For the first time, rabbinical students at the leading American Reform and Conservative seminaries soon will be studying together in a formal program stressing the interfaith aspects of Jewish life they will encounter in their pulpits.
The new curriculum was set to be announced this week by Lynn Schusterman, who directs the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, as part of her commencement address at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion graduation ceremony here. Schusterman was to announce the creation of a pilot five-year, collaborative rabbinic training program, to begin in 2008, for students from HUC and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. Four students from each school will take part in joint classes and seminars taught by faculty members from both schools as well as other scholars on a variety of topics that “are not typically part of the rabbinic curriculum,” said Sandy Cardin, president of the Schusterman Foundation.
These topics include outreach to interfaith families, Jews of color and Jews of various sexual orientations, Cardin said. The curriculum will also cover such areas as leadership development, fundraising and marketing.
The program marks a historic degree of official, ongoing cooperation between the flagship institutions of the denominations that represent the majority of affiliated American Jewry.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Cardin. Both schools were “wholly positive, excited, enthusiastic” about the program.
“It demonstrates an openness … to working together,” Cardin said.
Schusterman’s announcement parallels a growing outreach by both denominations’ synagogues to interfaith families, and comes a few months after JTS agreed to accept openly homosexual candidates as rabbinical and cantorial students.
Dealing with interfaith issues will be a key element of the curriculum because “the issue is an important one for the community,” Cardin said.
The program will reinforce the foundation’s support for two major educational initiatives of the past decade that foster an interdenominational approach to Jewish life: STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), and CLI (the Center for Leadership Initiatives). Details of the program are still being worked out by representatives of JTS and HUC, but it appears participating students will study together during the last three years of their rabbinic training. Cardin said the program marks a “modest” but “important” step toward other collaborative projects.