Following the controversial departure last spring of its Reform rabbinic adviser, Rabbi David Kudan, Harvard Hillel has hired a part-time employee to fill the position.
And Kudan’s replacement, Benjamin Shalva, is not a Reform rabbi like his predecessor, but a student at a Conservative seminary.
Shalva, who hails from New York City, will come to Harvard every other weekend to assist in leading services, teaching classes, and participating in several venues in the Jewish community. He is a second-year rabbinic student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which declares itself “the intellectual and religious center of Conservative Judaism.”
Lance Hartford, Harvard Hillel’s deputy director, said that Shalva’s status as a student at a Conservative seminary does not compromise his ability to lead Reform services.
“We went through an extensive search process,” said Hartford, who is Harvard Hillel’s deputy director. “We’re very happy with our selection and his performance so far.”
More than half a dozen students declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Kudan’s departure and Shalva’s arrival, including whether it was conventional to have a Conservative-trained adviser leading a Reform service.
Several said they were told explicitly not to discuss the issue publicly.
But Julia N. Bonnheim ’06, the leader of Harvard Hillel’s Reform Minyan, wrote in an e-mail that Shalva has been an “excellent teacher.”
“He is enthusiastic and engaging,” she said. “And [he] is committed to the goals of the Reform Minyan.”
Shalva, who did not respond to repeated e-mails requests, comes to Harvard on the heels of Kudan’s contentious dismissal last May.
The controversy began last December when Bernard Steinberg, the executive director of Harvard Hillel, announced Kudan’s departure in an open letter to the Hillel community. Kudan responded to the letter with one of his own, in which he said Steinberg’s announcement was the first time he had heard his departure confirmed.
“It has come as quite a shock to me and my family, and to the entire Hillel community,” he wrote.
Kudan had been hired in 2001 as a full-time Reform Rabbinic Adviser and Director of Community Relations for Hillel, financed by a three-year grant from outside donors.