Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) celebrates the enduring vision of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, at Founders' Day each year. The New York campus of HUC-JIR commemorated Founders' Day with Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., Chancellor, who presented "Rabbi Stephen S. Wise: A Personal Appreciation" during services on March 19, 2014.
Rabbi Ellenson stated, "As a person who grew up in the segregated South during the 1950s and 1960s, I was aware of the pervasive racism. These experiences molded my consciousness and aspiration to effect social justice. In addition, I was imbued by my parents with a passionate belief in Jewish statehood and my responsibility to support and defend Israel. These deeply held feelings and commitments are the context for my profound appreciation for Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1922, who pioneered the implementation of child labor laws and championed American Zionism through the American Jewish Congress and the outreach of his extraordinary sermons through his ‘free pulpit.’ Rabbi Wise’s legacy endures as a source of inspiration to our students, empowering them to become leaders who will advocate for social responsibility, Israel, and Jewish peoplehood.”
Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Dean, HUC-JIR/New York, stated, "We are honored to have Rabbi Ellenson share this reflection on Stephen S. Wise. In founding the Jewish Institute of Religion, Wise took a major step in reorienting American liberal Judaism for the twentieth century by creating a rabbinate largely devoted to klal yisrael, Judaism’s prophetic tradition regarding the pursuit of justice, reinvigorated spiritual life in American synagogues, and Zionism. So many of his commitments, though controversial at the time, are today central to the ethos of the College-Institute—we are all indebted to Wise for his bold thinking and willingness to act on his ideas.”
Rabbi David Ellenson was named Chancellor upon his retirement from the position of President of HUC-JIR, effective January 1, 2014. Internationally recognized for his publications and research in the areas of Jewish religious thought, ethics, and modern Jewish history, Rabbi Ellenson’s twelve years as President of HUC-JIR (2001-2013) have been distinguished by his devotion to HUC-JIR’s academic excellence and ensuring its financial sustainability.
Rabbi Ellenson received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1977. He also holds an M.Phil. degree from Columbia University as well as the M.A. degree from HUC-JIR and the University of Virginia. He received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia in 1969. A member of HUC-JIR’s faculty since 1979, he also held the post of Director of the Jerome H. Louchheim School of Judaic Studies at HUC-JIR’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, which provides the undergraduate Judaic Studies program for USC.
Rabbi Ellenson's extensive publications include Tradition in Transition: Orthodoxy, Halakhah and the Boundaries of Modern Jewish History (1989), Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy (1990) (nominated for the National Jewish Book Council's award for outstanding book in Jewish History, 1990), Between Tradition and Culture: The Dialectics of Jewish Religion and Identity in the Modern World (1994) and, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, which won the National Jewish Book Council's Award as the outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in 19th- and 20th-Century Orthodox Responsa, co-authored with Daniel Gordis (2012), was named a Finalist for the National Jewish Book Council’s Award in Scholarship in 2012. His newest book, Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice, will be published in the Jewish Publication Society-University of Nebraska Scholar of Distinction Series in 2014.