Former Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai Appointed Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Jerusalem Campus

Dr. Shai will begin new role in May 2024
April 3, 2024

Nachman Shai headshot

הצג באנגלית

NEW YORK, NY April 3, 2024 – Today, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D. announced the appointment of Nachman Shai, Ph.D. as Dean of the College-Institute’s Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem. Dr. Shai, a lifelong public servant and scholar, has led a career focused on connecting communities within, across, and beyond Israel in support of the global Jewish community. He was a member of the Knesset from 2009-2019 and then held the role of Minister of Diaspora Affairs—one of Israel’s leading diplomatic positions—in 2021 and 2022. In the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years, he was a visiting faculty member at Emory and Duke universities, respectively. Dr. Shai is currently a visiting professor at the University of Haifa. His term as Dean of the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem will begin in May.

Andrew Rehfeld and Nachman Shai

“Dr. Shai brings with him unparalleled experience as a leader, ambassador, and voice for the Jewish People around the world,” said Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D. “Our role in Jewish education and public life is essential as we prepare the next generation of leaders to apply Jewish wisdom to the most pressing issues of our day. Dr. Shai is a bridge builder. His thoughtful, compassionate, and collaborative approach will support our impressive faculty and clergy leadership in Israel, building on HUC-JIR’s 60-year presence on King David Street in Jerusalem. Dr. Shai will continue to support this work, along with the work of our Reform Movement partners, to fuel sustained engagement with Jewish ideas and culture as HUC-JIR evolves to build future progressive Jewish clergy and leaders of global Judaism.”

HUC-JIR’s Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem is the hub of Reform Judaism in Israel. Its programs educate and prepare Israeli rabbis to pioneer religious pluralism in Israel and serve the global Jewish people. The campus is home to the Year-In-Israel Program, Israel Rabbinical Program, Rikma-Jewish Education Program, Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling, and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism as well as museums and libraries that offer cultural, educational, and spiritual programs for the community and international visitors. To date, the Israel Rabbinical Program has ordained 129 Reform rabbis who serve 54 Reform/Progressive congregations, schools, and communities throughout Israel.

“I’m excited and proud to join the educational center of the Reform movement, to listen and learn from our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and begin building upon the leadership legacies of Rabbi Naamah Kelman and her predecessor, Rabbi Michael Marmur,” said Dr. Shai. “As we face evolving challenges following the October 7th terror attacks, I’m committed to advancing the Jerusalem campus’s role as a vital hub of progressive Judaism in Israel and liberal Zionism around the world. To propel our campus and institution forward, we must renew the alliance between the state of Israel and the Diaspora, and we must adhere to our core values: equality, academic inquiry and pluralism, spiritual exploration, justice, and peace. Today, this is our core mission.”

Dr. Shai has long been an advocate against antisemitism and for creating an environment of inclusivity and connection within Judaism. His combination of academic, government, and leadership experience creates the opportunity for an important perspective as the Jerusalem campus matures and continues to play a vital role in the evolution of HUC-JIR, which spans four campuses and two continents. Throughout his career, Dr. Shai has been a respected voice within Israel and globally. As Minister, he established a first-of-its-kind multi-department program for Jewish renewal, which sought to strengthen and advance organizations engaged in the exploration of Jewish culture and what it means to be Jewish.

“Over the past decade I’ve worked closely with Dr. Shai as he boldly led the Knesset Diaspora-Israel Caucus and during his impactful tenure as the Minister of Diaspora Affairs in the previous Israeli government, where he initiated the largest partnership ever between the government of Israel and the North American Reform Movement,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs ‘82, President of the Union for Reform Judaism. “As a strategic and effective Jewish leader, Dr. Shai is an out-of-the-box choice to become the next dean of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem. He’s a proud non-orthodox Israeli who is serious about his Judaism and committed to growing the Reform Movement’s strength in Israel and globally.”

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Shai as Dean of the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem,” said HUC-JIR Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss ‘93, Ph.D. “His experience, insight, and commitment to building thriving progressive Jewish communities in Israel and around the globe will complement the strengths of HUC-JIR’s stellar faculty, students, staff and alumni and help us expand the impact of the transformative work of the people and programs based on the Taube Family Campus.”

“The joyous appointment of Israel’s former Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai is a meaningful stage in the long journey of HUC-JIR and the Reform movement to the heart of Israeli society,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv ’03, Member of Knesset and former President and CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. “Dr. Shai’s experience and status will contribute to connecting future leadership of North American Jewry to Israel and will help cultivate the liberal rabbinical, educational, and communal Israeli leadership that is needed today more than ever in order to secure the core values of our beloved state of Israel.”

“We welcome Dr. Shai and his inspiring work to promote understanding and reconciliation,” said Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste ‘08, Director of the HUC-JIR Israel Rabbinical Program. “The Israeli rabbis educated on our historic campus are prepared to shape the path of the growing Reform movement in Israel and serve the complex spiritual and pastoral needs of our society, even at this most complex time. Dr. Shai’s leadership will offer vital global and cross-cultural insight and vision to our community.”

“Dr. Shai is called to head the Jerusalem campus in an hour of peril in Israel and in a time of great need for courageous liberal leadership. His success is vital for the Jerusalem campus, for the Reform Movement in Israel, and for Israeli society at large,” said MARAM Chair Rabbi Ayala Samuels ‘13, Ph.D.

Vice President of Academic Resources Joshua Holo, Ph.D. and Chair of the Search Committee noted, “We look forward to Dr. Shai’s leadership in building out our Taube Family Campus, from its new entryway at the geographical heart of Jerusalem, into the cultural and religious heart of the city as well.”

Dr. Shai was born in Jerusalem and holds a bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in political science and communications from Bar Ilan University.


Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion was founded in 1875 to provide rabbinical training for those who would offer progressive, enlightened, and modern spiritual leadership for the new American pulpit. Today, HUC-JIR is the premier Jewish seminary in North America and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. Learn more at