Lay Leaders as Students at HUC-JIR

Monday, September 15, 2014

Among the rewards of serving as members of HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors and Boards of Overseers, lay leaders have the unique opportunity to audit classes with rabbinical, cantorial, education, nonprofit management, and graduate students on our campuses.  Burton Lehman, former Chairman of the Board of Governors, and Richard Scheiner, Governor and Chairman of the Student Welfare Committee, are among those who have participated actively in a broad array of courses with a wide range of faculty.

Burton Lehman studying in a cross-campus course on "Responsa," taught by Rabbi David Ellenson

“The development of Jewish law through codes fascinates me as a lawyer,” explains Lehman, whose ongoing study of Talmud first connected him with Dr. Alyssa Gray, Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics and Associate Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature, when she was teaching some Talmud classes at Central Synagogue.  Wishing to further his interest with this “great teacher,” he sought out her courses on “Early Rabbinic Literature and Post-Talmudic Literature” at HUC-JIR.  

Lehman next studied “Modern Jewish Thought” with Dr. Eugene Borowitz, Sigmund L. Falk Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Education and Jewish Religious Thought, and Rabbi David Ellenson, past President and I.H. and Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought. “This course showcased two great thinkers and teachers in a subject that is very relevant for Reform Jews.” His interest in Jewish law further led him to enroll this Fall in Rabbi David Ellenson’s course on “Responsa,” focusing on another mode of developing Jewish law.  This cross-campus course brings together students from across HUC-JIR’s campuses who are studying together through e-classroom technology.

Lehman values the special experience of studying with HUC-JIR’s students. “I have found the students to be fully engaged, prepared, and interested in their subjects,” he states. “Studying with them is a great way to get to know some of them much better.”

Richard Scheiner in the New York Graduation processional

Richard Scheiner has taken seven courses at HUC-JIR, including “Second Temple Literature” with Rabbi Aaron Panken, President and Assistant Professor of Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature; “Medieval Jewish Thought” with Dr. Leonard Kravitz, Professor Emeritus of Midrash & Homiletics; “Modern Jewish Thought” with Dr. Eugene Borowitz; “Early Rabbinic Literature” with Dr. Alyssa Gray; “Midrash with Dr. Norman Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Midrash; “Liturgy” with Dr. Lawrence Hoffman, Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual; and “The Future of Reform Judaism” with Rabbi David Ellenson and Dr. Lawrence Hoffman.

“I picked the courses based on a combination of subject matter that interested me and the likely retirement of the professors,” Scheiner explains.  “I didn't want to miss the opportunity to study with living legends.”

Scheiner was “very impressed with the brilliance of many of our students.  They seem to be passionate about their rabbinical and cantorial career choices.  They are a proactive and engaging group as a whole.  Knowing the students personalized the Board experience.  Attending Graduation and Ordination takes on a whole new meaning when you know the graduates.”

Scheiner encourages all Board members to audit classes. “My experiences have been extraordinary, despite my lack of meaningful Hebrew, which was a bit of an obstacle.  In addition, I had forgotten how much work is involved in graduate studies and the volume was profound.  Each of the professors was both brilliant and inviting.  Clearly they were and are in love with their teaching and their subjects.” 

Lehman concurs and strongly recommends these learning opportunities to members of HUC-JIR’s Boards, saying “I really appreciate this experience as a way for Governors to learn more deeply about HUC-JIR and to enrich their own bases of knowledge.”

[Jay H. Geller, Governor and Chairman of the Communications Committee, shares his learning experiences at HUC-JIR.]

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading 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 Jacob Rader Marcus Center of 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.