Friday, April 07, 2006

Eisen in, Tucker out

It appears that the Conservative Movement may have chosen a new leader. The Forward is reporting that Professor Arnold Eisen is the new chancellor:

Eisen, a professor of religious studies, has written a number of books on the future of American Judaism, including the 2000 book “The Jew Within: Self, Family and Community in America,” which was co-written with Steven Cohen, an associate professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The book used survey data to argue that American Jews increasingly see religious identity as an individual matter, and opt to craft their own religious practices and identities, rather than depend on rabbinic authorities...

The other rumored candidate was Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. When Tucker, a former dean of the seminary's rabbinical school, left his JTS post in 1992, it was widely assumed that he had been pushed out by Schorsch, because he objected to Tucker's liberal views on a range of issues. The second source familiar with the search process said that in recent days some movement insiders were pushing for the seminary’s provost, Jack Wertheimer, a leading Conservative traditionalist.

I don't know quite what to make of this news. Even if the Forward has reported this accurately, it is still puzzling. Arnie Eisen is among, other things, a prominent expert on Mordecai Kaplan, the founding thinker of the reconstructionist movement. Gordon Tucker got forced out of JTS in the 1990s for being too lefty. Apparently there were negotiations to hire him for the chancellorship but he wanted assurances that he could make progressive changes. i guess the Conservative Movement really is conservative after all and wasn't willing to budge. apparently the result is that Tucker didn't get the nod and Eisen did. How crazy is it when the Kaplanian is the more conservative of your applicants. oy.

after some more reading and hearing a few more perspectives it has become clear to me that eisen is, in fact, a centrist Conservative jew and his knowledge/interest of Kaplan does not imply a philosophical allegiance.
This new information changes my perspective on the politics of what happened. Many logical choices didn't throw their hats in and the clearest candidates, Tucker and Wertheimer were tdivisiveive as Tucker is a clear lefty and Werheimer the opposite. They needed a darkhorse who would accept the job and be able to raise a lot of money. It is well-known that JTS is having financial issues and that the Conservative movement is having its own problems, so it will be interesting to see how Eisen approaches both.


At 4/08/2006 , Blogger amechad said...

It's not clear that he actually follows Kaplan even though its an academic interest.

Also, it may be that since Gordon Tucker is known to be so lefty that it serves as a barrier and thus a lesser known may be more useful (on the other hand, I'm disconcerned by Prof. Eisen's lack of rabbinic ordination and, presumably, background in halakha)

At 4/08/2006 , Blogger amechad said...

Oh, I just wrote his bio and Gordon Tucker's on Wikipedia - -feel free to edit (appropriately) -


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