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Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

HEBREW UNION COLLEGE-JEWISH INSTITUTE OF RELIGION (HUC-JIR) is the oldest rabbinical seminary in the United States. Dedicated to Jewish scholarship and the training of religious leadership for the Reform movement, it has campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. The school was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1875, by Isaac M. *Wise to offer "general rabbinical instruction … for the Jewish ministry." Wise was convinced that "Judaism would have no future in America unless … it would become reconciled with the spirit of the age" and the Jewish community found it possible to "educate American rabbis for the American pulpit." After a 25-year struggle, Wise succeeded in establishing a Union of American Hebrew Congregations (today: Union for Reform Judaism) whose primary object was the founding of HUC. President until his death (1900), Wise was succeeded by Kaufmann *Kohler (1903–21), Julian *Morgenstern (1921–47), Nelson *Glueck (1947–71), Alfred Gottschalk (1971–96), Sheldon Zimmerman (1996–2000) and David Ellenson (2001– ). Initially intended as a rabbinical school for all American Jews, following adoption of the radical Pittsburgh Platform by Reform rabbis in 1885, it took on the character of a Reform denominational institution.

In 1922 Stephen S. *Wise founded the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR) in New York to provide training "for the Jewish ministry, research, and community service." Students were to serve either Reform or traditional pulpits. Wise remained president until 1948. Housing JIR next to his Free Synagogue on West 68th Street, he hoped that its graduates would generate other Free Synagogues "animated by the same spirit of free inquiry, of warm Jewish feeling, and of devotion to the cause of social regeneration." JIR from the start inclined to Zionism, in contrast to HUC, which at the time did not favor Jewish nationalism. Motivated largely by budgetary difficulties, Wise accepted the prospect of JIR's merger with HUC once the biblical archaeologist Nelson Glueck assumed the presidency. Negotiations were completed in 1948 and in 1950 the two schools merged. In 1954 a school in Los Angeles was chartered and, in 1963, primarily as a result of Glueck's efforts, a Jerusalem campus, initially devoted to archaeology, was opened.

All rabbinical and cantorial students spend the first year of their studies at the Jerusalem campus, which also houses a rabbinical program for Israelis as well as a school and museum of biblical archaeology. The Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles campuses all offer a rabbinical program leading to ordination. The Cincinnati campus also has a graduate school for Jews and Christians, which is especially strong in studies focusing on Bible and the Ancient Near East. The Hebrew Union College Annual (founded in 1924) and the Hebrew Union College Press are also located in Cincinnati. The New York campus includes a School of Sacred Music, which trains cantors for the Reform movement, and a doctor of ministries program, whereas the principal School of Education and the School of Jewish Communal Service are both located in Los Angeles. The HUC-Skirball Museum in Los Angeles possesses a very rich collection of archaeological artifacts and general Judaica.

Situated on the 18-acre Clifton Avenue campus, the Cincinnati school also houses the *American Jewish Archives, which publishes its own journal, the American Jewish Periodical Center, a small museum of Judaica, the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, and, in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati, an Ethics Center. The Cincinnati Library and Rare Book Building contain some 450,000 volumes, 160 incunabula and 6,200 manuscripts, including the Eduard Birnbaum Manuscript Collection in Jewish Music, making it one of the foremost libraries of Judaica in the world. Smaller, but significant collections are housed at the other campuses.

The HUC-JIR faculty, which has included some of the most notable American and European scholars, has over 60 ranked members, many of them Reform rabbis. Among the scholars of international renown who taught at HUC-JIR in earlier years are the talmudists Moses Mielziner and Jacob Lauterbach, the philosopher David Neumark, the historians Jacob Mann, Guido Kisch, and Jacob Rader Marcus, the semiticist Julius Lewy, the musicologist Abraham Z. Idelsohn, and the biblical scholar Harry M. Orlinsky.

In 1972 Hebrew Union College became the first rabbinical seminary to ordain women as rabbis, and it regularly admits students regardless of sexual orientation. In the early 21st century the school was strongly oriented toward Zionism and to high academic standards. In recent years its curriculum has placed greater emphasis on practically oriented clinical pastoral education. It remains the only institution within the American Reform movement that prepares men and women for the various roles of spiritual, intellectual, educational, and communal leadership.

Although within Reform Jewry the congregational Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis are the more activist in taking stands on contemporary American and Jewish issues, HUC-JIR serves as the principal intellectual resource of the movement. By the year 2005 it had ordained more than 2,500 rabbis (of whom about 400 are women), invested 400 cantors, and graduated over 500 communal service workers and 300 educators.


M.A. Meyer, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion: A Centennial History, 18751975 (rev. ed. 1992); Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (1988).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.