Editors/Reporters: The full text of Chancellor Eisen’s address, along with information regarding other inaugural events, can be found here
Proclaiming that “we have important work to do,” Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen today set forth his vision for the future of The Jewish Theological Seminary following his investiture as the seventh chancellor of JTS.
Approximately 1,000 dignitaries*, guests and members of the JTS community attended the inauguration ceremonies. Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor-emeritus, presented the Chancellor’s Medal to Professor Eisen. Remarks were also given by Lee C. Bollinger, president, Columbia University; Rabbi David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Elisheva Gould, a student in JTS’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education; Rabbi David Hartman, founder and co-director, Shalom Hartman Institute; Dr. Joseph C. Hough Jr., President, Union Theological Seminary; and Gershon Kekst, chairman of the JTS Board of Trustees. Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first female rabbi to be ordained at JTS, offered the opening prayer. Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, California, Chancellor Eisen’s rabbi for the past twenty years, gave the closing prayer.
In his address, Chancellor Eisen called JTS “a truly fine institution” with the teaching of Torah at the center of its mission, even as it has historically wrestled with the tension between faith and scholarship. This tension, he believes, must guide JTS and Conservative Judaism in actively observing and preserving the tradition even as it applies the tradition to the “complex and changing demands of the day.” The duty to do so “is our glory and our birthright.”
He challenged the students in JTS’s five schools to “Stretch our (faculty and administration) minds along with your own this year.” Chancellor Eisen announced that JTS will undertake a review of the curricula of the rabbinical and cantorial schools with the goal of creating a better fit between the training offered to students and the vastly changed circumstances of the Jewish community.
Calling it his “great privilege to build upon and carry forward” the work of the past JTS chancellors, including his immediate predecessor, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, and such luminary scholars as Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, and Solomon Schechter, Chancellor Eisen said in the coming year JTS will:
1. Contribute directly to the Conservative Movement. Referencing his year-long “listening tour,” during which he heard the aspirations and criticisms Conservative Jews have for JTS and the Conservative Movement, JTS will assist in the articulation of a clear message about what the Conservative Movement is and what it stands for. Chancellor Eisen will also help facilitate conversation among Movement representatives about improving on its structure.
2. Contribute directly to the Jewish people. Chancellor Eisen has long made it known he is committed to increasing the attachment between American Jewry and Israel. He announced that JTS will host a number of programs dedicated to brainstorming ways to bring the two communities together as well as to celebrate Israel’s upcoming sixtieth anniversary.
3. Contribute directly to the United States and Canada by demonstrating visibly and forcefully that faith can be an instrument of cooperation. Plans include laying the groundwork for cooperative arrangements with other religious institutions of higher learning and active religious engagement with Muslims.
And, with the Jewish New Year just one week away, Chancellor Eisen announced the Mitzvah Initiative, in which he has invited all Rabbinical Assembly (RA) rabbis to participate in a Movement-wide focus on mitzvah (commandedness) during the Jewish New Year period and dedicate at least one sermon to this subject. This attention to mitzvah during the holiday period will be followed by an intensive pilot program of learning and conversation throughout the year in a number of congregations across the country as a first step of invigorating discussion among and between Conservative Jews.
The inaugural festivities also included an academic symposium on “The Future of Religion in America” featuring Professor Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University; Professor Ann Swidler, University of California at Berkeley; and Professor David Tracy, University of Chicago; a
celebratory luncheon; and learning sessions with Chancellor Eisen and JTS faculty members Dr. Amy Kalmanofsky and Dr. Joel Roth. A listing of dignitaries in attendance is below
Founded in 1886 as a rabbinical school, The Jewish Theological Seminary today is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide, encompassing a world-class library and five schools. JTS trains tomorrow's religious, educational, academic and lay leaders for the Jewish community and beyond.
*Dignitaries in attendance included:
Cantor Nancy Abramson, vice president, Cantors Assembly
Hon. David Akov, consul general of Israel, San Francisco
Harlene W. Appelman, executive director, Covenant Foundation
Rabbi Bradley Artson, vice president, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Alvin Berkun, president, Rabbinical Assembly
Dr. Baruch Blumberg, president, American Philosophical Society
Dr. Robert Brown, president, Boston University
Mark S. Charendoff, president, Jewish Funders Network
Edward Edelstein, executive director, Jewish Educators Assembly
Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Wayne Firestone; president, Hillel
Dr. Susan Fuhrman, president, Teachers College
Dr. Rela Geffen, immediate past president, Baltimore Hebrew College
Ann Goldman, executive director, Women's League for Conservative Judaism
Dr. Raymond B. Goldstein, president, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Dr. Arthur Green, dean, Hebrew College Rabbinical School
Dr. Jerry Hochbaum, executive vice president, Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
Richard Joel, president, Yeshiva University
Reverend Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president, Fordham University
Larry Moses, president, Wexner Heritage Foundation
Dr. Lonna S. Picker, president, Jewish Educators Assembly
Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches, USA
Dr. Jehuda Reinharz, president, Brandeis University
John Ruskay, executive director and CEO, UJA Federation
Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Cory Schneider, president, Women's League for Conservative Judaism
Dr. Judith Shapiro, president, Barnard College
Dr. Lee Shulman, president, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Rabbi Charles E. Simon, president, Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
Dr. Robert Sirota, president, Manhattan School of Music
Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk, Bishop of New York, Episcopal Diocese of New York
Dr. Howard Sulkin, president, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
Rabbi Avi Weiss, president, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Dr. Barbara Wheeler, president, Auburn Theological Seminary
Dr. Jonathan Woocher, CEO, JESNA
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president, Union for Reform Judaism