The legacy of leadership exemplified by Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, z”l, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion from 2014 to 2018, will be sustained in perpetuity by the naming of the first four Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Professorships, one on each of HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York. Over $12 million has been contributed by nearly 1,000 of HUC-JIR’s lay leaders, alumni, congregations, faculty, staff, students, family, and friends to endow the Panken Professorships in a campaign spearheaded by Rabbi Panken’s beloved wife, Lisa Messinger, and the Messinger Panken family. The campaign will culminate with a day of learning, led by the four Panken Professors, as we approach Rabbi Panken's first yahrzeit.
Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., Interim President, said, “The Panken Professorships honor Rabbi Panken’s profound impact on this institution, its students, and the Reform Movement. Rabbi Panken prized our faculty as scholars, thought leaders, teachers, and mentors who transmit shalshelet hakabalah, the chain of tradition, while inspiring our students to become transformative leaders who invigorate Jewish life and strengthen Jewish communities throughout North America, Israel, and around the world. This investment in four endowed faculty positions fulfills Rabbi Panken’s goals to bolster HUC-JIR’s endowment, guarantee its continued academic excellence, and ensure HUC-JIR’s pre-eminence in Jewish higher education for generations beyond his tenure.”
Lisa Messinger offered these words, “HUC-JIR was Aaron’s second home and so it is especially moving that this extraordinary institution has decided to honor Aaron’s legacy through this ongoing campaign. This endowment will recognize the fundamental necessity of memorable, world-class teachers, who Aaron prioritized as President and felt the power of while an HUC-JIR student himself. Plus, these Panken Professorships signal a bold, unwavering investment in the Reform Movement’s leaders of tomorrow — the next bright generation of Jewish rabbis, cantors, educators, leaders, scholars, pastors, authors, activists, preachers, innovators, and yes, seminary presidents. Aaron’s memory and legacy will endure in the people he cared most about: our young Jewish visionaries of the next decades, and the teachers who are so essential to inspiring them.”
The inaugural cohort of Panken Professorships have been carefully selected and the designated faculty members and their disciplines best reflect the values that made Rabbi Panken a singular leader for HUC-JIR and the Reform Movement. The named professors represent both emerging scholars at the outset of promising careers and accomplished members of HUC-JIR’s renowned faculty, all of whom are committed to serious scholarship and animated by a love of teaching and a commitment to the nurturing of Reform Jewish leaders.
The inaugural cohort of Panken Professors are:
Jennifer Grayson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati with a joint appointment at Xavier University, holds a Ph.D. in History from The Johns Hopkins University (2017) and a M.Phil. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cambridge (2013). A promising scholar, she researches Arabic speaking Jewish communities in the medieval Islamic world. Her current book project traces changes in the relationship between Jewish government officials, the Babylonian geonim, and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad between the tenth and twelfth centuries.
Rabbi Dalia Marx ’02, Ph.D., Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem, received her doctorate from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was ordained at HUC-JIR in 2002. A tenth-generation Jerusalemite who has taught Reform rabbinical students in Israel, Germany, and the U.S., her most recent book is About Time: Journeys in the Jewish-Israeli Calendar (Yediot Sfarim, 2018, in Hebrew). She is co-editor of the new Israeli Reform Movement prayer book, author of When I Sleep and When I Wake: On Prayers between Dusk and Dawn (Yediot Sfarim, 2010, in Hebrew) and A Feminist Commentary of the Babylonian Talmud (Mohr Siebeck, 2013, in English), and a regular contributor to 929, adding a Reform feminist voice to this online Israeli Bible commentary.
Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot ’10, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish Intellectual History at HUC-JIR/New York, received his doctorate at Columbia University (2017) and was ordained at HUC-JIR in 2010. A warm and engaging teacher and mentor, his dissertation on “Printing, Hebrew Book Culture and Sefer Ḥasidim” explores the effects of printing on Hebrew texts during the sixteenth century. Before coming to the College-Institute, he served as Associate Rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Dvora E. Weisberg ’11, Ph.D., Professor of Rabbinics and Director of the School of Rabbinical Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, received her doctorate in Talmud and Rabbinic Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary and was ordained at HUC-JIR in 2011. A beloved teacher and skilled administrator, she is the author of Levirate Marriage and the Family in Ancient Judaism (University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press, 2009) and the forthcoming volume, Menahot/A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud (Mohr Siebeck).
The announcement of the Panken Professorships during Hanukkah is particularly meaningful, because Hanukkah was the subject of Rabbi Panken’s rabbinical thesis and the topic of the book he was writing at the time of his death. For Rabbi Panken, “Hanukkah was a finely orchestrated ritual drama which holds evolving symbolic meaning in each age.” He hoped that his study of the ancient sources on Hanukkah would provide “more background and meaning to modern celebrations, as they assume their part in a developing tradition.” He felt that these sources provided a “fascinating mirror of the times and places where Jews have lived and celebrated.”
“Rabbi Panken’s research on Hanukkah fits with his abiding interest in innovation in Jewish texts and Jewish life and his passion for drawing upon in-depth study of ancient sources to make Judaism meaningful in the modern world,” noted Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost. “He challenged our students and graduates to be compassionate religious and ethical leaders, skilled in applying Judaism’s progressive values to bring insight and healing to our contemporary world. Just as during Hanukkah we kindle light to illumine the darkness, so the Panken Professors, inspired by Rabbi Panken’s legacy, will increase the light of Jewish studies and enhance HUC-JIR’s standing as a global center of innovation for Jewish life and learning.”
Sue Hochberg, Chair of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors, stated, “Rabbi Aaron Panken’s memory will continue to inspire the College-Institute’s sacred mission of preparing the next generations of leaders for the Jewish people worldwide. The Panken Professorships will sustain his legacy by ensuring the academic strength of the College-Institute.”