The Pacific School of Religion, seen here in August of 2020, is a progressive Christian seminary and member of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
The Pacific School of Religion, seen here in August of 2020, is a progressive Christian seminary and member of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

Rabbi accuses progressive Christian seminary in Berkeley of firing her over Israel

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A rabbi responsible for Jewish programming at one of the first Protestant seminaries in the United States to focus on pan-denominational issues and social justice says she was fired from her job this week because of religious and political intolerance.

Rabbi Jane Litman
Rabbi Jane Litman

Rabbi Jane Litman, the first openly LGBTQ person to be admitted to a rabbinical seminary, was notified on Jan. 9 that her employment at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley had been terminated following a series of complaints she had filed with the administration.

“I am deeply disappointed and saddened,” she told Haaretz in a phone call, adding she “will be seeking justice.”

In a request for comment, the school said that Litman had been fired because of an “employer-employee disagreement, and not a religious or political one.”

For the past seven years, Litman, who was admitted to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1984 and later joined the Reform movement, ran the Jewish Roundtable of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies at Pacific School of Religion, which is the oldest Protestant seminary west of the Mississippi River. Her responsibility in this position was organizing a monthly speakers’ series with LGBTQ rabbis, educators and activists.

With her departure, this program has also been canceled.

“The center has different roundtables – an African-American roundtable, a Latinx roundtable and Asian-Pacific roundtable, and until now, a Jewish roundtable,” she said. “The cancellation of this program is a real failure of intersectionality. I think it shows there’s been a true collapse of the intersectional approach.”

Litman said she began feeling targeted in September, just before the High Holidays, when what she describes as unreasonable demands were put on her to submit material for upcoming programs.

“They wanted me to provide bios, blurbs and photos of the speakers I had organized for the coming year,” she relayed. “I pointed out that we really needed to wait until after Yom Kippur because for rabbis, this is the busiest time of year, and I’m not going to bother them now.”

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After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, she said, she sensed even greater hostility from the administration, which she believes was connected to her support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Litman, who identifies as a “peacenik,” said she became a victim of “lefty antisemitism” at the school.

“After the massacre, the administration sponsored a vigil, ostensibly in support of peace but certainly not in support of Israel,” she said. “At that vigil, I would say, there were veiled calls for the non-existence of Israel.”

The following week, she took off for vacation. When she returned, she was notified that she had been put on unpaid administrative leave until January. Litman was notified last week by email of the decision to fire her.

Even before she left for vacation, she said, several of the speakers she had organized for the roundtable series, “were pulled off the calendar with no warning.” That included a speaking engagement with an Israeli peace activist – organized in coordination with the pro-Israel LGBTQ group A Wider Bridge – who was meant to speak about the effects of the Israel-Hamas war on the Jewish and Palestinian queer communities in Israel.

The school also canceled a Jewish Transgender Day of Remembrance she had organized to be held in November in conjunction with ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. An expert on Transgender Jews, Litman is the co-editor of “Liberating Gender for Jews and Allies: The Wisdom of Transkeit,” which was published in 2022 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Litman, whose main job is working as a hospice chaplain, said she is considering legal action against PSR.

When asked for comment about her firing, PSR President David Vasquez-Levy, a Lutheran pastor, issued the following statement by email: “I want to make it clear that Rabbi Jane Litman was not terminated as Coordinator of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) Jewish Roundtable because of her religion, her support for Israel, or for any other personal viewpoints that she may hold.

“Sadly, a disagreement arose between Rabbi Litman and her manager last fall over what would have been routine job issues such as meeting work deadlines, submitting timely payroll information, etc. Institutionally and personally, we sought to resolve the disagreement and restore an amicable relationship with Rabbi Litman. Sadly, that did not take place.”

He added that “all disparaging statements describing Pacific School of Religion as an antisemitic institution are untrue.”

Judy Maltz

Judy Maltz covers the Jewish world and writes features about Israeli society for Haaretz’s English edition. Judy began her career at Haaretz 30 years ago as an economic reporter. She was among the founding editors of the English-language print edition.