Rabbi Jack Moline Names His Own Poison, Takes On Major Washington Role

Monday, May 4th, 2009

For years, Rabbi Jack Moline – leader of a synagogue in suburban Washington  – argued that the Conservative movement needed a stronger, more visible Washington presence, like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, both of which are active players in the capital.

Moline finally made his point – and got the job.  Last week Moline – who also is one of the funniest rabbis around – was appointed public policy director for the Rabbinical Assembly.

He said he will lead something much less than a full Washington lobbying operation – at least for now.

“I am still the full-time rabbi of my congregation; this is a role I am taking on to establish the position and the precedent, in the hope it will get enough attention to eventually result in something that is the Conservative movement’s iteration of a full-time Washington office,” he said. “I don’t aspire to be David Saperstein.”

Rabbi David Saperstein is the longtime director of the RAC and an everpresent figure in progressive politics in the capital.

Will the RA’s new Washington operation be another liberal outpost? With the Conservative movement more politically diverse than Reform Judaism, don’t count on it.

“We do not expect to simply be an echo for positions other groups have taken,” he said in answer to that question.

But his personal history suggests he will be much more allied with the Reform movement on some issues;  he recently completed a term as board chairman of the Interfaith Alliance, a strong church-state separation group.

Interestingly, Moline will serve as Washington representative for the Conservative rabbinic group, not the United Synagogue of America, the congregational arm; the RAC is under the auspices of both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s rabbinic group.

Why, after all this time and all Moline’s nudging, did Conservative leaders decide to take the plunge?

“The change in leadership in the RA brings with it a slightly different perspective,” Moline said.  In November the group appointed Rabbi Julie Schonfeld as its new executive director.

With a diverse RA membership behind him and an even more diverse population of Conservative Jews, expect Moline to work cautiously, focusing more on broad consensus positions of the movement and on laying out broad principles based on Conservative thinking instead of lobbying on specific legislation.

But he is also an experienced Washington player; a lot of the new Conservative movement’s impact may be under the radar with Moline at the helm.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.