This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, and the Society for Classical Reform Judaism will celebrate the fourth year of a partnership that has enabled a new generation of rabbinic students to encounter the distinctive principles and traditions of the Reform Jewish heritage. In addition to the ongoing scholarship opportunities, liturgical resources and annual seminars sponsored by the Society, this milestone will be marked by a special conference on the theme “reclaiming and renewing our heritage” with a variety of programs exploring the legacies of leading pioneers of the Movement.
National lay and rabbinic leaders will join students and faculty, as well as others in regional Jewish communities, to explore the history, values and vision of the American liberal Jewish tradition in three days of seminars, March 21-23, on the Cincinnati campus. Examining the foundations of Reform Judaism will point the way for building for the 21st century, say conference planners.
The work of three spiritual forbearers – Isaac Mayer Wise, Stephen S. Wise and David Einhorn – will play a significant part in this year’s conference. Each of these prominent rabbinic leaders played an instrumental role in the shaping of the Reform Movement in the United States.
When Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of American Reform Judaism, came to America in 1846, he quickly understood the urgent need for rabbinical training for a new generation of progressive, enlightened and modern Jewish-American spiritual leaders. He established the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, an umbrella group for America’s first 28 Reform congregations. Two years later, this body (renamed the Union for Reform Judaism) opened Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati as the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in the New World.
A half-century later, another Rabbi Wise – this one New Yorker Stephen S. Wise, the renowned social justice and human rights advocate (no relation to Isaac Wise) – founded the Jewish Institute of Religion. Established in 1922, JIR merged with HUC in 1950.
David Einhorn was the first rabbi of the Har Sinai Congregation in Baltimore, the country’s first congregation founded as a Reform Temple, in 1842. He was one of the most prominent Jewish abolitionists in the Civil War period, and shaped the Movement’s commitment to social action, as well as its liturgical foundations.
The conference will feature forums that cover such topics as the role of the Wises and Einhorn as, respectively, moderate pragmatists and radical visionaries; the integration of Reform Judaism’s historic principles and practices into a contemporary setting; and the creative renewal of the Movement’s historic worship traditions.
The opening session of the conference will include greetings by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of HUC-JIR; Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, dean of HUC-JIR, Cincinnati; and Rabbi Howard Berman, executive director of the Society of Classical Reform Judaism.
The conference will begin following HUC-JIR Founder’s Day ceremony on Thursday, March 21, at 11 a.m. and will conclude with the Shabbat morning service on Saturday, March 23, at 10 a.m. in the Scheuer Chapel. This program is open to all interested individuals, rabbis and lay leaders, free of charge.