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History of the JTSA

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America was founded in 1886. Begun as the Jewish Theological Seminary Assosciation, it was founded by two rabbis; Dr. Sabato Morris and Dr. H. Pereira Mendes along with a handful of devoted laypersons. Beginning with only ten students and meeting at a Spanish-Portugese synagogue in New York City, the stated purpose of the assosciation was "the preservation in America of knowledge and practice of historical judaism"(A Brief..., 2). Around 1900, three Jewish laypersons, Jacob H. Schiff, Leonard Lewinsohn, and Sanial Guggenheim founded the JTSA, appointing Rabbi Solomon Schechter, a prominent Jewish scholar, president of the seminary.

Dr. Schechter founded the graduate school at the JTSA and instituted many new programs of stude. In 1909, Dr. Mordecai Kaplan was chosen to be the head of the new teachers institute. Schechter exanded the seminary further founding the United Synagogue of America, thus enabeling the JTSA to extend its influence into the rest of the nation. A series of excellent leaders succeeded Dr. Schechter, including Drs. Cyrus Adler, Louis Finkelstein, and Gearson Cohen. These able men brought the seminary into the modern era, adding new residence halls, a graduate school, and approving the acceptance of women into the seminary. Today, the JTSA is one of the most widely-respected universities in the nation. Its graduates go on to serve not only as rabbis, but also as cantors, teachers, and faculty at some of the most highly regarded universities in the nation and the world (A Brief...,4). The seminary is now headed by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, whose goal is to provide "service to the American Jewish community, to the greater society, and to the world" (A Brief..., 4).

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Site Author: Aaron Herman, Project for "Introduction to Medieval History", Fordham University, Spring 1997