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Rabbinical Students Studying at Hartford Seminary
UPDATE: Fran Snyder, one of the students from the Jewish Theological Seminary in the class, offered these comments after the class ended:
"The experience exceeded my expectations, which now, looking back, seem to have been far short of what I encountered. What I didn't anticipate was being drawn in, personally. We're all adults and, therefore, living day to day with fully formed defenses and a mental raft of assumptions. Very little knocks us off our own blocks. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.) Sitting in a room for an entire week, talking and learning, testing the deeper waters -say, the politics of the Middle East and how that influences our thinking about each other- leaving the room only to take meals but together, has an accumulated effect on our feelings. We begin to like each other and want to trust each other. A Roman Catholic friend of mine told me a story about a priest who was his teacher; the priest said, "It's good that the Gospel tells us to love one another, not like one another." And as a political premise, I think that's fine and good. It acknowledges that 'like' is more difficult than 'love.' 'Like' takes more time and effort. BAP affords both."
Jessica Minnen will enter her final year of rabbinical study at the Jewish Theological Seminary this fall in New York City. She is busy in the community as assistant director of a new initiative for congregational education, which is scheduled to launch this fall.
But for the next week she had planned to be in Hartford, participating in Hartford Seminary’s Building Abrahamic Partnerships course and living on campus.
“I decided to study at Hartford Seminary because I was greatly impressed by the commitment the Seminary has made to fostering meaningful interfaith dialogue, learning, and networking opportunities,” Minnen said. “I believe that each of the Abrahamic faiths offers a wisdom tradition that can only enrich the way I experience my Judaism and prepare for my rabbinate.”
“At Hartford,” she said, “I feel I will have the opportunity to deeply engage with my future colleagues from the other faith traditions and form lasting partnerships that will over time strengthen the character of the relationship between our faiths.”
Jason Kirschner, a second JTS student who has chosen to study at Hartford Seminary, said he specifically chose BAP “because I have had no formal experience with interfaith work and because of the broad amount of information and experiences the course covers. I also chose it because interfaith work, while completely essential to the work of an American clergy person, is a new experience and somewhat outside my comfort zone and would expose me to other firsthand experiences I may have otherwise not encountered.”
Minnen ended up being unable to attend for personal reasons. Kirschner and two other JTS students are enrolled in the BAP course under a pioneering agreement between Hartford Seminary and JTS. The cooperation between the two seminaries is made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Prior Family Foundation, which will enable JTS students to study at Hartford Seminary during the next year. (At left are Joanthan Kremer, Fran Snyder and Jason Kirschner.)
This recent gift reinforces an earlier gift of $500,000 that the Prior Foundation made toward an endowed faculty chair at Hartford Seminary in Abrahamic Partnerships.
“JTS welcomes this occasion for our students to study in the welcoming atmosphere of Hartford Seminary, where our rabbinical and graduate students can study and commune with Christian and Muslim colleagues. The Building Abrahamic Partnerships program offers developing Jewish leaders a friendly and open environment in which to learn about Christianity and Islam, while building a professional network of like-minded colleagues for the future. We are very grateful that Hartford has offered us this unique opportunity,” said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS.
Building Abrahamic Partnerships is an eight-day intensive course for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students that offers a practical foundation for mutual understanding and cooperation among the three religions. It started on Sunday, June 24 and continues through Sunday, July 1. Twenty-six students are enrolled – eight Jews, eight Muslims and ten Christians.
Yehezkel Landau, Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary and director of BAP, explained the benefit of having the four JTS students in the course:
“The participation by four students from JTS in BAP, as part of the burgeoning partnership between Hartford Seminary and JTS, constitutes a significant step forward for both seminaries, with at least three benefits.
“First, institutionally, students, faculty, and administrators at both schools will be enriched by their mutual interaction.
“Second, the seminarians involved in this interreligious exchange will benefit directly. Rabbinical students within Conservative Judaism will be able to study Islam and Christianity with and from faithful representatives of those faiths, while students at Hartford Seminary will learn a great deal about Jewish spirituality and practice from their interactions with these emerging Jewish religious leaders, both in the classroom and in the dormitories.
“And third, the faith communities these seminarians will serve will benefit from the training these religious leaders receive through this partnership.”
This new collaboration between JTS and the Seminary is a continuation of a partnership between the two schools that includes a national conference entitled “Judaism and Islam in America Today.” In addition, the partnership has involved enrollment of Muslim religious leaders studying at Hartford Seminary in a Clinical Pastoral Education program located at JTS.
A key component of the program involves the opportunity for the JTS students to live on campus in Hartford while attending intensive classes such as BAP during the summer. In this way, students will benefit from a lived experience of what is learned in the classroom.
Kirschner spoke to this benefit of immersion on campus: “I hope to be exposed to and challenged by a wide variety of views, experiences and anecdotes while learning how to better understand and work alongside members of other Abrahamic faiths. I hope also to enjoy my time in Hartford forming new and lasting personal and professional relationships.”
He said he chose to study in Hartford “because I wanted to see what a seminary experience other than my own is like; how they approach theology, clergy and professional development. Since I had heard only positive things about Hartford Seminary, and that the program would be so innovative and useful to my own future rabbinate, it seemed a perfect opportunity.”
The other two JTS students studying at the Seminary in BAP are Jonathan Kremer and Fran Snyder.
Kremer said the joint program “offered an opportunity that was hard to pass up.” He said he chose BAP because it offers “the opportunity to study three major religions in depth, and with practitioners of those religions.”
“I have had social contact (mostly in my neighborhood) with people of varied faiths, but we rarely, if ever, discuss religion,” he said.
Snyder said she enjoys “getting ‘off my home turf’ and learning on someone else's ground and according to their rules, so to speak.”
“I've been teaching Hebrew Bible at Eugene Lang College, the undergraduate division of The New School, for seven years, and I've had to open myself up and step out of the Jewish / JTS mindset in order to really hear and respond to my students, most of whom are not Jewish. I would be all the poorer as a teacher and as a Bible reader were it not for the lessons taught by my Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Methodist, Pentecostal, Buddhist, atheist, and avowed secularist students,” Snyder said.
Asked about his goals for the week, Kremer said, “My main goal is to learn enough from the other seminar participants and from the readings and sessions enough about Christianity and Islam so that I can discuss them with, and teach them to, congregants and students. Being resident on campus in Hartford will, I hope, lead to opportunities for impromptu exchanges; I expect that my knowledge of Judaism will be tested as I seek to explain Judaism to others on campus.”
Snyder said, “I intend to listen, to meet others, to initiate friendships that might lead to continued co-study.”
Added Minnen, “My goals for the course include developing a better understanding of Christianity and Islam not just as individual faiths, but in conversation with the Judaism I know so well and love so deeply. I also hope to be a positive Jewish presence on campus, and hope that by living on campus during the seminar, I will be able to form lasting friendships with the other participants.”
“Living on campus gives me an opportunity to make myself available as a representative of the Jewish female experience. There is still so much confusion about the role of women in Judaism and in the rabbinate, and about the role of women in Abrahamic faiths in general, I hope that by living on campus, my future colleagues and I can engage each other in this meaningful conversation,” Minnen said.
Minnen said she chose to enroll in BAP “because I strongly believe that education, dialogue, and relationship-building are the best and perhaps only ways to truly address the way Muslims, Christians, and Jews understand each other as the Other. We will spend time learning and discussing, but it will be the friendships we form that will be the heart of what we carry into our future careers as clergy members, and the essence of what we share with our coreligionists and congregants.”
The Hartford Seminary-JTS program is further evidence of Hartford Seminary’s pioneering approach to theological education.
“Jews, Muslims, and Christians throughout North America need visionary religious leaders to help them understand that our common future requires mutual understanding, sensitivity, and cooperation among our communities of faith. Both JTS and Hartford Seminary are committed to training faithful leaders for our increasingly pluralistic society who demonstrate these qualities in their religious vocations,” Landau said.
About Cornelius and Gertrude Prior
Cornelius B. Prior, Jr., chairman of Atlantic Tele-Network Inc., headquartered in Beverly, MA, is the grantor of the Prior Family Foundation. Gertrude J. Prior, president and general manager of Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas, V.I., is trustee. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Hartford Seminary.
Cornelius Prior practiced law and investment banking in New York City before co-founding Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) in 1987. He is the chairman of ATN, a public telecommunications industry holding company and the chairman of Caribbean – Central American Action (CCAA), a not-for-profit organization promoting investment in the Caribbean. He graduated from Holy Cross College and currently serves as a member of its President’s Advisory Council.
His law degree came from Harvard Law School, followed by graduate work at the University of Säo Paulo Law School as a Fulbright Scholar.
Gertrude Prior practiced law in Washington, D.C., before becoming president of Coral World Ocean Park. She is a former President of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas and currently serves as a member of the Board.
About Building Abrahamic Partnerships
Hartford Seminary has offered BAP 14 times over the past eight years. Participants learn about the tenets and practices of the three faiths, study texts from their respective scriptures together, attend worship at a mosque, synagogue, and church, and acquire pastoral skills useful in interfaith ministry.
Combining the academic and the experiential, the course includes ample time for socializing over meals and during breaks. Building on Hartford Seminary’s strengths as an interfaith, dialogical school of practical theology, this team-taught program is a resource for religious leaders who are grounded in their own traditions while open to the faith orientations of other communities.
The goals of the course include:
- Educating participants about the beliefs and practices of the three Abrahamic traditions
- Creating a supportive learning community in which clergy, lay ministers, religious educators, and chaplains can forge mutually beneficial relationships across communal boundaries
- Helping participants acquire pastoral skills useful in interfaith ministry
- Developing leadership strategies for promoting interfaith relations in our pluralistic society
Teaching in the course this year will be, besides Landau: Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations; The Rev. Dr. James Nieman, Professor of Practical Theology and Academic Dean; Dr. David Roozen, Professor of Religion and Society; Rabbi Dr. Donna Berman, The Rev. Dr. Karen Nell Smith; and Imam Sohaib Sultan.