Religion & Beliefs

Communication Breakdown?

Hello, FaithHackers. I'm Matt. I suppose the best way to start would be to discuss the main process that I've been going through this past year: deciding which Conservative rabbinical school to attend. I know this doesn't seem particularly relevant … Read More

By / May 31, 2007

Hello, FaithHackers. I'm Matt. I suppose the best way to start would be to discuss the main process that I've been going through this past year: deciding which Conservative rabbinical school to attend. I know this doesn't seem particularly relevant to 99.9% of you reading this (if not more), but bear with me. This year, while studying in Israel at the Conservative Yeshiva (more about this in a later post), I decided that I want to be a Conservative rabbi, and underwent the process of applying to both JTS in Manhattan and UJ in Bel Air (the easy way that many people came up with for remembering which school is which is that JTS and NYC each have three letters, while UJ and LA have only two; this clever mnemonic was ruined when UJ changed its name to AJU a few months, but I digress). As I applied to each school, I chatted with students from both JTS and UJ/AJU through the process. The exact content of these conversations is not important but it became clear that, for whatever reason, each felt that their school was superior for something that the other school did not possess. I was torn between the two, and to facilitate my decision, I had the privilege of visiting both schools in the middle of February. I was very impressed with each school and learned a lot about both institutions; but, the main thing I noticed during my visits was just how similar the two schools are. Let's face it, Conservative Judaism (especially the way it's taught in rabbinical schools) is a very specific thing, so while proponents of each school may accentuate their differences, I continue to hold that if you take a faculty member/student/janitor from each school and put them in front of me, I couldn't tell the difference, even after talking to them for a while. There are advocates of a strict halachic approach in LA, just like there are crunchy vegetarian hippies in NY: no hard and fast rules apply. Furthermore, aspects of one program that were supposed to be particularly strong were, if anything, more impressive at the other. That's an awkward sentence, so I'll try to explain: UJ/AJU claims "practical rabbinics" is one of its strength , yet I was extremely impressed by the internship/job placement counselor at JTS. Conversely, while JTS points to its faculty as the institution's bastion of strength, every faculty member I met in Los Angeles seemed great. This is not to say the career services in LA are subpar or that JTS' faculty is poor; not surprisingly, the elements each school claims as their strengths are solid as well. But, I found it amusing that the points set up to be the deciding factors were often a wash in terms of comparing the two. So, why the hell should you care? I could present you with the old "things are more complicated than they seem/you can't take what people say at face value without seeing for yourself", but that's a little cliche and not a particularly strong point to end my first post with. Let's go with this instead: the world, including/especially the Jewish world, is moving much too quickly these days to hold on to ideas from a few years ago without checking them against the present day to know if they're still true. We live in an information age, where exchange of ideas is both easier and more important than ever before because of the speed with which things evolve. That, in a nutshell, is why I'm excited to be a part of FaithHacker. I'll throw some ideas out there, please throw some back at me, and whether we toss together a brand new way of approaching Judaism altogether or end up with the intellectual equivalent of a food fight, it should be fun along the way.