Tuesday's announcement of plans to open a full-time Conservative rabbinical school at Los Angeles' University of Judaism is exciting, — and historic.
Until now, students could start their rabbinic studies on the West Coast but had to complete them in New York or elsewhere. Now they will be able to begin and complete their work in one place.
Establishing such a place in California speaks to the West's growing status as a vital center of Jewish life. More than 1.2 million Jews live in the Western United States and Canada, regions that have grown dramatically since the end of World War II. The Los Angeles area alone has more than half a million Jews.
More Jewish studies programs have cropped up at universities around the state, as have various Jewish cultural centers. The advent of a full Conservative rabbinical school in California truly means, as one local rabbi pointed out, that "we've come of age."
It is also likely to mean a boon to Jewish life on the West Coast. More scholars will be based here, leading to enriched resources for students and the public.
It is likely, too, that many graduates of the school will choose to remain on this side of the country once they have completed their studies. Our hope is that rabbinical students at the University of Judaism will become keenly aware of critical issues of Jewish life in the West — high rates of assimilation, for example.
But as potentially exciting as the university's new rabbinical school may be, it could also cause tension. The New York-based Jewish Theological Seminary, the University of Judaism's parent campus, has already expressed frustration with the Los Angeles school, saying the university assured them that such a development would not occur.
A healthy degree of competition between the two schools is to be expected, given that they will be courting the same faculty members and students. But ultimately, for the sake of American Jewry as a whole, it is hoped the two schools will pool their resources and work together.