In honor of Jewish-American History Month, Jewish Treats presents the history of Hebrew Union College.

Bohemian-born Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (born Weiss, 1819-1900) arrived in the United States in 1846 (where he assumed the position of rabbi for Congregation Beth El in Albany, N.Y.). There were approximately 40,000 Jews in the country and almost no formally ordained rabbis. The Jewish population in America was becoming predominantly German-Jewish in origin, many of whom related easily to the new Reform Movement that was developing in Germany.

It did not take Wise long to realize that the European-trained clergy, few as they were, were not connecting with their American congregants. He spent 20 years trying to create an American rabbinic college. In 1873, his efforts resulted in the creation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which, in turn, created Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1875. With the aid of a generous $10,000 donation by Henry Adler of Lawrenceburg, IN, HUC’s first classes were offered in 1875, housed in two of Cincinnati’s synagogues. In 1881, HUC moved into its own building, and four years later, its first graduates received public ordination.

In 1950, HUC merged with the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR) in New York, a school established in 1922 by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (no relation to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise), who promoted Zionism within the Reform movement. At that time, the Union of Hebrew Congregations was not pro-Zionist (HUC-JIR). HUC-JIR has continued to grow, expanding to a campus in Los Angeles (1954) and in Jerusalem (1963). In 1972, HUC-JIR made particular headlines as the first rabbinic seminary to ordain women as rabbis.

With schools of Graduate Studies, Education, Jewish Nonprofit Management, Sacred Music, and Biblical Archaeology, as well as a renowned library/archive, several museums and academic publications, HUC-JIR has become far more than a rabbinic seminary.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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