- Purchase/rental options available:
The institutional history of the Jewish Theological Seminary has mostly been told in relation to the emergence of the Conservative movement of Judaism in the United States and in relation to the Jüdisch-Theologisches Seminar after which it was named, founded by Zecharias Frankel in 1854. The biography and religious outlook of the first president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Sephardic Italian Jew named Sabato Morais (1823-1897), are mined as sources for exploring an alternative account. This essay argues for ideological and institutional discontinuity between the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), founded in 1886 and the re-organized seminary incorporated under the name "The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA) in 1902.
Morais’s program of rabbinical education was not solely a response to American conditions of religious reform and insular orthodoxy; nor was it a moderate compromise between the two. Morais’s Seminary was consistent with the educational program of enlightened observant Sephardic and Italian Jewish traditions in which he was raised and which he had taught throughout his nearly half-century ministry in Philadelphia (1851-1897). In articulating the character of the JTS, Morais placed the values of duty and humility at the core of his rabbinical training program. His program, its historical and religious specificity, may be contrasted with other Jewish orthodoxies during his time. The afterlife of Morais’s religious outlook is then explored via JTS's two most famous graduates, Joseph Hertz, chief rabbi of the British Empire and Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.