Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, z"l, Ph.D., is the 12th President in the 139-year history of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As HUC-JIR President, Dr. Panken leads the four-campus international institution of higher learning 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 forscholars of all faiths. HUC-JIR’s nearly 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. They also serve in leadership positions in Jewish educational, communal, cultural, and social service institutions, in hospital and military chaplaincy roles, in Jewish summer camping and Israel youth programs, and at colleges and universities as faculty and directors of Hillel student centers.
Ordained at HUC-JIR in New York in 1991, Rabbi Panken has served as a member of the faculty teaching Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature since 1995, Dean of Students (1996-1998), Dean of the New York Campus (1998-2007), and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives (2007-2010). An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Dr. Panken earned his doctorate in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. 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 as a congregational rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City and as a rabbinical intern at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. A native of New York City, Rabbi Panken graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s Electrical Engineering program and is 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 exploring his research interests in the historical development of legal concepts and terms, narrative development, and development of holiday observances. He has lectured widely at academic conferences and synagogues throughout North America and served as visiting faculty at universities in Australia and China.