The Reform Seminary

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion


    This renowned Jewish school of higher learning is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it was founded in 1875 by Isaac Meyer Wise, a German immigrant rabbi.

     It seems peculiar to us today that a major rabbinical seminary and university of Judaism was located in a small town in Ohio and not in New York City. In fact, Cincinnati today has only 23,000 Jews.

     The city was named after the Roman farmer-general who saved Rome from invasion in 457 B.C. and again in 439 B.C. His name was Lucius Quinctius, but he was called  Cincinnatus (from cincinnus or curl . In Latin the c is pronounced k as in kinky or Kinkinnati). Quinctius had curly hair.

    Those who founded the city sought to identify  George Washington with Cincinnatus on the grounds that Cincinnatus relinquished his dictatorship of Rome twice and returned to farming. He refused power, as did George Washington when he would not serve a third term as President. There is a legend to the effect that Washington was offered the opportunity to be king and that he refused. This is unlikely but may have been the view of one or two royalists who wrote letters to that effect.

    Although Cincinnati had a few Jews in 1846 when Rabbi Wise came to America, that number increased considerably after the 1848 revolution in the German states failed. At that time there were 38 German speaking states in Europe, excluding Austria and Switzerland. There was no Germany until 1870. However, revolutions occurred in Prussia and other states, all of which were beaten down by the monarchs (mono=one and archon=rule) so that many Germans, including Jewish Germans, fled to America. These Germans settled mainly in the midwest, including Cincinnati, so that by 1873 there were over 150,000 Jews in America, of whom many had settled in German speaking areas. Their rabbis usually officiated in German as there were very few eastern European Jews among them.

    Since Reform Judaism had originated in Germany earlier in the 19th century, it was not surprising that Isaac Meyer Wise would attempt to bring this form of Judaism to the United States. Wise therefore founded the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873. Later, this became the Union of Reform Judaism. The Union began with 28 congregations, who then founded the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875. The HUC is the first permanent Jewish institution in America.

    Later, in 1922 Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (no relation) founded the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. That was also a Reform seminary. In 1950 the two institutions merged. Then, in 1954 an additional center was opened in Los Angeles and a fourth branch was established in Jerusalem in 1963. The Jerusalem branch not only promotes Reform in Israel but also serves as the locus for the Year In Israel program of the American HUC Rabbinical seminary.

    Today the HUC-JIR is a major university offering not only rabbinical studies but also undergraduate and graduate degrees in Jewish education and Jewish liberal arts. There is also a Cantorial school at HUC as well as a curriculum for Jewish community service.

    The Faculty at HUC includes such famous scholars as Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, and numerous other outstanding teachers.

   The HUC also houses a great library as well as the American Jewish Archives. The HUC publishes a journal called American Jewish Archives which is unique and of the greatest importance to anyone seeking to learn about Jewish history in the United States.

   There can be no doubt that the HUC is a vital part of the American Jewish community and is so regarded by all who seek the perpetuation and growth of Judaism in America.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Fraud (2007).

Home ] Up ]