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.

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Read more at Forward

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

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform