Breaking ground again: New Orleans hosts Orthodox-Conservative rabbinic conference

New Orleans, which has already made headlines in recent years for cooperation among different Jewish denominations, will host a first-ever Orthodox-Conservative rabbinical conference this month.

From Nov. 4 to 6, 10 rabbis will meet in an invitation-only event, along with Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva and dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, who will serve as the scholar in residence. The participants were ordained either at YCT, a modern Orthodox school, or the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

The New Orleans organizers, Rabbis Ethan Linden of Shir Chadash and Uri Topolosky of Beth Israel, sought to create the conference in order to promote a serious, continuing education model for rabbis in the field, and to highlight the opportunities for cooperative learning and community building.

The study emphasis will focus on Dina D’Malchuta Dina, “the law is according to the law of the land.” This deals with tensions between Jewish law and common law, and how to navigate those issues. The conference will include ancient texts and modern case studies.

The two meet weekly to study together, and their congregations are part of a “Jewish corridor” on West Esplanade in Metairie.

Topolosky said, “The environment in New Orleans — a city which has learned to collaborate post-Katrina in exciting ways, lends itself to this type of conference. We are excited to pioneer a model for Conservative and Orthodox rabbis to study texts together in a organized and structured setting.”

For six years after Katrina, Topolosky’s congregation met at a Reform synagogue, Gates of Prayer, before completing its new building next door.

Linden noted that “in conversation with many of my colleagues, we realized that so many of us are continuously searching for intensive learning programs to enhance and broaden our skills as rabbis.”

The participants are from New York, New Jersey, Montreal, Nashville, Washington and San Jose. The sessions will alternate between the two synagogues.

Topolosky said they chose 10 colleagues “with whom we have been in contact closely since ordination, especially in terms of our own continuing learning. These have been our colleagues we call when we are creating classes and sermons — to discuss how we structure them, where we get our sources and ideas, and with whom we talk out what we teach.”