Jewish Clergy, Christian Setting

Jewish Clergy, Christian Setting

A first-year rabbinical student from Providence, R.I., who works for a new Jewish research institute, Lex Rofes says he has informally learned some basics of Christian thought from Christian clergy he has met in recent years.

Starting next year, he says, he probably will be learning more, in a more formal, Christian academic setting — under the auspices of his rabbinical school.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the Philadelphia-based umbrella organization of the Jewish Renewal movement, announced last week “a unique education collaboration” with the New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), a nondenominational Protestant institution in Manhattan that is establishing a master’s in divinity track for Jewish clergy.

It will be, according to the two institutions, “the world’s first master’s in divinity track for Jewish clergy that fully retains the Jewish tradition’s textual and spiritual character of rabbinic, cantorial and rabbinic pastor ordinations.”

Rofes, 25, who serves as strategic initiatives coordinator for The Institute for the Next Jewish Future, says the master’s program is “certainly something I’m excited about.” He’ll probably enroll in it at the end of his second year of online rabbinical studies, while continuing to train to become a Jewish Renewal rabbi. It will foster his “deep respect for interfaith work,” he tells The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “Jewish leaders need to have an ability to interact with other faiths.”

The master’s program grew out of a Ph.D. track for ALEPH students that NYTS began offering six years ago. Participants in the master’s or Ph.D. programs can apply some of their ALEPH coursework towards the advanced degree while taking a minimum of 30 hours of NYTS courses in such areas as Christian ethics and advanced Bible. NYTS students, in turn, will be eligible to take some ALEPH courses.

“NYTS wanted a Jewish partner” and ALEPH wanted to broaden its ecumenical profile while giving rabbinical students the advanced training they need for certification to serve as chaplains, said Rabbi Shohama Harris Weiner, ALEPH’s director of spiritual direction and development and founding director of its Hashpa’ah Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors. “It’s bashert,” she said.

Rabbi Weiner, who earned her Ph.D. from NYTS and has maintained her relationship with many of the seminary’s faculty members, helped arrange the match.

She said NYTS and ALEPH both “have the same mission” of offering “a balance” between the spiritual and the intellectual.

“Our partnership with ALEPH represents a significant leap in the educational journey of both seminaries,” said Rev. Kirkpatrick Cohall, NYTS vice president of academic affairs. “Theological institutions that remain relevant and viable recognize the importance of building relationships across religious lines.”

The master’s program will be open to ALEPH students after their second year of rabbinical studies, says Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH’s executive director. “It reflects our values … our commitment to creating clergy who can work in an interfaith environment.”

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