River Vale native Rabbi Daniel Nevins will be the next dean of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship academic institution and spiritual center of the Conservative movement.
Nevins will succeed Rabbi William Lebeau, who last year announced he would retire by July 1.
Rabbi Daniel Nevins
Rabbi Andr? Ungar, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, where the Nevins family worshipped, was full of praise for his former congregant and prot?g?. "He’s a marvelous human being, infinitely gracious and polite, and has enormous integrity and profound scholarship," Ungar told The Jewish Standard.
Crediting Ungar with being an important role model, Nevins said that as a young man, he was particularly impressed by Ungar’s political passion. Recalling that Ungar marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Nevins said, "Like Abraham Joshua Heschel, he took the values of Judaism and put them into action."
Ungar called Nevins "one of the shining hopes of American Jewry," adding, "I’m sure his congregation in suburban Detroit will wish him well, but rend their garments for losing him."
The senior rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Mich., Nevins, 40, began his rabbinic career as assistant rabbi at the 1,050-household congregation, following his ordination by JTS in 1994. A 1989 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, he also earned a master’s in Hebrew letters from JTS in 1991 and was part of a select group of Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellows at the seminary.
A 1984 graduate of the modern Orthodox Frisch School in Paramus, Nevins said that for 10 years after his bar mitzvah, he wrestled with where he felt most at home in Jewish life, ultimately concluding that he would prefer to pursue the rabbinate "where women are fully included in intellectual study and a leadership capacity."
During his 13 years in the pulpit, Nevins became active in Conservative movement affairs, joining the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards while serving on the RA’s International Executive Council. Last month, he was in the spotlight with co-authors Rabbis Elliott Dorff and Avram Reisner of a historic legal decision that paved the way for the ordination of gays and lesbians and performance by Conservative clergy of commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. The ruling, which upheld the traditional ban on homosexual intercourse, precipitated the resignation of several veteran law committee members, including Rabbi Joel Roth of Englewood, whom Nevins cited as one of several key influences on his religious and intellectual development as a student at JTS. (See related story, opposite page.)
Nevins said one thing that guided his thinking on the teshuva was a quest for Jewish vocabulary to better understand the issue. "’Human dignity’ is Jewish vocabulary, which is not a peripheral, external concern, but integral to Jewish text and Jewish law as well."
JTS chancellor-elect Arnold Eisen lauded Nevins’ selection in the statement released by JTS: "Rabbi Nevins brings to his new tasks the wealth of experience, wisdom and compassion gained as a congregational rabbi in a thriving community . Danny’s deep appreciation for our movement’s standards, its principles, and its pluralistic nature will serve us well at this time of challenge and transition. "
Acknowledging he "will miss the daily interaction with adults and children who are coming to synagogue to give meaning to their lives and helping families adjust to a new reality" that inevitably follows a life cycle event," Nevins said he had decided to apply for the opening at JTS, announced in September. "Sometimes when a door opens, you have to walk through it, to go through a difficult transition for a larger purpose, to make a larger impact on the Jewish world. It’s difficult because I’m ensconced in a wonderful community."
He called his tenure as a pulpit rabbi "an extraordinary experience" that would prepare him for what’s ahead. "I have experimented in the ultimate laboratory of Jewish life, learning what works through the prism of countless pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual interactions with my congregation . I will take what I have learned from them to benefit the next generation of rabbis [and] look forward to working with an extraordinary team of faculty, students, and administrators to create a sacred place of Torah study and observance."
Nevins is hoping to move with his wife, Lynn, and their three school-age children to Manhattan, near JTS. "I want to be part of the Shabbat community with students and get to know them in formal and informal settings," he said.