Past is Present: JIR and the Reinvention of American Liberal Judaism

Date: Thursday, November 3, 2022
Time: 6:15 pm EST
Location: Online
Speakers: Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

Event Description

In 1922, Stephen S. Wise and the Free Synagogue launched the Jewish Institute of Religion, a pluralistic rabbinical seminary in the heart of New York City. Bucking denominational trends of the time, JIR held freedom of thought and practice paramount. Yet the school had a definite ethos, borne by the cadre of JIR rabbis who responded to the global crises of their era by fighting for klal yisrael, social justice, and Zionism. Many of these rabbis joined the CCAR, and within a few decades the seemingly counter-cultural ethos of their fledgling seminary came to pervade Reform Judaism.

In conversation, President Rehfeld and Rabbi Idelson will explore this history and its resonance today, with an eye toward the challenges posed to liberal Judaism by non-denominationalism, Zionism and feminism in a context of rising authoritarianism – and the power of seminaries to shape the future.


Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, Brandeis University
Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR