A leading candidate for the top job at the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism has announced he will not seek the post, and will instead remain the rabbi of a prominent congregation in Los Angeles.
Rabbi David Wolpe was rumored to be a front-runner in the race to find a new chancellor for New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, particularly after he lectured on the future of Conservative Judaism and met with members of the JTS search committee at the seminary last month. At a synagogue board meeting last week, he announced that he would stay on as rabbi of L.A.’s Sinai Temple.
Wolpe, who once served as an assistant to the seminary’s retiring chancellor, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, told the Forward that in recent weeks his congregants had become increasingly worried about his future at the temple — which is celebrating its centennial year — and he decided to assess how seriously he would consider the JTS post.
His announcement comes as the seminary’s search committee — an 18-member panel that includes JTS board members and faculty, as well as representatives from the major Conservative organizations — enters the final months of a year-long hunt to replace Schorsch, who announced in June that he would retire at the end of the current school year. The search is widely seen as a critical juncture for the Conservative movement, once America’s largest but now suffering from declining popularity. In Boston last month, at the biennial meeting of the movement’s congregational arm, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, people under 55 were a scarce sight among more than 700 delegates.
The JTS search committee, which is headed by the seminary’s longtime chairman, Gershon Kekst, and by another board member, Robert Rifkind, has been tight-lipped about its timetable and the process by which it is conducting the search, but a movement source said that Wolpe was officially asked by the committee to be a candidate.
In recent weeks, several other suspected candidates have dropped off the list. One movement source told the Forward that another suspected candidate, current JTS provost Jack Wertheimer, told a roomful of rabbis at a recent event that he would not be the seminary’s next chancellor. It was not clear whether he meant that he was not likely to be chosen or that he had withdrawn himself from the running.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the rabbinical seminary at the L.A.-based University of Judaism, was also officially asked to be a candidate, but withdrew after an initial meeting with the committee, another movement source told the Forward. Artson declined to comment.
Arnold Eisen, professor of Jewish culture and religion at Stanford University, told the Forward that he was asked informally if he would be interested in the job but had declined, and had not met with search committee members.
“Sometimes you’re happy where you are,” Eisen told the Forward. “I do what I love most: I teach and I write.”
One suspected top candidate, Rabbi Alan Silverstein, a pulpit rabbi in New Jersey and a former president of the movement’s International Rabbinical Assembly, has for now not been discounted. Silverstein did not return multiple messages left by the Forward.