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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 30, 2009 Ziegler-Schechter split highlights Conservative divisions I~y Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--In a further sign that the Ameri- can and international wings of the Conservative move- ment are moving in different ideological directions, a Los Angeles rabbinical seminary has ended its longstanding residency program with Ma- chon Schechter in Jerusalem, the only institution that ordains Conservative rabbis in Israel. Beginning this fall, third- year students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies will spend their Israel year at the Conservative Yeshiva, a co-educational institute for Diaspora Jews housed at the Fuchsberg Center of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the movement's North American synagogue umbrella. The change was announced last week in a memo to the United Synagogue's staff and board members. "The Ziegler School and the Conservative Yeshiva share a common pedagogi- cal philosophy--integrating academic rigor, emotional engagement, and spiritual yearning," Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler's dean, said in a statement appended to the memo. Both American Conser- vative seminaries--Ziegler and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York--are kngwn to have ideological differences with Schechter's rabbinical school, whose dean, Rabbi Einat Ramon, has been an outspoken critic of the movement's liberaliz- By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week The appointment of a spe- cial envoy to breathe new life into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could split the pro-Israel center while pleas- ing the Jewish left and out- ra~ing the right. The schism could be particularly deep now that President Barack Obama has announced former Sen. George Mitchell as his pick for the job. Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administra- tion-Mitchell's reputation as an honest broker--could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups. "Sen. Mitchell is fair. He's been meticulously even-hand- ed," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League. "But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn't been 'even handed'--it has been sul~portive of Israel when it fel~ Israel needed critical U. S. support. "So I'm concerned," Foxman continued. "I'm not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East." But David Harris, executive director of the American Jew- ish Committee, said Mitchell could be a "good and logical choice" if he is given a man- date focusing mostly on crisis management. "He has the respect of both sides, and he would have direct access to top administration officials, which is very important." ing attitude toward gays and lesbians. Ramon has declined to follow the lead of the Ameri- can schools, both of which changed their policies to admit openly gay and lesbian students following a decision by the movement's Jewish law authorities in late 2006 pav- ing the way for such a move. Seminario Rabinico Latino- americano, the movement's seminary in Argentina, also declined to change its poli- cies. Artson declined to com- ment beyond his statement in the United Synagogue memo on the reasons for the change. But in an interview with JTA last year, he responded to re- ports that students at Ziegler, the first Conservative semi- nary to adjust its admissions policy, were uncomfortable with the prospect of studying at Schechter. "I've already launched conversations with Machon Schechter about the need to attend to there being real plu- ralism and that our students feel truly welcome," Artson told JTA. "We need to see significant progress on those issues. What I've discussed with Schechter is that our students have to not be toler- ated guests. They need to feel a rapport. They need to feel that they are fully welcome." Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter's president, said the school had attempted to make adjustments to its courses in response to what he described as Ziegler's"unique approach" to training rabbis, but that ultimately those efforts came to naught. "We've been told repeatedly by the people at Ziegler that this is notaboutthe gay issue," Golinkin told JTA. "We take them at their word." Others in the movement are less convinced. They point to a controversy that arose just over a year ago, when visiting American students at Schechter organized a cer- emony to mark the one-year anniversary of the decision to permit gay ordination, but then decided to move the event off campus. The spat crystallized the discomfort of many Ziegler and JTS stu- dents, gay and straight, at the prospect of spending a year at Schechter, which is required under the present system. They also point to an article Artson penned in the current issue of Voices of Conserva- tive/Masorti Judaism in which he asserted that"halachic plu- ralism"--the idea that con- flicting approaches to Jewish law can coexist--"precludes the option of continuing to postpone the day when all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their orientation, are welcomed fully as part of the rich fabric of Jewish culture and Jewish life." The American and inter- national arms of the Con- servative movement have drifted apart gradually on a number of hot-button questions in recent years, including the status of non- egalitarian congregations. Last year, three Toronto-area synagogues--none of which fully embraces egalitarian worship--cited a number of factors in explaining their decision to break off from the American Jewish University Rabbi Bradley Artson said the Ziegler School had pedagogical differences with its former Israel partner, Machon Schechter. with asserting itself in the Israeli religious world and with holding the line against the liberalizing tendencies of the Americans. "People at Schechter feel that the Conservative movement has taken a wrong turn, that the Conservative movement in America has made a move toward being indistinguish- able from the Reform and the Reconstructionist, from the other liberal movements," said one Conservative rabbi who fa- vors gay ordination."Theyview themselves as the last anchor of true Conservative Judaism and they will not be swayed." Golinkin denied both as- sertions. "I don't take halachic posi- tions in order to hold lines," he said. United Synagogue, including financial concerns and"phiio- sophical differences" they felt were marginalizing the more traditional-leaning Canadian congregations. Beyond their varying ideo- logical approaches are what insiders see as differing styles with respect to rabbinic train- ing. Ziegler is seen as having embraced a wider and more holistic approach to rabbinical education while JTS, which is in the process of a major over- haul of its rabbinical curricu- lum, is believed to be heading in a similar direction. At Schechter, sources say, the educational approach re- mains more firmly in the aca- demically oriented mold once exemplified by JTS. Schechter is also said to be preoccupied Mitchell as envoy could split center that sets Mitchell apart from other possible contenders for the special envoy job: "It's also interesting that he's not Jewish," he said. "That prob- ably sends a good signal of neutrality." That neutrality, more than any anti-Israel bias, is what's likely toworry some pro-Israel leaders the most. But several Mideast experts say that the appointment of a special envoy could be less than it seems. "It's a holding action no matter who the special envoy is," said Shoshana Bryen, senior director for security policy for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "The appointment may be meant to keep people in the region quiet." With the Palestinian lead- ership dividedbetween Hamas and Fatah, the chances for any major breakthroughs on the Israel-Palestinian front are remote, other observers said. The appointment of a high-level envoy like Mitchell may be intended to create the impression of intense administration activity when, in reality, the new president hopes to just keep the con- flict from boiling over while focusing on more immediate problems like the tanking economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as the crowds from last Tuesday's inauguration were dissipating and cel- ebrants were dressing for the inaugural balls, the incom- ing administration's foreign policy team was preparing for quick action to implement President Obama's promise to actively engage in Middle East peace efforts from Day One. Despite that promise, other priorities will predominate in the early days of the new administration. "Clearly, he has to focus on the American economy first," said Robert O. Freedman, a Mideast scholar at Johns Hop- kins University. "The smart thing would be to appoint a special envoy whose job it would be to go around the region and talk to people for a month or two. That provides the impression of movement while buying some time." It would also help ad- ministration policymakers figure out how to approach the biggest impediment to any serious peace process, he said: the fact Hamas retains control over Gaza, while a weakened, disorganized Fatah is holding on to power in the West Bank. But Freedman said Obama might choose to fulfill his promise to rebuild U. S. influence in the Arab world by "pushing [Israel] on the issue of illegal settlement outposts, which Israel has alrea@ promised to uproot. That may well happen early in the administration." Despite Israel's commit- ment to remove them, any push from Washington after eight years of inaction on the outpost issue will spark anger from pro-Israel groups, he said, while pleasing groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now. The most immediate Mid- east problem for the adminis- tration, several analysts said this week, is helping stabilize the new and tenuous cease- fire with Hamas, not trying to restart long-stalled negotia- tions on the central issues in the conflict. "First, they have to do everything possible to help stop the influx of weapons coming in by land and by sea," said the AJC's Harris. "That will require the cooperation of the Egyptians and the Europeans." It will also require fleshing out of the broad U. S.-Israel memorandum of understand- ing signed last week calling for increased cooperation between the two countries in ending Hamas arms smug- gling, but providing few details of how to accomplish that. Another key to stabilizing the situation, Harris said, is "continuing efforts on the West Bank to improve the security situation and point to economic development, in order to demonstrate to the people of Gaza what they're missing because of their Hamas leadership." Harris also said the new administration must act quickly to "reassure Israel it will understand the measures it has to take to protect its own security." But Harris also said the appointment of a special envoy could be a plus for the region--depending on his or her mandate. "The real question is Mitchell worked closely with pro-Israel activists dur- ing his 15 years in the Sen- ate and won international acclaim for brokering the "Good Friday" agreement that ended sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. But the fact that he does not have the personal connections to Israel of other leading candidates for the envoy job and his reputa- tion for building relationships with both sides in negotiations worry some pro-Israel leaders who have become accustomed to the hands-off approach of former President George W. Bush. Just as disturbing to those skeptical of Mitchell was his role as head of a commission that produced a 2001 report in the wake of the second intifada calling on Israel to freeze the construction of new settlements while demanding that the Palestinians take strong action to stop attacks against Israel. But some pro-peace process activists say Mitchell would bring a new stature to U. S. mediation efforts and signal that Obama's campaign-trail promises ofinvolvementwere not empty ones. Samuel Lewis, a former ambassador to Israel now as- sociated with the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), said Mitchell "has enough stature to carry the weight of the president with him; that's very hard to do. He has a very good record on the Irish negotiations. He has infinite patience, and he has worked well with both sides." Lewis added another factor Officials at Schechter and JTS, the movement's flag- ship institution, have been in discussions over a number issues raised by their differing admissions policies as well as the seminary's new cur- riculum. Neither Golinkin nor Rabbi Danny Nevins, the recently installed dean of the JTS rabbinical school, would com- ment on the content of those discussions. Nevins, however, did tell JTA that while the seminary is committed to "cooperation" with Schechter, "we will also be expanding our partner- ship" with the Israeli branch of the Conservative synagogue movement, known as Masorti, "as well as with other Israeli organizations." whether the principle object of a special envoy is conflict resolution or conflict manage- ment," he said. Seeking quick progress toward a broad agreement will run headlong into the upcoming Israeli election and the fact it will take months for a new government to get up and running, Harris said, as well as the Gaza-West Bank split. But if the focus is on man- aging the current conflict and laying the groundwork for a more extensive peace process once conditions have improved, Harris said, Mitch- ell might be an appropriate choice and he has demon- strated the patience to take negotiations one step at a time. Right-of-center Jewish groups made it clear they will sound loud alarm bells over the likely choice of Mitchell. "In the meetings I've par- ticipated in with George Mitchell, he made it clear he sympathized with the Palestinian position over the Israeli position, and blamed Israel more than the Palestin- ians for the lack of progress toward peace," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. "We will be expressing our strong concerns that this appoint- ment would be a mistake. It would send an additional message that Obama is going to pressure Israel more than the Palestinians." Groups on the Jewish Mitchell on page 18A 'T