JBuzz News, February 9, 2012: Marc Ellis: Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor University?

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Why is Marc Ellis on the outs at Baylor University?

Source: JTA, 2-10-12

Baylor University has suspended Marc Ellis, the director of its Jewish Studies program, for alleged sexual misconduct.

Beyond this, we can glean the following facts from this very long Religion Dispatches dispatch:

–Ellis denies the charges, which his lawyer says involved a former close female friend.

–His hearing is next month.

–Ellis is known for dissenting from conventional Jewish establishment pro-Israel orthodoxies.

–Ken Starr, or as RD puts it, “Yes, that Ken Starr,” is Baylor’s president.

According to RD — and not just RD, but the Middle East Studies Association and a petition stacked with left-leaning luminaries, including Ilan Pappe, Desmond Tutu and Cornel West — this adds up to Starr persecuting Ellis for his religious and political beliefs.

We don’t find out until the 11th paragraph — and then, parenthetically — that Baylor denies Starr is at all involved in the investigation.

We do learn that the American Assocation of University Professors believes it is wrong to suspend a professor on such charges before a hearing takes place. We never learn if this ever has been Baylor’s practice.

Instead we get an arc of presumption that starts off acknowledging that the facts that would underpin accusations of political persecution are simply not there, but concludes that they are there, well, just because.

This paragraph is illustrative:

It’s clear that Starr is a conservative Christian, yet his Israel politics are something of an unknown. Raised in a nondenominational Church of Christ, he would very likely have been exposed to Christian Zionist theology. Years later he joined the McLean Bible Church in Virginia, which he remained a member of years after having moved to California to take a position at the Church of Christ-affiliated Pepperdine University. Starr’s pastor at McLean, Jewish-born evangelical Lon Solomon, has been a board member of the Christian Zionist ministry Jews for Jesus for the past 25 years. It would be unusual were Starr not a Christian Zionist.

Got that? Starr’s Israel politics are unknown … but he’s probably a Christian Zionist.

Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor U?

Source: Religious Dispatches, 2-9-12

Image credit: Callie Richmond, The Texas Tribune

The rabbi began, “I have a special blessing-slash-prayer for Judge Starr.”

Early September 2010: fresh from a five-year stint as Dean of Pepperdine Law School, Baylor University’s newly anointed president Ken Starr celebrated the High Holidays with his Jewish colleagues. A former federal judge, though best known as independent counsel overseeing the Whitewater investigation and the Monica Lewinsky affair, Starr’s name is often accompanied by “Clinton nemesis,” or “yes, that Ken Starr.”

Here was a conservative, evangelical Christian taking the helm of a Baptist school at a Days of Awe-themed luncheon at Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies. Starr’s host at this portrait of pluralism was Professor Marc Ellis, renowned Jewish theologian and vociferous critic of both Israeli policy and the American Jewish establishment.

“May you live to see your world fulfilled,” the rabbi continued, smiling at Starr, who sported a silk tie in Baylor’s official colors, green and gold. “May your destiny be for worlds still to come.” By the next Rosh Hashanah, in the fall of 2011, the Starr administration had stripped Marc Ellis of his teaching duties and effectively shuttered his Center for Jewish Studies. An internal Baylor University investigation was underway, the charges cloaked in secrecy.

Ellis, a tenured professor described as “deeply thoughtful and courageous” by the late Edward Said, will face a three-day dismissal hearing this March. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several faculty members with firsthand knowledge of the proceedings confirm that Ellis is being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct (or “misuses of God’s gift” as the faculty handbook has it). According to Baylor policy, misconduct is defined as “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.” And so Ken Starr enters his golden years.

It’s unclear what exactly Ellis is on trial for, as neither Baylor nor Ellis would comment on the record about the nature of the charges. (One clue: no criminal charges have been filed against Ellis.) Roger Sanders, Ellis’ lawyer, says Baylor’s lawyers told him the internal process mandates nondisclosure, though Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman disputes this, telling RD that the charges can only be released with Ellis’ written permission.

Sanders says the investigation hinges on “bogus allegations.” One can only hope the result will not be another 336-page Starr Report—the $40 million product of the independent counsel’s four-year investigation, for which the beleaguered Monica Lewinsky was interrogated over 20 times. “‘You’re a pervert, Ken Starr,’” Lewinsky’s father once said he’d like to tell the former independent counsel.

In late November Cornel West, feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and other luminaries launched a change.org petition addressed to Starr, which has thus far gathered over 5,000 signatures. The petition asserts that the controversy “looks more and more like a persecution to silence a Jewish voice of dissent.”

“The charges,” reads a petition update, “are about ‘abuse of authority.’…Many of us were contacted several times by institutional lawyers who tried to persuade us to tell them examples of ‘abuse of authority’ he has exercised.”

According to Sanders, the investigation consisted of “sort of announc[ing] to people, ‘Here’s what Marc’s guilty of. Now tell us what you know about him.’” Fogleman claims no knowledge of the investigation’s procedures and declined to recommend officials who could answer questions about it.

As Ellis sees it, Starr, who “holds unassailable credentials in the American evangelical community,” has launched the investigation in order to replace him with “a different kind of Jew”—namely, “a right-wing, Israel-loving Jew that would cement [Starr’s] reputation with the right wing, like [Alan] Dershowitz.” (Fogleman says Starr has nothing to do with the investigation, which itself has “no relationship” to “Dr. Ellis’ positions on Israel and Palestine.”)*…READ MORE

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Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

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Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

Joshua S. ParensDr. Joshua S. Parens, professor at the University of Dallas presented “ and Philosophy: ’ Revolution” on Wednesday in the Memorial Drawing Room.
Ambika Kashi Singh | Lariat Photographer

The brought a Jewish scholar to campus Wednesday to give a lecture on how the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides helped incorporate philosophy into the Jewish theological tradition.

The speaker, Dr. , professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas, highlighted how Maimonides codified an enormous body of Talmudic law and introduced 13 principles of Jewish faith that were controversial at the time but have become foundational for the Jewish tradition in the centuries since.

Among the most significant of these principles, Maimonides wrote that God was a spiritual being, rather than one with a body, a belief that was not universally accepted before his time.

“This, in the end, is the moment where we start to see what is truly revolutionary about Maimonides: that he affirmed the Jews must believe that God is incorporeal,” Parens said. “Now, this will strike most of you, as Christians, as a little bit strange. After all, you have been raised with the notion that there is another life, and that other life is wholly incorporeal and spiritual.”

Before Maimonides, Parens said, the Jewish community had little interest in engaging in religious philosophy.

Maimonides, however, changed that by introducing the 13 principles and stressing the incorporeality of God and his existence as an eternal being, which Parens argued opened the door for philosophy in the Jewish life.

“In short, then, in Maimonides’ time, theology was nothing but defense of the faith against philosophy,” Parens said. “Consequently, what Maimonides then does by making a kind of home for philosophy within Judaism is incredibly radical and shocking.”

Parens also contrasted Maimonides’ contribution to Jewish theology with that of the 17th century Dutch philosopher , whose religious philosophy was far less particular to the Jewish scriptures than that of Maimonides and the orthodox Jewish community.

Dr. , professor of philosophy and faculty master of the Honors Residential College, said he thought the event was well-attended and the subject discussed was relevant for Christians, as well as the Jewish community.

“The importance that a talk like this has for Christianity,” Buras said, “is to be able to compare the way [the Jewish community] put it all together — philosophy and the Bible — with the way other traditions have.”

Several Jewish Baylor faculty members and other members of the Waco Jewish community were in attendance for the lecture including Stanley Hersh, president of the of Waco, and Rabbi of the in Waco.

They said they were pleased that Baylor, as a Christian institution, offered this forum and were also pleased at the turnout, which was standing-room-only by the time the lecture began in Memorial Hall Drawing Room and consisted mostly of students.