The Decline of Reform and Conservative Rabbinic Seminaries

March 31 2022

Enrollment in non-Orthodox rabbinical seminaries has been shrinking for years, particularly in schools associated with the Reform and Conservative movements. As Arno Rosenfeld notes, “the challenges facing seminaries . . . track with American Jews’ shift away from formal institutions and denominations.” Meanwhile, smaller, independent schools have seen their numbers increase in recent years. Rosenfeld suggests that this trend may signify an enduring shift in American Jewish leadership and religious engagement.

The major non-Orthodox denominations—Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist—still dominate American Jewish life. But the difficulty in attracting rabbinical students, especially in the Conservative and Reform movements, which together account for the vast majority of non-Orthodox synagogues, portends a future in which independent institutions play an increasingly important role.

Still, the number of Jews who report belonging to a synagogue has remained steady over the last twenty years, and there is reason to believe that the rabbinic pipeline is shrinking faster than synagogue membership.

The Conservative movement warned its congregations in December that many of them would not be able to fill vacant rabbi positions, with roughly 80 synagogues looking to hire one of the 50 or 60 rabbis available.

That announcement was followed by other signs of a reckoning among Jewish seminaries. The Reform movement announced earlier this month that it was considering ending rabbinic training at its historic campus in Cincinnati. And the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a Conservative seminary, said this week that it would slash tuition by nearly 80 percent to attract more students after enrollment plunged from 56 students ten years ago to 34 this year. . . . While the growth of independent seminaries may point to an interest in rabbinic roles that are less rigid than the traditional congregational pulpit, synagogues remain the primary institutions offering lucrative jobs to new rabbis.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Forward

More about: American Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Rabbis, Reform Judaism

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter