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Seminaries Rapped As ‘placid, Past-oriented, Pedantic’ by Culture Foundation Head

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America’s Jewish seminaries came today under a barrage of criticism by the president of the National Foundation of Jewish Culture who described their moodies “placid, past-oriented and pedantic.” Rabbi Daniel Jeremy Silver of Cleveland, the son of the late Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, the Zionist leader, said that a major overhaul of the seminaries is needed to transform them from mere “trade schools” for rabbis serving empty synagogues to training centers for Jewishly-formed social workers, youth leaders and scholars. He also endorsed the principle of female rabbis, calling the present “womanless ministry” an “imbecility.” He asked, “Why alone among the professions is the rabbinate in violation of the Fair Employment Practices Act?” Rabbi Silver was the principal speaker in a symposium on “The Future of Rabbinic Training in America sponsored by “Judaism,” a quarterly journal published by the American Jewish Congress. Eight other leading rabbis served on the panel.

Rabbi Silver, religious leader of the Temple in Cleveland, said that seminary graduates should serve not only in congregations but also in colleges and cities, working with the “urban-unaffiliated, the apartment-alienated, the campus disenchanted.” He charged that pressures to provide congregational rabbis have led the seminaries to be “technical schools” and to lower admission standards and achievement levels. The institutions have fallen, he said, into “that unhappy pattern in American education which has transformed our schools into essentially apprentice-training centers” in which “scholarship is sacrificed to courses in technique.”

He assailed as an “intolerable scandal” the sectarian separation of Jewish seminaries. Although seminary students need “courses, teachers, perspectives and ideas which no insulated seminary can provide, almost all rabbinical training is carried out in spending isolation, even in the middle of New York,” Rabbi Silver said. He proposed an inter-disciplinary approach which would permit students of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform) to take Codes or Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) and a Yeshiva University (Orthodox) student to take Bible and hermeneutics at Hebrew Union. “A mind trained only to parrot a sectarian party line can hardly teach Israel to love all Israel,” he said.

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