Bridging Scholarship and Clergy Formation: A Collaborative Retreat with HUC-JIR and JTS Faculty

With Gordon Dale, Ph.D.

June 3, 2024

HUC-JIR and JTS faculty came together for an enlightening day of joint learning at the HUC-JTS Jr. Faculty Retreat.

HUC-JIR and JTS faculty came together for an enlightening day of joint learning at the HUC-JTS Jr. Faculty Retreat.

As a faculty member at HUC-JIR, I have the privilege of using my academic training as an ethnomusicologist to help emerging cantors and rabbis gain the skills they need to lead the Jewish community toward a bright and vibrant future. As you might imagine, this is a rather unusual career path for an ethnomusicologist. But I’m not alone in applying my immersion in a scholarly discipline toward the development of clergy-in-training. This is exactly how my colleagues at HUC-JIR, as well as other seminaries, direct their skills every day.

For this reason, it was a true pleasure to recently spend a full day with fellow pre-tenure faculty members from both HUC-JIR and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Following the conclusion of the Spring 2024 semester, the provosts of both institutions and a group of nine junior scholars (including HUC faculty from all three American campuses) came together for a one-day retreat to discuss our work and delve into topics of professional importance for early-career scholars.

This gathering of HUC and JTS junior faculty was a first. Despite our many similarities and areas of overlap, the two faculties rarely have opportunities to interact. Even so, because we are all engaged in the idiosyncrasies of teaching in a Jewish seminary, it felt as if we all spoke a common language, making our connections immediate.

Our gathering was held in the beautiful Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan. In a beautiful room shaped like the bow of a ship and overlooking the New York Harbor, we began our day by bringing a short Jewish text to introduce our research interests with the group. Hearing about the brilliant scholarship that these colleagues are undertaking was energizing, and hearing about the journeys that led the provosts to their current positions was inspiring.

We next moved on to an engaging and informative presentation by Mark Oppenheimer, a scholar of religion who has focused his career on public-facing scholarship. As a well-known writer and sought-after speaker, he was able to offer us concrete and clear advice on how to share our ideas with a wide audience. The manner in which he has been able to introduce sophisticated and nuanced concepts into public discourse in an extremely engaging way was a model for an aspect of my career that I’d like to develop.

Following a break for lunch, we had the opportunity to hear from Elisabeth Maselli, the senior Jewish Studies editor at UPenn Press. Through her concise and informative presentation, she demystified the academic book publication process and offered excellent advice for scholars at a range of career stages. Elisabeth seemed genuinely happy to field our many questions, and her recommendations showcased the great extent to which she clearly wants to grow the field.

Finally, we had the opportunity to learn from Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, the Executive Director of the Center for Rabbinic Innovation. Given her role, Rabbi Koch Epstein is in an excellent position to share with us reflections on the state of the American rabbinate and tell us about issues of concern for rabbis in the field, particularly those who were recently ordained. This inspired fascinating conversations regarding the intersection of religious authority and power, complex motivations for pursuing the rabbinate, and the myriad ways that clergy formation can take place. Delving into these topics was a reminder that our work is about far more than content; it is about providing spaces for emerging clergy to develop their understanding of what it means to be a Jewish leader.

The retreat was a wonderful opportunity for the faculties of HUC-JIR and JTS to talk and think together about our shared work, and to gain skills that will be helpful as we move forward in our careers. I am grateful to the provosts for facilitating this day of interesting conversation, and I look forward to future collaboration with the talented scholars with whom I had the pleasure of spending the day.

Courtesy of Gordon Dale, Ph.D.
Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music Studies; Assistant Professor of Jewish Musicology
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion