JTS Celebrates Graduates at 129th Commencement Ceremony

Rabbi Arthur Green, Founding Dean and Retired Rector of the Rabbinical School and Irving Brudnick Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Religion at Hebrew College, Delivered the Commencement Address

NEW YORK, NY – The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) held its Commencement ceremony in its atrium on Thursday, May 18.  Rabbi Arthur Green, one of the honorary degree recipients and a JTS alum, delivered the 2023 Commencement address to the 73 graduates from the institution’s five schools: List College, the Kekst Graduate School, H. L. Miller Cantorial School, the Rabbinical School, and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. Eighty-five degrees were granted. 

Rabbi Green, retired Rector of the Rabbinical School and Irving Brudnick Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Religion at Hebrew College in Boston, delivered the Commencement Address. He began by describing his own graduation from JTS on June 4, 1967, when a young Elie Wiesel served as the Commencement speaker and Israel was on the brink of war.   

He went on to say that today, Israel—and Judaism as a whole—are facing another crisis, but that now the threat is internal, as those who interpret the tradition in an “exclusivist and xenophobic way have taken center stage.” He called on Jews who oppose this view to “assert a strong alternative vision.”  

Rabbi Green also referenced the famous words of his teacher at JTS, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, calling on the graduates to embrace Heschel’s notion of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” “We need you,” he told them, “to enroll in the task of the generations, that of recreating Judaism.”   

“Rabbi Green gave our community much to wrestle with as we contemplate our responsibility as interpreters of the Jewish tradition,” said Chancellor Shuly Rubin Schwartz, who also conferred the Honorary Degrees. “His inspiring and important words impacted all in attendance, most especially our graduates who will become the future leaders of the Jewish community. It was an honor to share the podium with Rabbi Green and our other distinguished honorees and to listen to his stirring Commencement address.” 

You can watch Rabbi Green’s full address here.

Watch the entire 129th Commencement Exercises here.  

Watch the ordination ceremony (Tekes Hasmakhah) here.

Chancellor Schwartz also gave a charge to the graduates. Referencing the challenges posed by artificial intelligence, she noted that Jews and Judaism have flourished for millennia because they adapted societal advances to enrich Judaism and the Jewish people. Jews today ought to harness artificial intelligence not to supplant human intelligence but to further stimulate it, for knowledge is a gracious gift from God. Her remarks can be found here.       

This year’s honorary degree recipients included Rabbi Green; Dr. Philip Ozuah, President and CEO of Montefiore Medicine; Rabbi David Saperstein, Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy at the Union for Reform Judaism and former director for 40 years of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Ms. Alicia Svigals, acclaimed klezmer musician and composer.  

List College graduates in JTS’s undergraduate dual-degree programs were awarded bachelor’s degrees from List College; they also graduated from Columbia University or Barnard College at separate ceremonies. Master’s and doctoral candidates who completed their studies at the Gershon Kekst Graduate School and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education received degrees as did graduates of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music and the Rabbinical School. A select number of students received degrees from more than one JTS school. 

In addition to the conferral of degrees for all five schools, the chorus of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School performed the song Ul’amtuye with violin accompaniment by Ms. Svigals, one of the honorary degree recipients. Alan Levine, JTS’s chair of the board, also spoke to the community.

At a luncheon honoring the degree recipients, Ms. Svigals performed an original piece of music that she composed in honor of JTS. You can listen to it here.  

Later in the day, JTS held its Tekes Hasmakhah ceremony of Rabbinic and Cantorial Ordination. Highlights of the ceremony included words of Torah from Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, Pearl Resnick Dean of the Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership, private words of blessing from student mentors, and remarks from Rabbinical and Cantors Assembly representatives.