An Open Letter to Conservative Rabbis Regarding The Recent Transition at the Conservative Yeshiva
by Adam Shain on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 6:07am
Dear Rabbis of the Conservative Movement,
I am sure that you have all heard of the transition taking place at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. If you have not, then it is my sad duty to inform you that the Fuchsberg Center has decided to eliminate the position of Rosh Yeshiva, and Dr. Rabbi Richard (Shmuel) Lewis will no longer be employed. As the letter from the USCJ administration on the subject notes, “With no doubt, his scholarship and many gifts will be missed.”
While the USCJ and Fuchsberg Center have been juggling budgetary constraints for some time, this decision has come as a shock to many of the staff (who were not involved in the decision) and 1800 alumni who have had the good fortune to study at the Yeshiva. I am sure that this decision was painstaking, but it is disappointing that the process behind it was so secretive, especially when the result will fundamentally change the experience of learning at the Yeshiva. If the discussion had been more open, perhaps an alternative solution could have been found.
I am writing to you because I know that this is an important issue to the RA. Only last year, at the Rabbinical Assembly Plenum, you declared “that the Rabbinical Assembly and its members recognize the leading role that the Conservative Yeshiva plays in the area of intensive text study by lay people as a central goal and value of Conservative Judaism.” I ask you now, is the Conservative Yeshiva a stronger, more capable institution without a Rosh Yeshiva?
If you ascribe to the RA’s Resolution in Support of the Conservative Yeshiva, I ask that you take it upon yourself to make your voice heard on this issue. If you share in my grief regarding the decision and my outrage regarding the process, I ask that you take a stand. What’s more, I ask that you share your feelings with your students and congregants and empower them to engage with the USCJ on this matter.
We live in an age where the voice of the many has never been stronger and in a country where a community organizer is President. I call on you, our leaders in both spirit and practice, to follow the rich tradition of Conservative rabbis who were willing to take a public stand for what they felt was right. As the Conservative Movement yearns for greater communal engagement, use this as an opportunity to educate others about Jewish values like derech eretz and Torah Lishmah and to loudly declare that a Jewish institution is not stronger but weaker when we remove its religious and spiritual backbone.
I urge you to stand with me in asking the powers that be at USCJ (including those who authored the letter explaining the removal of the Rosh Yeshiva: Rabbi Loren Sykes, Rabbi Steven Wernick, Richard Skolnik and Marty Werber) to reconsider their decision and open this conversation to the greater community of Conservative Jews in the hopes of finding a solution more befitting the values of the Conservative Movement.