Aaron D. Panken, Rabbi, Ph.D.

President; Assistant Professor of Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature

HUC-JIR/New York

Program/School: 
Rabbinical Program, New York; Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, New York
Administration Department: 
President's Office
Academic Field: 
Rabbinics and Liturgy
Research Interests: 
Historical Development of Legal Concepts and Terms; Narrative Development; Development of Holidays and Observances

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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.

Selected Publications and Edited Works

The Rhetoric of Innovation: Self-Conscious Legal Change in Rabbinic Literature. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005 (in Studies in Judaism Series)

“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).

Current and Future Courses
Talmud 1
Talmud 2
Twelve Tremendous Texts
Parashat HaShavua
The Sabbath: A Seminar
Science and Religion
Reform Judaism and Halakhah
The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage
Advanced Talmud
Advanced Readings in Second Temple Literature
Public Lecture Topics
Doing Tzedakah, Doing Right: The Textual Bases for Jewish Philanthropy
The Future of Reform Jewish Leadership
The Great Jewish Literature No One Knows: The Law and Stories of the Second Temple Period
Of Greek Dinners and Jewish Seders: The Evolution of Passover in Jewish Memory
One Jewish View of The Historical Jesus
Holy War in Judaism and Islam: A Comparative Study
Israel: What’s the Difference?
Jerusalem in Judaism and Islam
Leading Personalities from the Babylonian Talmud
Lights, Burning Quietly Bright: The Unknown History of Hanukkah
Messianism and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Making and Marking Sacred Time: The Evolution of the Jewish Calendar
Medicine and Mitzvot: Jewish Texts on the Health Care Debate
Men and the Masculine: An Exploration of Ancient and Modern Jewish Gender
Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Three Critical Genres in Jewish Thought
Of Good Deeds and Obligations: The Meaning of Mitzvah in Reform Judaism
Parenting Wisdom from the Talmud
Reconceiving Conception: Stem Cell Research and Jewish Ethics
Sects and the City: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish Law
Science and Religion: Two Uneasy Partners
“Seek Peace and Pursue It:” But How? The Jewish Obligation to Make Peace
Shabbat Then and Now: How a Sacred Jewish Day Came to Be
Staying Connected with the Sacred in our Lives: Ancient and Modern Pathways to Spirituality
Talmudic Stories and their Meaning for Modern Jews
The Stranger in Jewish Law and Lore
True Lies: Truth, Gossip and the Jewish-American Way
Trying the Talmud: Introducing Ancient Wisdom to Modern Minds
War and Justice in Jewish Tradition
What Every Reform Jew Needs to Know About Jewish Law
What’s New in Jewish Law: Rabbinic Approaches to Legal Change
What’s a Rabbi to Do? The Changing Role of the Rabbi from Antiquity to Today