New Grant to HUC Supports Classical Reform Programs

The Society for Classical Reform Judaism (SCRJ), with the support of the Edward and Wilhelmina Ackerman Foundation, has announced a five-year grant in the amount of $500,000 to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). This grant will support rabbinical students on the Cincinnati campus with scholarships, Prize Essay Awards, a Student Travel Fund, and an annual SCRJ Institute.

Classical Reform Judaism – its history, thought, and liturgical expressions – will be included in Core and Elective courses in the Rabbinical School on the Cincinnati campus and the School of Sacred Music on the New York campus, and in campus co-curricular activities and programs. Cincinnati faculty will work to develop an elective course on Classical Reform Judaism, which may be offered through e-learning to students on other campuses. Rabbinical students will be provided with resource materials, including the Union Prayer Book – Sinai Edition, books, journals, liturgical and musical materials, including the classics of Reform thought and liturgy in specially produced reprints of out-of-print titles.

Rabbi Howard A. Berman, SCRJ Executive Director, noted “Since its founding in 2008, the Society has been committed to the building of a collegial relationship with HUC-JIR in order to sustain the historic principles and worship traditions of Classical Reform Judaism as core values in its teaching and practice. The SCRJ affirms the broad inclusive, universal ideals of the Classical Reform tradition, which have a unique role to play in reaching a new generation of younger Jews today, including the increasing numbers of interfaith families within the Reform Movement. We are very excited to have this opportunity to share our vision with a new generation of rabbis, and to support them in rediscovering and reaffirming the heritage we all share as Reform Jews.”

Through its support for HUC-JIR, the SCRJ seeks to foster the continuous creative development of a distinctively American expression of Jewish life and identity, and advocates on behalf of outreach and genuine inclusion of the diverse strains in today’s changing Jewish community. The SCRJ seeks to broaden its partnership with HUC-JIR to support and encourage an awareness of the Classical Reform tradition among the emerging generation of rabbis, cantors, and educators.

Around the movement, reaction appears to be mixed. This from Rabbi Stanley Davids – Rabbi Emeritus Temple Emanu-El of Atlanta, and a long-time movement activist – reflects what I heard from many,

“While I personally feel myself quite distant spiritually and in practice from the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, I find the news that our senior rabbinic students will be given the opportunity to encounter Classical principles and practices to be extremely positive. In a sense, these academic seminars will serve both to keep our Movement connected to its roots and to promote a creative encounter from which new generations will benefit. Classical Reform Judaism should not be forgotten; neither should it be treated as synonymous with something which is outdated and irrelevant.”

Over the past half-century, the Reform movement has shifted away from many of the practices of classical Reform while simultaneously embracing more traditional ones. With the upcoming retirement of the URJ’s senior professional, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, this embracing of tradition is just one of the touchpoints the search committee appears to be wrestling with.