Tony Greenstein | 26 December 2011 | Post Views:

Please join co-chairs Cornel West, Rosemary Ruether and Archbishop Desmond Tutu signing this petition.

Ken Starr, former prosecutor of Bill Clinton, and currently President of Baylor University, to dismiss dissident Jewish voice Dr. Marc Ellis.

For more than three decades the prophetic voice of Marc Ellis has influenced generations of academics and activists. His dissident voice in the realm of contemporary Jewish identity and his theology of solidarity with Palestinians has been encouraged by numerous scholar-activists including Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and the three of us, Rosemary Ruether, Cornel West and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Unfortunately this voice is now being silenced at Baylor University where Marc has served with distinction for almost fifteen years as University Professor and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies. With the approval of Kenneth Starr, President of Baylor University, Marc Ellis is under internal investigation in what looks more and more like a persecution to silence a Jewish voice of dissent. In short, Baylor is re-writing its rules to dismiss Marc Ellis from the faculty.

We, the undersigned, request President Starr to honor Dr. Ellis’ academic freedom and stop all hostility toward him, including any attempt at dismissal. Join us signing this petition.
Cornel West, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (co-chairs of the committee)

(more information about 1. the internal investigation and 2. faq in the update section)

November 30, 2011

I first read Professor Marc Ellis’ book “Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation” as a rabbinical student back in the mid-1980s – and suffice to say it fairly rocked my world at the time. Here was a Jewish thinker thoughtfully and compellingly advocating a new kind of post-Holocaust theology: one that didn’t view Jewish suffering as “unique” and “untouchable” but as an experience that should sensitize us to the suffering and persecution of all peoples everywhere.

And yet further: Ellis had the courage to take these ideas to the place that few in the Jewish world were willing to go. If we truly believe in the God of liberation, if our sacred tradition truly demands of us that we stand with the oppressed, then the Jewish people cannot only focus on our own oppression – we must also come to grips with our own penchant for oppression, particularly when it comes to the actions of the state of Israel. And yes, if we truly believe in the God of liberation this also means that we must ultimately be prepared to stand with the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation.

When I first read Ellis’ words, I didn’t know quite what to make of them. They flew so directly in the face of such post-Holocaust theologians as Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Emil Fackenheim – all of whom viewed the state of Israel in quasi-redemptive terms. And they were certainly at odds with the views of those who tended the gates of the American Jewish community, for whom this sort of critique of Israel was strictly forbidden.

Over the years, however, I’ve found Ellis’ ideas to be increasingly prescient, relevant – and I daresay even liberating. As a rabbi, I’ve come to deeply appreciate his brave willingness to not only ask the hard questions, but to unflinchingly pose the answers as well. And it is not at all surprising to me that we are now witnessing a new generation of rabbis and young Jewish leaders starting down the road he has paved for us.

All this to say I am profoundly sorrowed to learn that Ellis is currently under threat of losing his job at Baylor University due to an investigation led by new university president Ken Starr.

By every appearance, Ellis has had a distinguished academic career, having taught at Maryknoll School of Theology, Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions and Florida State University. Thirteen years ago, he was appointed Professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor, where he founded Baylor University’s Center for American and Jewish Studies and currently serves as its director.

There is ample reason to mistrust the academic validity of this investigation. According to a new petition now being circulated by Cornel West and Rosemary Ruether:

Marc Ellis was brought to Baylor in 1998 and all previous presidents supported his dissident voice. After Ken Starr (nemesis of Clinton in the White House) became president in 2010 the attacks started. During the last year Baylor lawyers were instructed to communicate with many of Marc’s colleagues, past students and staff. The objective was to request all of them to report all “abuse of authority.” Most of us explained to the lawyers that was a lost cause because Marc has been an exemplar colleague, professor and mentor.

But starting this Fall he was separated from his classes, his center closed and a hearing scheduled to take place some time in this academic year. As far as we know the accusations are about abuse of authority but we are not aware of the details because they are part of the internal legal process. Obviously it is about something else: Marc’s dissident voice. We will inform all of you as soon as we know more information.

In a statement released yesterday, Ellis commented thus:

Given what I currently understand of the rules of the Baylor process I will, for now, honor the process by not discussing the specifics, except to say that I believe this is a pretext to silence an independent voice at the place for which I have had deep appreciation.

I write now to ask you to please join me in signing this petition in support of Ellis – an important Jewish dissident thinker and (as his many academic colleagues are now attesting) a truly distinguished scholar. I would add: even if you don’t personally agree with all of his ideas, I urge you to support his cause. It is high time for us to stand down those who would trample academic freedom, shun open discourse and debate, and muzzle those with whom they simply disagree.

I’ll end with Professor Ellis’ own words, all too sadly apt under the circumstances:

Prophetic Jewish theology, or a Jewish theology of liberation, seeks to bring to light the hidden and sometimes censored movements of Jewish life. It seeks to express the dissent of those afraid or unable to speak. Ultimately, a Jewish theology of liberation seeks, in concert with others, to weave disparate hopes and aspirations into the very heart of Jewish life.

(“Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation,” p. 206)

Director Marc H. Ellis
Dr. Marc Ellis lecturing

University Professor of Jewish Studies
Professor of History
Director, Center for Jewish Studies

One Bear Place #97174
Waco, TX 76798-7174
Ph. 254-710-3609
[email protected]


Influenced by the Jewish ethical tradition and the dissonance of Jewish life after the Holocaust, with other Jews of Conscience, Professor Marc H. Ellis has sought to rescue the Jewish ethical tradition in the face of the demands of the 20th and now 21st Century. In his early career, he became deeply interested in Holocaust Theology and Liberation Theology as a reflection on and expression of the mores of the Judeo-Christian tradition when faced with the socio-political-economic crises and genocidal assaults of oppressive nation-states and the international political and economic order. Over the years Professor Ellis has translated that expression of ethical values into an understanding of the Jewish ethical tradition, now facing its own moral crisis as Jewish identity becomes increasingly uncritically identified with the governmental politics of America and Israel.

Within that analysis, Professor Ellis has developed further insight into Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, and their complexity in the modern world. Since then, he has used his position, influence, and writings to elucidate further on these difficulties, and been welcomed by a wide variety of audiences, from university forums to international institutes, and faith-based groups seeking justice and peace while working within complex religious and political identities.

Professor Marc H. Ellis was born in North Miami Beach, Florida in 1952. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, in Religion and American Studies at Florida State University, where he studied under the Holocaust theologian Richard Rubenstein, and the American historian of the Catholic Worker movement, William Miller. He received his doctorate in History from Marquette University in 1980 where he was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta and the Jesuit Honor Society. Upon graduation he accepted a faculty position at the Maryknoll School of Theology in Maryknoll, New York, becoming founding director of their M.A. program and the Maryknoll Institute for Justice and Peace.

Professor Ellis was made full professor in 1988, and remained at Maryknoll until 1995, when he assumed a position first as a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions, and then as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, as well as a visiting professorship at Florida State University. Professor Ellis is University Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of History, and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University, where he first arrived in 1998.

Besides his years at Harvard University, Professor Ellis has held a variety of visiting teaching appointments. These include: Heytrop College, University of London (1987), United Theological College in Bangalore, India (2001), the M.A program in Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Tyerol, Austria (2008), and the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University for Peace, San Jose, Costa Rica (2009).

Professor Ellis has authored and edited more than twenty books. Among them are: A Year at the Catholic Worker; Peter Maurin: Prophet in the Twentieth Century; Faithfulness in an Age of Holocaust; Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation; Beyond Innocence and Redemption: Confronting the Holocaust and Israeli Power; Ending Auschwitz: The Future of Jewish and Christian Life; Unholy Alliance: Religion and Atrocity in Our Time; O’Jerusalem: The Contested Future of the Jewish Covenant; Practicing Exile: The Religious Journey of an American Jew; Out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-first Century; Reading the Torah Out Loud: A Journey of Lament and Hope; Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, which was nominated for the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 2011 and again in 2012. Professor Ellis’ latest book Encountering the Jewish Future: Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Levinas, was published in the Fall of 2011.

Professor Ellis has published more than 100 articles and spoken at more than 300 universities, seminaries, and academies in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. His writings have been translated into German, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Hebrew, Korean and Urdu. His lecture topics include such diverse areas as Middle East policy; the Holocaust; the future of Israel; Jewish identity; Jewish-Christian relations; Contemporary Spirituality; and Post-Holocaust Jewish and Christian thought.

Professor Ellis has been interviewed in a variety of documentary and interview formats, including the BBC, National Public Radio, C-Span and FrenchTV-24. He has authored numerous opinion pieces that have been published in diverse media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle, Ha’aretz, Al-Ahram and the International Herald Tribune.

Among other honors, Professor Ellis has been inducted into the Martin Luther King Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College. He was also honored at the 2000 national convention of the American Academy of Religion with an entire session devoted to discussion of his work. In 2011, Professor Ellis was again honored with a session at the AAR on his work, “The Persistence of the Prophetic: Encountering and Engaging the Work of Marc Ellis.” Presenters include Cornel West (Princeton University), Rosemary Radford Ruether (Claremont Graduate School), Sharon Welch (Meadville Lombard Theological School), Stacey Floyd-Thomas (Vanderbilt University Divinity School), Gary Dorrien (Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University) and Davina Lopez (Eckerd College).

For more than 30 years, as Founding Director of the Institute for Justice and Peace at Maryknoll School of Theology, and Founding Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University, Professor Ellis has been hosting events of public and religious significance. Among the many events notable for their international reach are: “The Future of Liberation Theology” (1988) – Keynote, Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez; “The Next Fifty Years: Beginning a Millennium of Hope” (2000) – Keynote, Professor Richard Rubenstein; “Honoring Heschel at 100” (2007) – Keynote, Professor Susannah Heschel.

The Center for Jewish Studies also honored Hannah Arendt in a symposium dedicated to her work (2007). In subsequent years professor Ellis’ Center has sponsored international conferences: “On the Boundary: HoweverWhereverWhomever” (2008); “Texts and Otherness: Politics, Empire, and Post-Secularism in Religious Studies”(2009); “Reimagining Paul”(2010).

A major focus of the Center for Jewish Studies is its Annual Holocaust Remembrance Luncheon held at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. Last year the Center held its tenth annual luncheon. In years past the Center has featured historians of the Holocaust, music that was composed in the death camps, children of Holocaust survivors reflections on Holocaust literature, Christians, and Palestinians reflecting on the Holocaust, and the question of God after Auschwitz. Included among our distinguished scholars who have lectured at our event are Professor Michael Phayer, Professor Emeritus of History at Marquette University, Dr. Sara Roy, a child of Holocaust survivors and Senior Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, Professor Alan Berger, who holds the Raddock Eminent Scholar Chair on Holocaust Studies at Florida Atlantic University and Sister Professor Carol Rittner, a noted Holocaust historian and commentator, who is Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton College. In 2011, Dr. Anders Runesson of McMaster College delivered the Annual Holocaust Remembrance lecture, “Paul, the Jews, and the Holocaust.”

As a public intellectual, Professor Ellis has spoken at the United Nations in New York and in Vienna, the Carter Center in Atlanta, the Truman Institute at Hebrew University, the James Baker Institute at Rice University, the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C., the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, at a conference in Oslo, Norway on the 15th anniversary of the Oslo Accords and most recently a series of lectures in New Delhi, India. He has given endowed and keynote lectures in the United States, Israel, Canada, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines.

Professor Ellis serves on the National Advisory Board of the Middle East Council, the Editorial Board of Tikkun Magazine and for three years on the Board of the Society of Jewish Ethics. Currently, Professor Ellis serves on the Steering Committee, Ethics Section, of the American Academy of Religion.

In 2011, Professor Ellis delivered the Allen-Head lecture at Austin College and the Hilda B. Silverman Memorial Lecture on Israel/Palestine at Harvard University.

Commentary on Professor Ellis’s work:

Senator George McGovern, former Presidential candidate:

“This perceptive and well-conceived book offers the reader a masterful analysis of one of the most compelling issues of our age.”

Professor Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“Marc Ellis has demonstrated great courage, integrity, and insight in the very important work he has been doing for years. It has been an inspiration for all of us.”

The late Professor Edward Said, University Professor at Columbia University:

“Marc Ellis is a brilliant writer, a deeply thoughtful and courageous mind, an intellectual who has broken the death-hold of mindless tradition and unreflective cliché to produce a superb account of post-Holocaust understanding, with particular reference to the Palestinian people and the moral obligation of Israelis and Diaspora Jews. He is a man to be listened to with respect and admiration.”

Professor Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Chair in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College:

“Marc Ellis has written a book for people who want to think. Challenging our conventional ideas, he forces us to reconsider our assumptions regarding Jewish identity and politics. What emerges is a fascinating and original reconfiguration of some of the most hotly debated political and religious topics today.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Judaism:

“Ellis masterfully uses the central, Jewish story of Exodus and Sinai to call for a contemporary Jewish (and Christian) theology of liberation. He argues against current political policies based on Jewish vulnerability, with the Holocaust as the chief lens, and issues a prophetic call for contemporary Jews to return to the liberation theology embedded in the Exodus, seeking justice for all. In the Israeli-Palestinian context, that requires both sides to “embrace revolutionary forgiveness” as they find ways to come to less-than-ideal but tolerable resolutions of their conflicts, and it requires Americans living in a post-9/11 world to reevaluate their understanding of Muslims and Islam. Whether you agree with Ellis’ conclusions or not, you cannot help but be stimulated by his serious and meaningful use of this central Jewish story to understand and respond creatively to some of the most pressing issues of our time.”

Archbishop Desmund Tutu, Nobel Laureate:
“Marc Ellis shows that the voice of prophecy has not been silenced in the Jewish community. We will all be the poorer if Ellis’ voice is not heeded but how wonderfully enriched if it is.”

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Tony Greenstein

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