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Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., has been elected President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute (HUC-JIR) by HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors on July 31, 2013, it has been announced by Irwin Engelman, Chairman of the Board, and Martin Cohen, Chairman of the Presidential Search Committee. Rabbi Panken’s appointment will be effective January 1, 2014. Rabbi Panken will be the 12th President in HUC-JIR’s 138-year history and will succeed Rabbi David Ellenson (2001-2013), who will become Chancellor.
As HUC-JIR President, Dr. Panken will serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the four-campus international university and seminary for Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York provide the academic and professional training programs for the Reform Movement’s rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offer graduate programs for scholars of all faiths. HUC-JIR’s 4,000 active alumni serve the Reform Movement’s 1.5 million members and nearly 900 congregations, representing the largest Jewish denomination in North America, and the growing Progressive Movement in Israel and around the world.
Ordained by HUC-JIR in New York in 1991, Rabbi Panken has served as a member of the faculty and as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Dean of the New York campus, and Dean of Students. He has taught Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature at HUC-JIR in New York since 1995, with research interests in the historical development of legal concepts and terms; narrative development; and development of holiday observances.
“We are proud that Dr. Panken will be leading our institution,” stated Mr. Engelman. “He is a distinguished rabbi and scholar, dedicated teacher, and committed leader of the Reform Movement for more than three decades. As Vice President and Dean, he has demonstrated his transformative vision by implementing strategic planning initiatives, introducing new technology in support of student learning and administration, strengthening recruitment, launching new programs and partnerships, attracting significant support, and invigorating the ties linking the campuses and the larger community and region. Recognized for his publications and research in Rabbinic Literature and Second Temple Literature, his exemplary leadership and passionate commitment to Reform Judaism and the Jewish people worldwide will inspire HUC-JIR’s growth in the 21st century. In selecting this esteemed rabbi and scholar as President for this institution, we are proud to demonstrate HUC-JIR’s academic excellence in fulfilling its sacred mission.”
“I am greatly honored to be called to serve as the President of HUC-JIR and to strive for ongoing innovation and creativity in strengthening our institution as the intellectual center of Progressive Judaism worldwide,” stated Dr. Panken. “Our mission is to help our students grow into authentic Jewish thought leaders, able to articulate and advance their own visions of a rich Jewish life for a new and rapidly changing religious landscape. As we invigorate our partnerships with Reform synagogues and the larger Reform Movement, we will shape a compelling message that will have an impact on the largest denomination of Jews in North America and the growing Progressive Jewish community in Israel and worldwide. By nurturing the entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit of our faculty, staff, and students, we can bring forth new projects and programs that will reimagine Jewish learning, transform the Jewish community, and extend the College-Institute’s leadership in Jewish higher education throughout the seminary and university worlds.”
An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Dr. Panken earned his doctorate in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, where his research focused on legal change in Rabbinic Literature. He currently serves on faculty for the Wexner Foundation and the Editorial Board of Reform Judaism Magazine, and has served on the Rabbinical Placement Commission, the birthright Education Committee, the CCAR Ethics Committee, and in a variety of other leadership roles within the Reform Movement and greater Jewish community. Prior to teaching at the College-Institute, he served in congregations including Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City and Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. A native of New York City who graduated from Johns Hopkins University's Electrical Engineering program, Rabbi Panken is also a certificated commercial pilot and sailor. His publications include The Rhetoric of Innovation (University Press of America, 2005), which explores legal change in Rabbinic texts, and articles in leading academic journals and scholarly volumes. He has lectured widely at academic conferences and synagogues throughout North America and served as visiting faculty at universities in Australia and China.