Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., has been elected President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute (HUC-JIR) by HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors on July 31, 2013. It was announced by Irwin Engelman, Chairman of the Board, and Martin Cohen, Chairman of the Presidential Search Committee. Rabbi Panken’s appointment will be effective January 1, 2014. Rabbi Panken will be the 12th President in HUC-JIR’s 138-year history and will succeed Rabbi David Ellenson (2001-2013), who will become Chancellor.
As HUC-JIR President, Dr. Panken will serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the four-campus international university and seminary for Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York provide the academic and professional training programs for the Reform Movement’s rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offer graduate programs for scholars of all faiths. HUC-JIR’s 4,000 active alumni serve the Reform Movement’s 1.5 million members and nearly 900 congregations, representing the largest Jewish denomination in North America, and the growing Progressive Movement in Israel and around the world.
Ordained by HUC-JIR in New York in 1991, Rabbi Panken has served as a member of the faculty and as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Dean of the New York campus, and Dean of Students. He has taught Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature at HUC-JIR in New York since 1995, with research interests in the historical development of legal concepts and terms; narrative development; and development of holiday observances.
An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Dr. Panken earned his doctorate in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, where his research focused on legal change in Rabbinic Literature. He currently serves on faculty for the Wexner Foundation and the Editorial Board of Reform Judaism Magazine, and has served on the Rabbinical Placement Commission, the birthright Education Committee, the CCAR Ethics Committee, and in a variety of other leadership roles within the Reform Movement and greater Jewish community. Prior to teaching at the College-Institute, he served in congregations including Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City and Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. A native of New York City who graduated from Johns Hopkins University's Electrical Engineering program, Rabbi Panken is also a certificated commercial pilot and sailor. His publications include The Rhetoric of Innovation (University Press of America, 2005), which explores legal change in Rabbinic texts, and articles in leading academic journals and scholarly volumes. He has lectured widely at academic conferences and synagogues throughout North America and served as visiting faculty at universities in Australia and China.
“A Talmudist Manifesto: Why Reform Judaism Needs the Talmud, and Why the Talmud Needs Reform Judaism,” forthcoming in CCAR Journal, Summer 2014.
“The Machzor Before the Machzor: Interpreting the High Holy Days during the Second Temple Period,” CCAR Journal, Summer 2013.
“Yizkor: Prayer for the Dead, Promise for the Living,” forthcoming in Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., “May God Remember” (Yizkor): Memory and Memorializing in Judaism.
“Sabbath,” forthcoming in Chris Keith et al., eds., Dictionary of Bible and Ancient Media (T&T Clark: Edinburgh).
“Healing Miracles,” “Enemy” and “Evil,” forthcoming in Dale C. Allison, Jr. et al., eds., Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (Walter de Gruyter GmbH: Berlin).
“The Remembrance of Things Past (and Future), Private (and Public),” Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., Ashamnu and Al Chet, Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012.
“Courting Inversion: Kol Nidre as Legal Drama” in Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., Kol Nidre, Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011.
“The Eternal and the Ephemeral: The Stark Contrasts of Un’taneh Tokef” in Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., Who by Fire, Who by Water, Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010.
“HUC-JIR and the Creation of Visionary Jewish Leadership,” CCAR Journal, Winter 2009, 80-90.
“Response to Michael Berger's ‘Religious Purposefulness in Jewish Day Schools,’” HaYediyon, Fall 2008.
“Virginia Tech: One Rabbinical Response,” Jewish Week, April 2007.
“Revealing Rabbinic Revision: Meikara as a Marker for Legal Change in Talmud Bavli,” Jewish Law Association 17, (2007) 225-240.
“Choosing Abraham: Viewed Through the Ages,” Festschrift for Rabbi William Kuhn, November 2007.
“The Few Against the Many, The Few Among the Many: The Evolution of Ideal Types in the Texts of Hanukkah,” Australian Journal of Jewish Studies 19 (2005), 147-161.
“Reforming Reform: An Assessment of the Future of the Reform Movement in America.” Aufbau 70:3, February 2004.
“Hi–Tech for a Higher Authority,” Interfaces 33:3 (2003), 1-11.
“Shall We Counsel Germ Cell Gene Therapy?” with Carole B. Balin, in Eugene B. Borowitz, ed., Reform Jewish Ethics and the Halakhah (New Jersey: Behrman House, 1995).