Ordination of Cantors for the First Time in Jewish History

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) will initiate the ordination of cantors for this first time in history.  Six cantors (five women and 1 man) will be ordained as Cantors at the Ordination Services at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on Sunday, May 6 at 9 am. In the past, cantors were invested at culminating ceremonies.

“The ordination of cantors is a significant step in the ongoing professionalization of the American Reform Cantorate,” states Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President.

“This issue has been developing for many years,” explains Cantor Bruce Ruben, Ph.D., Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. “Officers of the American Conference of Cantors, Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR faculty, the President of HUC-JIR and I formed a committee to implement this change.”

The reasons for changing from investiture to ordination are multifold:

  • The term investiture is not recognized by some states as a means of conferring clergy status.  Consequently, there have been cantors barred from visiting congregants in prisons and hospitals or, in some cases, barred from performing weddings. 
  • Cantors have had great difficulty qualifying to serve in the military chaplaincy.
  • Cantors now complete an intensive five-year program, comparable to rabbinical training, including a first year of study in Israel and master’s thesis, and are prepared to serve as co-clergy with rabbis.
The contemporary cantor enjoys an expanded professional role as a full-fledged member of the clergy, educator, pastoral counselor, musical director, and composer of new liturgical music.


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