing rules the search committee would be composed of five members of the JTS faculty members, six members of the seminary’s board and four more individual representing the other major arms of the movement.

But, sources told the Forward, after a vote taken over the telephone in late June, the board expanded its representation on the search committee. The committee is being headed by the seminary’s longtime chairman, Gershon Kekst, and another board member, Robert Rifkind.

Kekst and the seminary’s main spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment. Rifkind could not be reached.

The search for a new JTS chancellor comes as the movement wrestles with a number of hot-button issues, including the ordination of gay rabbis and the role of non-Jewish spouses in synagogue life. While some movement rabbis and JTS faculty have voiced support for several candidates seen as relative liberals on these and other issues, top officials at JTS are perceived as wanting someone who, like Schorsch, would be more of a traditionalist on such matters.

Several movement insiders said that the perception in some faculty and rabbinic circles is that a major aim of the board is to block the ascension of a religious liberal who might seek to end the Conservative ban on gay rabbinic ordination and same-sex unions. If so, one of the most popular candidates in many corners of the movement, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, could be facing an uphill battle.

Tucker, a former dean of the seminary’s rabbinic school who was widely seen as being pushed out by Schorsch, previously told the Forward that he had no plans to leave his current pulpit position in White Plains, N.Y.

The decision to expand the board’s representation drew criticism from several rabbis and JTS faculty members.

“It’s disappointing,” said Rabbi David Fine of Congregation Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale, N.Y. Fine, who received his ordination from JTS in 1999 and a master’s degree in philosophy from its graduate school in 2002, said he would like the committee to have some student representation and a greater proportion of faculty members.

“One of the official titles of the chancellor is president of the faculty,” Fine said. “The faculty needs to be comfortable with the person who’s going to stand at its head.”

One rabbi of a major big-city congregation who asked not to be identified said that “this is the board of the seminary flexing its muscles, in a sense, and saying we’re not going to let others make the choice for us.”

According to a statement posted on the seminary’s Web site, the search committee is currently made up of 18 members. Five are members of the faculty: Deborah Reed Blank, Benjamin Gampel, Neil Gillman, Barry Holtz and Seth Schwartz. Four committee members appear to be representing Conservative organizations: Judy Yudof, president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Rabbi Perry Rank, international president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Gloria Cohen, president of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and Arthur Spar, vice president of the New England region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. Yudof and Cohen are also members of the JTS board.

The remaining nine members of the search committee are JTS board members: Kekst, Rifkind, Stephen Axinn, Abby Joseph Cohen, Robert Kaplan, Stephen Lovell, Jeffrey Rosen, Gerald Rosenfeld and Stanley Tulin.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.