Chancellor Schorsch to retire next year

My teacher Rabbi Ismar Schorsch has announced his retirement from The Jewish Theological Seminary effective at the end of June 2006. While twenty years is quite a length of time for his chancellorship, I am certain he could continue to be Chancellor for years to come. During my six years at the Seminary I watched the institution improve by leaps and bounds each year. This was no doubt due to the contributions of many, but ultimately must be attributed to the leadership of Chancellor Schorsch. As a classroom teacher he was simply magnificient. Each Friday morning of one particular semester a few years ago, I was blown away listening to his lectures on the famous Jewish historians. As he helped the class move from their scholarly texts to their context in scholarship I recall feeling that I could sit and listen to Dr. Schorsch all day. The only famous Jewish historian he omitted from that course was himself.
Rabbi Jason Miller with Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Ismar Schorsch
Here is the NY Times coverage of his announcement (from June 17, 2005)

Jewish Theological Seminary to Lose Its Longtime Leader

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, who shepherded the Jewish Theological Seminary through 19 years of robust institutional expansion that also saw recurring tensions over the Conservative movement’s traditional standards, has announced that he will retire as chancellor a year from now.

The movement, which combines an adherence to traditional Jewish law with an acceptance of contemporary change, has been through a complicated era under the leadership of Dr. Schorsch, who is 69. In an interview yesterday, he spoke of the difficulty of reconciling those members who prefer more rigorous observance and with those who seek a more contemporary refashioning of worship – one that would, for example, permit more participation by women and gays.

“The long-term question is whether the center can hold, and that is the mission of the Conservative movement, to make sure that the center does not collapse,” he said.

The seminary, at 122nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, is the heart of the Conservative movement of 1.3 million Jews, and its chancellor is seen as the movement’s head. The seminary prepares most of the movement’s rabbis and cantors, and generates the scholarship that guides movement policies.

Dr. Schorsch, a soft-spoken, courtly refugee from Nazi Germany who is a scholar of European Jewish history, took the helm in March 1986, a year after the movement ordained its first female rabbi. But the issue of how well women are being integrated into leadership and worship continues to percolate, with a recent study finding that most of the 188 female rabbis either work in nonpulpit jobs, as assistant rabbis, or with small congregations. (There are 1,600 Conservative rabbis in all.)

The movement’s Rabbinical Assembly voted in 1992 not to ordain gays as rabbis and said that rabbis should not perform same-sex marriages, a stance Dr. Schorsch supported. But the assembly did not declare the ban a binding standard.

The movement, once American Judaism’s largest, has been unable to expand the ranks of adherents. Two polar tugs are blamed: the attraction of more ardent observance and the losses to Reform Judaism of interfaith couples uncomfortable with the movement’s clinging to the centuries-old principle that Jewish identity stems from the mother alone.
Rabbi Jason Miller and Chancellor Ismar Schorsch on Purim at JTS
Last winter, articles in Jewish newspapers reported that the seminary had a deficit of at least $40 million and that, to buttress its endowment, was planning to sell property on the West Side. Dr. Schorsch said reports of the financial problems were “overblown.”

Dr. Schorsch turned the seminary into a full-fledged university, with a wider range of graduate programs. In 1994 there were 500 students and 90 faculty members; today there are 700 and 120 respectively.

Dr. Schorsch said that he raised close to a half billion dollars in annual campaigns and $265 million in a capital campaign.

Dr. Schorsch said he will take a sabbatical and then resume teaching and writing.

“I have always wanted to step down in top form,” he said. “I am mindful of the harm one can do by staying on too long. I did not want to be guilty of that mistake.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

High Speed Internet and Digital Photography Revolutionize Access to Ancient Riches

Global access to some of Jewish history’s most outstanding literary treasures is now just a mouse click away through JTS Library Treasures, a new online resource of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

Prepared with the generous support of George Blumenthal of New York City and the extraordinary photographic skills of Ardon Bar Hama of Raanana, Israel, the site features several manuscripts from The Library’s exceptional collection, including the Rothschild Mahzor, the Prato Haggadah, and the Esslingen Mahzor, as well as Genizah fragments representing Maimonides and Judah Halevi.

Founded in 1893, the Library at JTS is recognized today as the greatest Jewish library in the Western Hemisphere. Its collection includes close to 400,000 volumes, including 25,000 rare books, 12,000 manuscripts, and much more. Among the collection’s highlights are its approximately 40,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah, its collection of kettubot (Jewish wedding contracts), and its unparalleled collection of haggadot (the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt). The Library is also host to the world’s largest collection of Hebrew incunabula, early books, printed before 1501.

“The Library recognizes that as important as it is to collect and preserve the literatures and treasures of past, these materials are worth little if they remain eternally on the shelf. Our ultimate goal is to make the cultural heritage of the Jewish people available to the world at large. Current technology, the generosity of George Blumenthal and the talent of Ardon Bar Hama is allowing this to happen,” said Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian at JTS.

As founder and past Chairman of NTL, the largest cable television company in the United Kingdom, Blumenthal came to understand how transformative high speed Internet access could be in sharing the heritage of the Jewish people free of charge. Currently the founder and Chairman of Cellular Communications Inc (Ohio and Michigan), Cellular Communications (Puerto Rico) and Cellular Communications International (Italy), he is responsible, together with Bar Hama for developing a number of educational projects that share the treasures of rare Jewish documents and archeological objects with the world at no charge.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

The Robin’s Nest Saga

Robin's Nest Photo by Rabbi Jason Miller www.jasonamiller.comFor a period of a few weeks, our family enjoyed some very special guests right outside our living room’s bay window. A robin bird, the official state bird of Michigan, laid a nest in our cherry blossom tree in a perfect location for viewing (both from inside and outside).

I took photos of the nest from the time she lay the eggs to the day before the three babies flew the coup. Having never known much about the Robin bird I enjoyed watching her and learning more about her species on the Web. Our family loved listening to her sing and checking up on her each day.Robin's Nest Photo by Rabbi Jason Miller

I’ve uploaded some of the photos I took of this experience and will also upload some video clips soon. Enjoy!Robin's Nest Photo by Rabbi Jason Miller

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |