eisen_arnold.thumbnail.jpgThe blogosphere’s been buzzing for a few days now, so this is likely not news to anyone, but the new chancellor of JTS will be…

Professor Arnold M. Eisen of Stanford University.

So sayeth Gershon Kekst in the email I just got from JTS:

Prof. Eisen is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University. He is one of the world’s foremost experts in American Judaism. For the past twenty years, he has worked closely with synagogue and federation leadership around the country in analyzing and addressing the challenging issues of Jewish identity, the revitalization of Jewish tradition and the redefinition of the American Jewish community.

He is a strong advocate of JTS as the premier center of scholarship in the Jewish world and hopes to bring that scholarship to bear on the pressing issues of the day. He is also passionate about making Israel a greater part of American Jewish life.

To sum up…mightily degreed–with degrees from Penn, Oxford and Hebrew U; expert on Jewish life in America; not a rabbi; the seventh JTS chancellor; has been in California; is widely published; sings on stairways; and rides (or at least poses with) a bike. (See this profile from several years ago.)

Ahead for the chancellor-designate (as he will be known during a year of transition and relocation from Stanford): dwindling movement numbers, the importance and unaffordability of dayschool education, the tendency of Conservative youth to either become more or less religious, and…wasn’t there one other thing? Ah yes…the gay issue.

Let the discussion begin.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • Thanks for posting this, I haven’t had a chance to do it. here’s a NY Times article about Eisen and the position.

    Interesting and brave selection from everything I’ve read. Poor guy kinda won the prize and in this case the prize is a big set of headaches.

  • I wrote a bio for him on wikipedia, feel free to (properly) wikify — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Eisen — though it’s all based on the media reports.

    Supposedly in his younger days he hung out with Art Green and was a C basher (from the left-wing havura school). I’m concerned about him not being a halakhist/rabbi and on one hand his academic field is a plus (as he can make the needed sociological changes, or at least isn’t blind to it as some other C leaders may be), an the other hand, it’s also negative as it’s not Talmud or History or something like that (and this coming from a social science student myself) for JTS.

    He’s still a far lefty, it seems. I don’t blame him but I think this is further proof that the C movement runs by sociological reality and not halakha. (I say with sadness as I grew up C and still identify intellectually with the C movement)

  • pardon my ignorance, but what is the Chancellor’s job requirements? A Dean of sorts? Good luck to him, I should say that at least. Interesting that he’s not a rabbi. Maybe this is C’s time to be moving more towards a sociological Judaism? …i doubt that, though.

  • “The chancellor is the academic head of the institution, and from the viewpoint of having moral suasion and institutional power he is also the leader of the [Conservative] movement

  • Wait, he sings “Stairway”?! Wow, its almost hip to be a C Jew now! 😉

    I am a bit concerned about the concept of the Conservative movement’s premier yeshiva not being headed by a rabbi. Whither the concept of smikha being passed down from rabbi to disciple, in an unbroken chain from our origins to the future?

    On the other hand, I think his focus on the over-arching sociological / demographic challenges of American Jewry might be beneficial. It won’t matter about a lot of these issues of halakha if there aren’t any American Jews left to worry about it…

  • I am a bit concerned about the concept of the Conservative movement’s premier yeshiva not being headed by a rabbi.

    Yeshiva University beat them to it; Richard M. Joel, the president of the university, isn’t a rabbi either.

  • also leader of the C movement? isn’t that…well, the head rabbis’ jobs? i mean, just because he’s head of the school doesn’t mean that he’s head of the world of C Judaism.

    …and why isn’t there more discussion on this, anyway? nobody cares about CJ anymore. le sigh.

  • This is a bit off-topic, but for one institution’s approach to the ‘gay issue’, check out “A Church Asunder,” by Peter Boyer, in the current issue of New Yorker magazine. Engrossing, even if you have no dog in that fight.

  • Nathan:
    Richarg M. Joel is the president of The University (undergrad, grad, etc.) Rav Herschel Schecter is the Rosh Yeshiva of Reits, the Rabbinical school. So too, I would asume JTS would have a rabbi running the actual seminary wing, giving smicha etc.

  • As far as I know (and I used to work there), JTS has deans of its rabbinical school, but ordination is usually conferred by the chancellor. Perhaps that’s because the chancellor’s almost always been a rabbi, as well. Maybe they’ll change it, now, but we’ll see. Plus, it’s worth noting that although the chancellor’s the head of the movement, he still confers with the heads of the RA (Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative organization of rabbis) and the United Synagogue (organization of Conservative synagogues) on movement-wide decisions. Like I said, should be very interesting. We’ll see what happens…