How little do leaders of the Conservative Movement care about Jewish scholarship? That question is answered by how they are treating the Jewish Theological Seminary's library, which for a century has been the preeminent Jewish research library outside Israel, a library used by everyone from academic scholars to haredi researchers. But now researching one minor topic and checking sources will cost these scholars, many who have limited or even no funds to pay, as much (if not more) as a meal in a five star Manhattan restaurant.
Israel Mizrahi writes:
…[T]he [Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary] library, which for over a century was the base from which some of the very best scholarship and printed works emanated, will for posterity be at best a very inconvenient and costly place to do research. The numerous publishers and editors of books, that for decades have relied on the fabulous collection of the library will now have to work with their hands tied and their pockets emptied. A scholar with a table full of books being referenced, can be charged for their use the price of a 5 course meal in a Manhattan restaurant. Seeing references in a footnote, a scholar can no longer request the book and check relevant sources, he would need to place a request and return an additional day to be able to view it in person. Rather than encourage students and scholars to explore the world of our history and literature, people will have to contemplate the cost of obtaining the book for reading and come back the following business day to obtain it. Books requested on Thursday afternoons, will not arrive in the library until Tuesday.
To be fair, JTS may have been left with little choice as to this decision, and for their rabbinical students, such a system at the library might suffice, but the thought of the largest collection of Hebrew Incunabula sitting in a warehouse in NJ, is disheartening at the very best. It is rather depressing to think, that as a people who excelled at coming together and succeeding in fundraising for our vital institutions, that the nation's most prestigious Jewish library should be forced to come to this.…
It is very unfortunate that JTS no longer will be able to view its library as a home for all Jews of all backgrounds and denominations. The best we can do is hope that a change can still be made and the freedom of the printed word will be reimposed.
This problem could have been solved. But it wasn't because most Conservative Jews don't know anything about Jewish scholarship, let alone the role the JTS library plays in it, and the movement's leadership wasn't about to waste precious fundraising capital on mere books. So much better to spend it on leadership salaries and increasingly empty synagogue buildings.
Orthodoxy, which supposedly treasures learning, isn't particularly better than the Conservative Movement, as anyone familiar with the history of Yeshiva University's library knows. YU mismanaged its inferior collection of volumes for decades, and there are still allegedly hundreds of books that show in its catalog that have gone missing inside the library, meaning the books are in there somewhere, and hundreds more that were likely stolen or lost outside the library but never indicated as such in the catalog.
No haredi institution has a library of merit and many haredi yeshivas mistreat the books they have.
Chabad's library has some interesting works, and it is supposed to be open to the public and to researchers (at least that's what Chabad claimed in federal court during the books case). But researchers have claimed Chabad blocks access to controversial items and tries to disrupt their research, making the library of little use to them.
JTS was the best and most open-access Jewish research library in the entire Diaspora by far, bar none. But that, it now seems, will soon be ancient history.