Past Presidents - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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PRESIDENT, HUC 1875–1900

Rabbi Isaac Mayer WiseIsaac Mayer Wise was born in Steingrub, Bohemia, where he received a traditional Jewish education. He came to America in 1846 and soon began serving as rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Albany, New York. While in Albany, Wise implemented reforms such as an abbreviated service, mixed gender choir, and a weekly sermon. After a much-publicized break with the congregational leadership, Wise and some of his Albany constituents established a new temple, Congregation Anshe Emeth, where he insisted on a then radical innovation: freedom of the pulpit. It was at Anshe Emeth that the first appearance of “family” pews — mixed gender seating — in American Reform occurs. In 1854, Wise was invited to become the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun (known today as Isaac M. Wise Temple) in Cincinnati. He insisted on receiving a lifetime appointment as a condition for accepting the post in what, at that time, was the largest city west of the Allegheny Mountains and one of the largest Jewish communities in America. Wise flourished in Cincinnati, remaining there until his death in 1900.

For fifty-four years, Wise was a charismatic leader on the pulpit, delivering fiery sermons and sharing his reforming spirit with congregants and those he encountered. As publisher of The Israelite, which he established in 1854, and contributor to numerous publications, Wise became a national voice who advocated for unification of the burgeoning American Jewish community. He commented with authority on public events and advocated for social causes.

Wise recognized the unique character of the growing American Jewish community. Even prior to his arrival in Cincinnati, Wise argued for the creation of a seminary that would train students to serve in pulpits for a united American Jewry. Over time, Wise came to believe that he could succeed in funding a Jewish theological school by establishing a congregational union that would provide an annual source of dependable income. In the summer of 1873, twenty-eight congregational leaders met in Cincinnati to establish the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose mission was to establish a “Hebrew Theological Institute.” Wise’s long sought-after ambition came to fruition in the Fall of 1875, when Hebrew Union College (HUC) held its opening exercises at Plum Street Temple, and its first classes, with nine young students, in the basement of Bene Israel’s Mound Street Temple (known today as Rockdale Temple). In 1880, HUC purchased a private mansion on West Sixth Street located near the Reform temples. The building was dedicated in April 1881 and served HUC until the move to its current location on Clifton Avenue in 1912.

The number of HUC’s faculty, students, and alumni, along with the institution’s own resources, had grown as well. HUC’s library, established at the College’s founding, increased greatly in size by the end of the nineteenth century. At the time of Wise’s death, the faculty consisted of nine eminent scholars, two of whom were graduates of HUC, 64 alumni in the field, and a total of 73 students attending classes.

Isaac Mayer Wise was, without question, one of the most significant and influential American Jewish leaders during the last half of the nineteenth century. His creative and ambitious hand touched virtually every aspect of Jewish communal life. His accomplishments were many: he published his own prayer book, Minhag Amerika (1857); established the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889); and was a prolific writer, penning numerous books, articles, editorials, and fiction. Wise was a visionary, organizer, and unifier. Read more:


Rabbi Moses MielzinerMoses Mielziner was born in Schubin, Grand Duchy of Posen (now Poland), where he studied and began his rabbinical career. He headed a Jewish school in Copenhagen, Denmark while earning his Ph.D. from the University of Giessen (1859). After immigrating to the United States in 1865, Mielziner served as a congregational rabbi and educator in New York City until 1879, when Isaac Mayer Wise appointed him professor of Talmud at Hebrew Union College.

In 1900, as the senior faculty member, Mielziner was asked to become the Acting President of the College while a search ensued to replace Isaac Mayer Wise. Holding the College on its course, he held this position until his death in 1903.

Rabbi Gotthard DeutschGotthard Deutsch was born on January 31, 1859, in the village of Dolne Kounice (Kanitz), Moravia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Descended from a line of scholars and teachers, Deutsch received his early education in Dolne Kounice and Nikolsburg. In 1876, he entered the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary and the University of Breslau. Upon completing his studies at Breslau, Deutsch entered the University of Vienna in 1879 and was awarded a Ph.D. in History in 1881.

Thereafter, Deutsch obtained the position of religious school instructor in the city of Bruenn, Austria, serving from 1881 until 1887. Shortly after he was elected a permanent teacher at Bruenn, he decided to enter the rabbinate. His sole post was in the city of Most (Bruex), in Bohemia, where he was rabbi from 1887 through 1891.

After responding to an advertisement for faculty published by Isaac Mayer Wise, Deutsch was appointed Professor of Jewish History and Philosophy at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Serving as a professor for thirty years (1891–1921), Deutsch built a reputation among the students and the faculty for his teaching and the depth of his knowledge. One of his most renowned students was Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–1995), the distinguished historian and founder of the American Jewish Archives. For a period of four months, after the death of Moses Mielziner in 1903, Deutsch became Acting President of HUC until the election of Kaufmann Kohler as the second President of HUC.

PRESIDENT, HUC 1903–1921

Rabbi Kaufmann KohlerKaufmann Kohler was born in Fuerth, Bavaria, the son of an Orthodox rabbi. Influenced at an early age by the writings and philosophy of Samson Raphael Hirsch (b. 1808, d. 1883), he pursued his doctoral studies in Berlin and Erlangen.

Although his upbringing and early schooling were Orthodox, Kohler was strongly affected by the teachings of Abraham Geiger (b. 1810, d. 1874), one of the most prominent German leaders of Reform. The radicalism of his doctoral dissertation, one of the earliest examples of the higher criticism of the Bible (analyzing Scripture in light of modern knowledge), made Kohler ineligible to serve in many German-Jewish communities. He immigrated in 1869 to the United States, where he was welcomed by the eminent Reform rabbi David Einhorn (b. 1809, d. 1879), whose daughter he married. Kohler served several prominent congregations in his early years in America: Congregation Beth El in Detroit (1869–1871); Chicago’s Sinai Congregation (1871–1879); and, in 1879, he succeeded his father-in-law at Temple Beth El, New York.

In 1903, after a lengthy search for a suitable replacement for Isaac M. Wise, Kohler was invited to interview for the presidency of HUC. He was unanimously approved by the HUC Board and accepted the position, which he retained until his retirement in 1921. His presidency included many significant accomplishments: the restructuring of the HUC curriculum (with emphasis on new and scientific approaches); expansion of the faculty; the move of the College from downtown Cincinnati to its present location on Clifton Avenue (1912); and the establishment of the College’s Union Museum (1913).

A creative theologian and a passionate and persuasive speaker, Kaufmann Kohler emerged as one of the spokespersons for American Reform Judaism during its formative years. He is remembered as the “chief architect” of the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, which set forth American Reform positions on such topics as the idea of God, the Jewish mission, and the need for Jews to be actively involved in social justice causes for the betterment of humankind. This famous platform is considered to be a landmark development in the history of American Judaism. Read more:

PRESIDENT, HUC 1922–1947

Rabbi Julian MorgensternJulian Morgenstern was born in Illinois in 1881. After his ordination at HUC in 1902, he studied in Europe and received his doctorate from the University of Heidelberg. He served several small congregations in the Midwest, and then returned to HUC in 1907, the first American-born scholar to be appointed to the HUC faculty. He was named Acting President of HUC in 1921 and served as President of HUC from 1922 until his retirement in 1947.

Morgenstern was the first American-born President of HUC and the first HUC alumnus to lead the school. During Morgenstern’s presidency, HUC grew dramatically. He established the departments of social studies, education, and music, and launched the Hebrew Union College Press and the Hebrew Union College Annual (both of which remain in existence).

A courageous and far-sighted leader, Morgenstern’s greatest accomplishment may well have been his work on behalf of the “refugee scholars project,” which brought scholars and students from Germany to Cincinnati prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. Most of the refugees that Morgenstern helped during those dark years went on to enrich the American Jewish community by serving on the faculties of seminaries (including HUC) and major universities. Some became leading congregational rabbis in North America. Abraham Joshua Heschel (b. 1907, d. 1972) —one of the renowned rescued scholars— referred to Julian Morgenstern as “the least appreciated man in American Jewry.” Read more:

RABBI STEPHEN S. WISE, PH.D. (B. 1874, D. 1949)
PRESIDENT, JIR 1927–1948

Rabbi Stephen WiseStephen Samuel Wise was born in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary, the son and grandson of rabbis. Wise immigrated to New York as an infant with his family. His father became rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. He studied at the College of the City of New York, Columbia College (B.A., 1892), and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1901). Immediately following personal ordination in 1893 from the liberal rabbi of Vienna, Adolf Jellinek (b. 1821, d. 1893), Wise became Assistant Rabbi of New York City's Congregation B'nai Jeshurun and assumed full responsibility after the death of the congregation’s Senior Rabbi, Henry S. Jacobs (b. 1827, d. 1893).

In 1900, Wise was named rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Portland, Oregon. For the next six years, he became active in the areas of interfaith cooperation, social service, and civic leadership. In 1905, Wise was under consideration to serve as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New York. When he learned that his sermons would be reviewed in advance by the Temple’s Board of Trustees, he withdrew himself from consideration and founded a "free" synagogue where he and others who occupied the pulpit would be able to exercise the American right of free speech.

Wise was among the first to warn of the dangers of Nazism to the Jewish and non-Jewish world. After World War I, he founded the American Jewish Congress and, in 1936, he organized the World Jewish Congress to act as “the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people.” As a Zionist leader, he presented the Jewish cause to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (b. 1882, d. 1945) and the U.S. State Department as well as to the general public. His dynamic activism and charismatic oratory on behalf of the Jewish people, and for the betterment of society in general, enabled him to become one of the most prominent Jewish religious leaders during the first half of the 20th century.

In 1922, under the auspices of the Free Synagogue, Wise launched the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR), which provided training of rabbis to serve all branches of Judaism, education of Jewish scholars, and preparation of leaders for community service. Notable scholars who taught at JIR over the years included Henry Slonimsky (b. 1884, d. 1970); Salo W. Baron (b. 1895, d. 1989); Harry A. Wolfson (b. 1887, d. 1974); and Chaim Tchernowitz (b. 1871, d. 1949). Between 1926 and 1949, JIR ordained more than 200 rabbis.

Stephen S. Wise was a forthright, forceful, and influential preacher of social concerns. His opinions and attitudes were expressed in his fiery sermons —many of which were famously delivered at Carnegie Hall —as well as in his numerous published works. Read more:

RABBI EMIL G. HIRSCH, PH.D. (B. 1851, D. 1923)

Rabbi Emil HirschEmil G. Hirsch was born in the grand duchy of Luxemburg in 1851. He came to the U.S. in 1866 when his father, distinguished German reformer Samuel Hirsch (1815–1889), was invited to assume the pulpit at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, Hirsch attended the Episcopal Academy and, subsequently, the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1872. He then traveled to Germany, where he studied at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig (Ph.D., 1876). Hirsch also studied at the Hochscule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, the liberal rabbinical seminary in Berlin. Hirsch returned to America and served pulpits in Baltimore (1877–1878) and Louisville (1878–1880). In 1880, Hirsch assumed the pulpit of Chicago Sinai Congregation, a position he held until his death in 1923.

Emil G. Hirsch was a social activist who was known as one of America’s most powerful preachers. Hirsch successfully advocated various practical social reforms and laid the foundation for several welfare organizations in Chicago.

At Hirsch’s 70th birthday celebration in 1922, Stephen S. Wise, rabbi at the Free Synagogue in New York, offered Hirsch the “Honorary Presidency” and a visiting professorship on behalf of the Board of Governors at the Jewish Institute of Religion, which was to open in October. Hirsch held this official position until his death in 1923.

RABBI NELSON GLUECK, PH.D. (B. 1900, D. 1971)
PRESIDENT, HUC 1947–1950
PRESIDENT, JIR 1948–1950

Rabbi Nelson GlueckNelson Glueck was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1900 to Lithuanian-Jewish parents. He began his studies at Hebrew Union College while still attending high school, receiving his rabbinical ordination in 1923. He received his Ph.D from the University of Jena in Germany in 1926. By 1928, he was a member of the Hebrew Union College faculty. It was during this time period that he first visited the Holy Land and studied with famous archaeologist William Foxwell Albright (b. 1891 d. 1971). From then on, Glueck alternated between teaching at HUC (as Professor of Bible and Biblical Archaeology) and conducting archaeological digs in the Middle East. From 1932–33 and 1936 to 1940, he was director of the American Society of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, part of that time serving as the institute’s annual professor in Baghdad, Iraq.

As a biblical archaeologist, Glueck attained international fame, in both the Jewish and secular communities, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1963. During his lifetime, he excavated remains of the civilization of the ancient Nabataeans in Transjordan, described a biblical coppermining industry at the shore of the Red Sea, and proposed how the Negev could support a large population if proper irrigation techniques were used.

In 1947, Glueck was elected President of Hebrew Union College. He assumed the duties of his office just as merger plans of HUC and JIR coalesced. With the retirements of HUC President Julian Morgenstern in 1947 and JIR President Stephen Wise in 1948, Glueck became the first president of the newly formed HUC-JIR. He served as President of HUC-JIR until his death from cancer in 1971. His presidency marked years of unprecedented growth and expansion. In Cincinnati he authorized the founding of the American Jewish Archives, the School of Graduate Studies, and the construction of the new Klau Library building to house a massive expansion of its holdings. Glueck established the Los Angeles campus of the HUC-JIR in 1954 and the Jerusalem campus as a post-doctoral center of archaeological and biblical studies in 1963.

It was during Glueck’s presidency that the school instituted the Year-in-Israel program (1970), which required all rabbinical students to spend their first year in Israel, a curricular innovation that would change the nature of the rabbinate and of Reform Judaism in Israel.


Rabbi Alfred GottschalkAlfred Gottschalk was born in Oberwesel, Germany, on March 7, 1930, the only son of Max and Erna (Trum) Gottschalk. His father fled to New York in 1938 after narrowly escaping arrest by the Gestapo. Gottschalk and his mother joined him in 1939. After graduating from Brooklyn College, Gottschalk attended HUC-JIR, first in New York and then in Cincinnati, where he received his rabbinical ordination in 1957. The president of HUC-JIR, Nelson Glueck, took note of young Gottschalk and selected him from the ordination class to serve as dean of the fledgling Los Angeles campus. Gottschalk completed his doctorate at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1965 and simultaneously spearheaded an ambitious expansion and relocation of the Los Angeles campus to its present site adjacent to USC (1971). He served as Dean of the Los Angeles campus for twelve years.

Upon Glueck’s death in 1971, Gottschalk was elected to serve as HUC-JIR’s sixth President and, subsequently, the school’s Chancellor. As President of HUC-JIR for a quarter century, Gottschalk guided the development and expansion of HUC-JIR’s four campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York into vibrant resource centers of academic excellence for both scholars and laity.

Gottschalk’s tenure as President and Chancellor effected historic milestones. He ordained the first woman rabbi in America (1972); the first woman cantor in America (1975); the first Reform rabbi in Israel (1980); and the first woman rabbi in Israel (1992). His efforts helped to pave the way for the entrance of women into the mainstream of the American Reform rabbinate and cantorate and set a precedent of gender equality in Reform Judaism.

Gottschalk was a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and its Museum since its inception, with appointments by Presidents Jimmy Carter in 1978, Ronald Reagan in 1993, and Bill Clinton in 1996. Upon retiring from the College-Institute, Gottschalk served as President of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York (2000–2003), where he initiated and planned the sixty-thousand square foot Robert M. Morgenthau Wing and continued to serve as a Senior Fellow and Trustee.

Alfred Gottschalk passed away on September 12, 2009.


Rabbi Sheldon ZimmermanBorn in Toronto, Canada, in 1942, Sheldon Zimmerman received degrees in Philosophy from the University of Toronto and pursued post graduate studies in Philosophy and Hebrew studies at New York University.

Zimmerman was ordained at HUC-JIR’s New York campus in 1970 and represents the eleventh generation of rabbis in his family. He served as the Senior Rabbi of one of the largest and most vibrant congregations in America, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, Texas (1985–1995), and previously served as Senior Rabbi (1972–1985) and as Assistant Rabbi (1970–1972) of Central Synagogue in New York City.

During his presidency, the rabbinical program was expanded, allowing for students to complete the four-year stateside program at not only the Cincinnati and New York campuses, but the Los Angeles campus, as well. During his tenure, Sheldon Zimmerman also oversaw the renovation and dedication of two major facilities on the Cincinnati campus: The Cecil W. Herrman Learning Center (1996) and The Jacob Rader Marcus Center Repository of the American Jewish Archives (1999).


Rabbi Norman CohenNorman J. Cohen was born in Astoria, New York, in 1943. He received his B.A. from Columbia in 1964 and studied at Hebrew University and The Jewish Theological Seminary prior to attending HUC-JIR. He was ordained in 1971 and received his Ph.D. in Midrash from HUC-JIR in 1977. He began work at HUC-JIR as an instructor in 1967 and was appointed to the HUC-JIR faculty in 1975. A gifted teacher of Midrash, he was named Director of the Rabbinical School in 1988, Dean of the New York campus in 1989, and Provost in 1995.

During his time as Provost, Cohen revitalized the faculty through the appointment of over 20 emerging scholars, half of whom were women, promoting an egalitarian faculty representation. He nurtured the faculty's scholarly development and their integration across the campuses through biennial faculty retreats and the use of new technology that has strengthened partnership in teaching areas and introduced the innovation of team-taught courses in e-classrooms. He also led an institution-wide effort to create the present-day Rabbinical School curriculum.

Norman Cohen served as Acting President of HUC-JIR in 2000 during its 125th anniversary year and provided vital direction in advance of David Ellenson becoming President.


Rabbi David EllensonDavid Ellenson was born in 1947 in Brookline, Massachusetts, and grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Newport News, Virginia. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1977 and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1981. He holds master’s degrees from Columbia University, HUC-JIR, and the University of Virginia; and a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary.

In 1979, Ellenson became a member of HUC-JIR’s faculty, specializing in Jewish religious thought. From 1981 to 1997, he served as the Director of the Jerome H. Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at USC conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR on the Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. In 2001, Ellenson became the eighth president of HUC-JIR.

Ellenson is internationally recognized for his publications and research in the areas of Jewish religious thought, ethics, and modern Jewish history and specifically for his research and writing on topics related to the tension between tradition and modernity. He has authored or edited several books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers.

During his tenure as President, David Ellenson united the four campuses by creating electronic classrooms that allowed for cross-campus teaching and meetings. He nurtured a new generation of deans and directors, increased the number of women faculty and expanded the number of women Board members from 13% to 40%. He steered HUC-JIR through the challenges of the 2008 economic recession and implemented strategic planning initiatives to secure HUC-JIR’s four campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York as viable and essential venues providing service to the Reform Movement’s congregations and educational and cultural outreach to communities throughout these regions.

RABBI AARON D. PANKEN, PH.D. (B. 1964, D. 2018)

Rabbi Aaron PankenAaron Panken was born in Manhattan on May 19, 1964. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s electrical engineering program and earned his doctorate in Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University (2003). He served as rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York and as a rabbinical intern at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., before he began teaching at HUC-JIR.

Panken was ordained by HUC-JIR in New York in 1991. He joined the faculty in 1995, teaching Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature, with research interests in the historical development of legal concepts and terms; narrative development; and development of holiday observances. He served as Dean of Students of the New York campus (1996–1998), Dean of the New York campus (1998–2007), Vice-President for Strategic Initiatives (2007–2010), and taught Talmud and Second Temple Literature (2010–2014). In 1999, he founded the Gerecht Family Institute for Outreach as well as the National Center to Encourage Judaism.

During his presidency, Panken implemented his transformative vision by forging strategic planning initiatives: embedding new technology in support of student learning and administration; launching Jewish education, nonprofit management, and entrepreneurship programs; and invigorating the ties linking HUC-JIR’s four campuses and their larger communities and regions. Aaron Panken was a staunch advocate for religious pluralism in Israel and ordained the 100th Israeli Reform rabbi graduating from HUC-JIR’s Israeli Rabbinical Program on November 16, 2017. It was his vision to renovate and transform the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem into a dynamic educational and cultural center for the larger public. He exponentially increased the number of Israelis studying for the rabbinate, as educators, pastoral caregivers, and interfaith teachers for tolerance.

Aaron Panken died in a tragic accident on May 5, 2018. Read more.


In May of 2018, after the tragic death of his successor Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., Chancellor Emeritus David Ellenson returned to serve as Interim President. His experience, knowledge of the institution, compassionate humanity, and devotion to HUC-JIR’s sacred mission, brought the HUC-JIR community through a difficult and trying time.