Honoring Drs. Michael Chernick, Norman J. Cohen, and Mark L. Kligman

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

From left: Dr. Mark L. Kligman, Dr. Michael Chernick, Dr. Shirley Idelson, Dr. Aaron D. Panken, Dr. Norman J. Cohen, and Dr. David Ellenson

On April 10, 2014, the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion held “Honoring Our Teachers,” a special shacharit service honoring Rabbi Michael Chernick, Ph.D., Deutsch Family Chair in Jewish Jurisprudence and Social Justice, and Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, Ph.D., Professor of Midrash, on their retirement; and Dr. Mark L. Kligman, Professor of Jewish Musicology, on the completion of his tenure at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. Within the morning liturgy, three alumni integrated reflections on these important teachers. Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Dean, HUC-JIR/New York, introduced the honorees, and then Drs. Chernick, Cohen, and Kligman offered remarks. The ceremony concluded with a blessing from Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., President, and the singing of May You Live to See Your World Fulfilled by Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller.

Rabbi Aaron Panken stated, "These three faculty members have had a deep and lasting impact on generations of students. Mark Kligman, a cherished friend and respected expert in ethnomusicology, has deepened the learning of cantorial students, inspired them in their research, and added greatly to our scholarly understanding of Sephardic music and culture. Michael Chernick, one of the world’s most talented, humane, ethical and intelligent teachers of Talmud, has kindled a love for rabbinic law and literature that has awakened the love of study in hundreds of our students. Norman Cohen, our beloved provost emeritus, has made Midrash come alive through his engaging teaching, his insightful writing, and his constant care for his students and those with whom he has worked. With love and respect, we honor them for their many contributions to our community, and are deeply grateful for their many gifts."

"Each of the teachers we honor today is a dugmah ishit—a personal example—who inspires us to engage ever more deeply with Torah, to take responsibility for learning and living the values of our tradition, and to work in partnership with one another and with God to move our world from avdut to cherut, from servitude to freedom," Rabbi Shirley Idelson said. "They are morei derekh who have changed our lives, and the life of this institution."

On the occasion of his retirement, Rabbi Michael Chernick stated, “The College-Institute as an institution has become more varied and multifaceted during my years of service here. Here Jewish life and dearly held views about it can be and are discussed with intensity and seriousness. The difference between such sharing of views here and elsewhere in the Jewish world is that this is a safe place to hold civil makhlokot l’shem shamaim, ‘disputes for the sake of Heaven,’ that should characterize Judaism. To have the privilege of being with colleagues and students who contribute to these significant conversations is truly gift of God.  Teaching at HUC-JIR has been one of the main foci of my life. Being here has been a learning experience as well. I have learned much from my teachers, even more from my colleagues, but most from my students. I ask God to bless you all. May you all go from strength to strength.”

Rabbi Michael S. Friedman (HUC-JIR ’04), Associate Rabbi, Central Synagogue, offered reflections on his time with Rabbi Chernick.  “We gather with great love on this morning, for you have exemplified love for us.  You are committed to the Orthodox world, and are also committed to changing it for the better.  You are committed to the Reform world, and are also committed to changing it for the better.  Dr. Chernick, you have served your people Israel well.  You have fulfilled the words of Hillel, ‘Love your fellow creatures and bring them close to Torah.’  Baruch Atah Adonai, HaBocher b’amo Yisrael b’ahavah.  Thank you, God, for giving us a teacher who has loved us, who has challenged us, and who has helped us grow.”

Rabbi Michael Chernick, Ph.D. serves as the Deutsch Family Chair in Jewish Jurisprudence and Social Justice at HUC-JIR/New York. Dr. Chernick’s area of expertise is the Talmud and his major field of interest is early rabbinic legal hermeneutics as applied to the Bible. Dr. Chernick received his doctorate in Rabbinics from the Bernard Revel Graduate School and his Ordination from R. Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, both affiliates of Yeshiva University. He has written extensively about Jewish law and lore and has lectured on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of two Hebrew volumes on rabbinic hermeneutics, an English language edited volume, Essential Papers on the Talmud, and A Great Voice That Did Not Cease. 

Reflecting on his course of study and time on the faculty and administration of HUC-JIR, Rabbi Norman J. Cohen stated, “For the past 39 years, every single day here at the College-Institute – well perhaps not every day, but almost every day – has been a berakhah. So I thank you all, and by extension, all those who came before, from the bottom of my heart for adding so much to my life, and to my wife Terry, who lovingly shared me with all of you, and to our children. I now look forward to continuing the journey – to teach and work with students on a part time basis.  I say to all of you, as God said to Abraham, “He-yei Berakhah” – May you continue to be a blessing…to your selves, to this institution, to the Jewish People, and to all humanity.”

Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson (HUC-JIR ’97), Senior Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, offered reflections on his teacher, Rabbi Norman Cohen. “Doctor, Professor, Dean, Provost, President, Rabbi, Friend – We all strive to be klei kodesh, vessels for holiness. But in the truest sense, you are. Who, like you, can carry Torah into the lives of our people, and raise it up as a mirror in which we see ourselves as we are and as we might become? It is a goal to which every rabbi, cantor, and educator aspires, but a gift which you possess like no one else.”

Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, Ph.D. serves as Professor of Midrash at HUC-JIR/New York. Dr. Cohen served as Interim President of HUC-JIR (December 1999 - June 2000), Provost of HUC-JIR (1996 - 2009), and Dean of the New York campus (1988 - 1996). He was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1971 and received his Ph.D. from HUC-JIR in the field of Midrash in 1977. He lectures widely on the Modern Interpretation of the Bible.  Dr. Cohen recently published Masking and Unmasking Ourselves: Interpreting Biblical Texts on Clothing and Identity (Jewish Lights Publishing).

On the completion of his tenure at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Dr. Mark L. Kligman stated, “We are taught in recent parshayot about korbanot – that a korban todah, a Thanksgiving offering, is important.  Thanking the Almighty for what we have is always important.  I am grateful to the Almighty for giving me the ability to serve on the faculty of HUC-JIR for 20 years and for the incredible opportunities that I have had.  I have been able to learn, teach, share, develop, understand, explore, study, learn, and hear Jewish music at HUC-JIR.  I am profoundly grateful for this experience.  Now the journey that has brought me here brings me to a new crossroad.  G-d willing, as I now embark on new endeavors at UCLA, I will draw from my experiences here at HUC-JIR.  It is a bittersweet period of time for my family and me during this transition; it is a blessing and not easy to make a decision between good and good. As I teach new courses and develop new programs, I know I will say with pride that I worked at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and when I represent the music of Reform Judaism I will think of all of you, smile with calm, and remember all of the beautiful music I heard here in this chapel. Thank you for 20 wonderful years."

Cantor Lisa Shapanka Arbisser (HUC-JIR ’09), Cantor, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, “As teacher, advisor and mentor, you ask us the tough questions. It may have taken us a couple of weeks just to understand what those questions were, but when we came through, we had a better understanding of who we are and how we can formulate our own questions.  In the end, what I have learned from you is that we keep what we need to keep, and we change what we need to change, and we are all going to be.  Just.  Fine.  May you go from strength to strength, and I wish you all the best in your new academic home.  Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.”

Dr. Mark Kligman serves as Professor of Jewish Musicology at HUC-JIR/New York.  He explores the rich inter-connection of music and cultural life in Mediterranean contexts. His work also extends to historical trends in the liturgical music of Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions and contemporary Jewish music.  Educated at California State University Northridge, the University of Michigan, and New York University, he earned his doctorate at NYU in 1997. His book Maqam and Liturgy: Ritual, Music, and Aesthetics of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn (Wayne State University Press) received the Jordan Schnitzer Notable Selection Award from the Association for Jewish Studies.  He serves as the Academic Chair of the Jewish Music Forum and is co-editor of Musica Judaica.  In the fall of 2014, he will be the inaugural holder of the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA and will be Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu