Rabbi David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has been appointed as Interim President by the HUC-JIR Board of Governors, according to a statement made Monday afternoon by the seminary. Rabbi Ellenson served for 12 years as HUC-JIR President (2001-13) and succeeds Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., who tragically died in a plane crash on May 5, 2018. Rabbi Panken succeeded Rabbi Ellenson as President in 2014.
Rabbi Ellenson stated, “Rabbi Aaron Panken will be remembered for his leadership, skills, visions, judgment, and ability to inspire and move others to action. I am confident that his dreams for HUC-JIR will yet be realized through the foundations he constructed and the visions he has bequeathed us. These dreams and visions will constitute his unforgettable monument, as we secure his enduring legacy.”
Andrew Berger, Chair of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors, added, “We are grateful to Rabbi Ellenson for his experienced leadership and commitment to HUC-JIR as we mourn the untimely loss of Rabbi Aaron Panken. Rabbi Ellenson’s deep knowledge of our institution and great devotion to our sacred mission will carry us forward.”
David Ellenson is just concluding his tenure as Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, a position he has held since 2015. He has written extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the Nineteenth Century, Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era, the relationship between religion and state in Israel, the history of modern Jewish religious movements, and American Jewish life.
Ellenson received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 1977. Previously, he received his A.B. degree at the College of William and Mary in 1969 and the University of Virginia granted him an M.A. in Religious Studies in 1972.
For two decades, Ellenson served as head of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR. He has also served as a Visiting Professor at both UCLA and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and he has been a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem as well as a Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In the Spring of 2015, New York University appointed him as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Skirball Department of Judaic Studies. At Brandeis, in addition to his position at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, he served as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Colgate University, The College of William and Mary, Hebrew College of Boston, and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America have all conferred honorary doctoral degrees upon him.
Ellenson has authored or edited seven books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers. His book, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, won the National Jewish Book Council’s award as outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. His work, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, as well as his book, Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, co-authored with Daniel Gordis and published by Stanford University Press in 2012, were also both nominated for book awards by the National Jewish Book Council. His newest book, Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice, appeared in September of 2014 in the University of Nebraska/Jewish Publication Society’s Scholar of Distinction Series. His academic colleagues honored him with the publication of Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition – Essays in Honor of David Ellenson, edited by Michael A. Meyer of HUC-JIR and David N. Myers of UCLA, in 2014.