This past Tuesday, JTS confered honorary doctorates on RA Members who have been in the rabbinate for 25 years or more. (see the list of honorees, and the JTS press release). Jack Moline, RA Director of Public Policy, spoke on behalf of the honorees:
Chancellor Eisen, Provost Cooper, President Dror, colleagues, faculty, friends, family, kol man d’askin b’oraita,
My fellow newly-minted doctors and I are very grateful for this honor. We are bemusedly aware that the degree we have each received does not represent a singular scholarly achievement or a unique contribution to the corpus of learning that JTS advances. Rather, it is a remarkably forward-thinking tradition of this institution that has long recognized that the men and women who have put to good use the education they received here and elsewhere have brought credit to the institution, the Jewish people and, we hope, the human family. By the authority I have assumed without consulting my colleagues, I thank the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Theological Seminary for this credential, and the Sovereign of the Universe for giving us life, keeping us sustained and enabling us to reach this moment some twenty-five or thirty years after our ordination.
Of course, we all worry about whether we have become the embodiment of the tradition we allege to represent. At least today, I can offer you proof that we do. Three of us in this collection of honorable doctors can trace at least part of our inspiration to one person who came here before us. Jay Goldstein, Aaron Mackler and I all had the privilege to spend part of our teenage years under the influence of Rabbi Reuven Hammer at Beth Hillel Congregation in Wilmette, Illinois, now of Jerusalem. I offer this shout out to him forty-some years later because his fingerprints are all over these citations we receive today. In the same way, there are rabbis and hazzanim and educators and Jews in the pews whose Jewish lives are in large measure defined by what each of us has represented over this past generation. What greater satisfaction can there be for a rabbi than to enlarge the presence of Torah in this world and see it beautified by those who hold fast to it.
Chancellor Eisen and Rabbi Wolf have heard me say some of these words once before, so I beg their indulgence. I would have written something completely original for today, but if I had that capacity, I probably would have earned the full Ph. D.
This is not the first gift given to me by JTS since my graduation. Each year I am renewed by the Rabbinic Training Institute, Steve Shaw’s brilliant innovation that has been honed by Bill Lebeau, Marc Wolf and now Abby Treu. There is a moment that brings me to tears at the conclusion of each class I take at Rabbi Camp. Twenty or so of my colleagues rise and recite together kaddish d’rabbanan. Two thirds of the way through we ask for peace, prosperity and well-being al yisrael v’al rabbanan, v’al talmideihon, v’al kol talmidei talmideihon, “for Israel, and its scholars, and their students, and all their students’ students, and for every person who is occupied with Torah, kol man d’askin b’oraita, in this place or any other place.”
In that moment, immersed in learning and surrounded by my colleagues and friends, I enter the stream of Torah that flowed from Sinai and feel it flowing through me, the smallest of talmidei talmideihon. In that moment, I have learned from Moses and Deborah and Ruth and Akiva and Rambam and Heschel…and Eisen…and I am renewed in my privilege and my responsibility to invite others to enter that stream and thus understand that when we pray for every person who is occupied with Torah we are not praying for someone else, but for ourselves. That is the award I most cherish from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
On behalf of all of us, thank you for this honor and for allowing us to reflect the light that shines from a bush that will not be consumed.