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Welcome and History

Welcome! Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is the intellectual, academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. Our faculty, students, administration, and family of friends and supporters represent our fervent hope for the Jewish future, our commitment to the present, and our continuity with all the generations of the past. It is that shared vision that makes HUC-JIR an exciting and dynamic center of Jewish learning and influence.

We invite you to learn more about the College-Institute and to visit us at one of our four centers of learning to become acquainted with our resources, programs, and services. We also hope you will join our HUC-JIR family as we strive to ensure creative Jewish life into the twenty-first century and beyond. We proudly take our place, together with you, in the unfolding story of the Jewish people, its covenant with God, and its place in the service and history of humankind.


When Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of American Reform Judaism, came to America in 1846, he encountered a frontier Jewry of 40,000 people lacking any significant Jewish cultural or intellectual activity. There was but one ordained officiating rabbi in all of America; most Jewish clergy were German "free lancers," officiating in the German language and lacking any real understanding of American life.

Wise understood the urgent need for rabbinical training and standards for those who would provide progressive, enlightened, and modern spiritual leadership for the American pulpit. At a time when Christian denominational colleges were springing up by the score, Wise was certain that an institution of higher Jewish learning would guarantee Jewish survival in America.

And so, in 1873, with an American Jewish population exceeding 150,000, Wise was the catalyst for the creation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, with its twenty-eight congregational founding members, in order to support the establishment of a "Hebrew Theological Institute." In 1875, the Hebrew Union College was launched as the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in the New World.

The liberal and pluralistic ethos of Wise's seminary was amplified through its merger in 1950 with the Jewish Institute of Religion. Founded in 1922 in New York by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the renowned advocate of social justice and human rights, the Jewish Institute of Religion was conceived as an institution serving all streams of Judaism.

A third center was opened in Los Angeles in 1954 to serve the growing Jewish community on the West Coast. A fourth branch was established in Jerusalem in 1963 to serve as a post-doctoral school of archaeological and biblical studies. Since 1970, it has grown to serve as the center for the College-Institute's Year-in-Israel Program, Israel Rabbinical Program, and as the academic center for the Progressive Movement in Israel.

Today, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is an international seminary and university of graduate studies offering a wide variety of academic and professional programs. In addition to its Rabbinical School, the College-Institute includes Schools of Graduate Studies, Education, Jewish Nonprofit Management, Sacred Music, and Biblical Archaeology.