JTS Seeks to Repair Ties with University of Judaism

Relations between the Jewish theological Seminary of American in New York and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles appear to be on the mend, as both Conservative institutions move to put a brief acrimonious exchange behind them.

The friction followed an announcement last week by the University of Judaism that it would establish next year a full-fledged rabbinical school, whose graduates would be ordained as Conservative rabbis.

The JTS, which has had an American monopoly on ordaining Conservative rabbis, reacted angrily.

JTS Chancellor Ismar Schorsch released a two-paragraph statement last week, in which he charged that University of Judaism leaders had countered long standing assurances that they would not expand their existing two year rabbinical preparatory school into a full-fledged institution.

In response, University of Judaism leaders indicated that their move was part of a long-range evolutionary process of achieving greater independence from their parent campus in New York. As a four-year school starting next fall, the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies will become the first American Jewish institution west of the Mississippi to ordain rabbis of any denomination.

The expansion of the Ziegler School program is being made possible by an anonymous $22 million gift of the university.

Since its founding 24 years ago, Ziegler School graduates generally have transferred to the JTS to complete their studies and become ordained.

Exactly one week after his sharp reprimand, Schorsch issued a more conciliatory statement.

The chancellor congratulated the University of Judaism on the $22 million gift and noted that the JTS’s William Davidson School of Education had also broken through the philanthropic “glass ceiling” by receiving a large – $15 million – private grant last year.

However, Schorsch cautioned that the creation of a second rabbinical school “presents both a challenge and an opportunity” to the Conservative movement.

Schorsch appealed to the University of Judaism leadership to work with him “to avoid the regionalism which might attend the creation of a [rabbinical] school on the opposite coast. The unity of the [Conservative] movement can be preserved only by working cooperatively within the common framework.”

Informed o Schorsch’s statement, Dean Daniel Gordis of the Ziegler School hailed the chancellor’s statement as “precisely what we had hoped for.”

Gordis, a JTS graduate, said a process of mutual consultation and coordination was already under way with a visit to Los Angeles by two leaders, whom he declined to name of the Rabbincial Assembly, the national association of Conservative rabbis.

Gordis added he and Dean William Lebeau of the JTS rabbinical school would visit the other’s campus in the near future.

The dean further emphasized that his university was not a “regional” institution, but one of the sought to serve Conservative an general Jewry in the West and across the country.

NEXT STORY