Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), is located in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles (16 km) north of central Philadelphia. RRC is the only seminary affiliated with Reconstructionist Judaism [ See “Reconstructionism: The Fourth Denomination,” at This article is reprinted from the American Jewish Historical Society’s American Jewish Desk Reference: The Ultimate One Volume Reference to the Jewish Experience in America.] . It is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools [For a general overview see: Tabak, Robert P. "Reconstructionist Rabbinical College." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 17. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 149. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. SPERTUS COLLEGE OF JUDAICA. 22 May 2008 . See also: Ellenson, David. "Rabbinical Training, American." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 17. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 23-31. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. SPERTUS COLLEGE OF JUDAICA. 22 May 2008 .] . RRC has an enrollment of approximately 80 students in rabbinic and other graduate programs. [Fact Sheet for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: 2007-08 Academic Year,” RRC.]

History: Founding to 1981

Reconstructionist Judaism, a liberal movement that views Judaism as the “evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people” was established by Mordecai Kaplan in the 1930s as a school of thought. He had extensive influence on American Judaism, particularly on Conservative and Reform Judaism. However, his followers, including Ira Eisenstein (Kaplan’s son-in-law and leader of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation from the 1959 onward) were frustrated by the lack of a continuing framework to promote their ideas in American Judaism. Eisenstein criticized dependence on “’Reconstructionist rabbis’ …borrowed from the ranks of Reform and Conservativism…A movement must produce its own leaders.” [Ira Eisenstein, “From School of Thought to Movement.” Reconstructionist, 41:1 (February, 1975) p.5] Kaplan himself was reluctant to establish a seminary which would mean creating a separate denomination alongside Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. However, lay and rabbinic leaders of the small Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (FRCH, later re-named the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) encouraged this step, and Kaplan eventually gave his blessing. [M. Kaplan, “Why A Reconstructionist Rabbinical College?” Reconstructionist 35:14 (2 Jan. 1970).] At the FRCH conference in Montreal in June, 1967, the delegates overwhelmingly called for the establishment of a school for training rabbis.

The college opened in 1968 based in two brownstone buildings at 2308 North Broad Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, near Temple University. [ Deborah Ann Musher, “Reconstructionist Judaism in the Mind of Mordecai Kaplan: The Transformation from a Philosophy into a Religious Denomination,” American Jewish History, 86:4, December 1998, pp. 397-417. Also see Eric Caplan, From Ideology to Liturgy: Reconstructionist Worship and American Liberal Judaism (Hebrew Union College Press, New York and Cincinnati, 2002) pp.135 ff.]

From its founding, RRC had two unique features in its curriculum. First, based on the Reconstructionist concept of an “evolving religious civilization” the five-year curriculum was centered on a historical period each year. These were biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern (roughly to 1948), and contemporary periods. During each year, students would focus on the history, texts, and concepts of that period. With modifications, this developmental approach continues as a central feature of the RRC curriculum. RRC describes this goal:”…students enter into a dialogue with those in previous generations who addressed perennial human issues. In this way, RRC educates leaders who can articulate the voice of tradition as it speaks to today’s Jews.” [RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, p. 4.]

The second curricular innovation, based on Kaplan’s concept that American Jews live in two civilizations (Jewish and American), had all rabbinical students enroll in a secular doctoral program, initially in religion at Temple University (a nearby state-related institution), later including other potential majors and universities. The goal was that students be aware of general trends in the study of religion and of other religious traditions. This “dual program” proved difficult to complete, as most students were enrolled in two graduate programs while also working part-time. The initial doctoral requirement was eventually reduced to a secular master’s degree.

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College also recognized that future rabbis needed preparation in addition to purely academic courses and text studies. From the early years of RRC there were courses in practical rabbinics, covering such issues as pastoral counseling and life cycle events. In more recent years these have expanded to a multi-tiered program of practical rabbinics that includes coursework, supervised field internships, group supervision, and a requirement to shadow religious leaders in the field.

History: 1981-1993

In 1981, Eisenstein, the founding president, retired, succeeded by Ira Silverman (1981-86). Under his leadership RRC moved from its urban setting in September 1982 to its current location, formerly the mansion of John Charles Martin, on Church Road in suburban Wyncote.

By the early 1980’s, curriculum changes at RRC included more Hebrew, classic texts, and electives, reducing the time available for secular graduate studies. In addition, many more entering students were preparing for their second career and had already completed a secular master’s degree or the equivalent. The “dual program” requirement for a secular graduate degree was dropped. However, a program of courses in religious studies including Christianity, Islam, and Eastern religions was instituted at RRC, some taught by adjunct faculty. At least two of these courses, including one in Christianity, are required for rabbinical students. [RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, pp. 25, 35-36] A mekhinah (preparatory) year was added for many students who needed additional work in Hebrew and traditional Jewish sources and traditions.

Arthur Green, a student of mysticism and a founder of the havurah movement, became president in 1986 after serving as dean from 1984. Faculty and student enrollment significantly increased, and the Israel study program expanded. To move beyond a strictly academic focus, RRC began offering programs in spiritual growth in 1987, under the leadership of dean Jacob Staub. Staub commented that the early focus of RRC, as with other seminaries, was not on questions of meaning but “We were going for the original, objective, dispassionate description of phenomena.” But this expansion enabled the faculty to begin working with students as spiritual people and future leaders. [RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice and Study Move to the Head of the Class: by Gerald S. Cohen, p.5.] The first experimental edition of a new Reconstructionist Sabbath eve prayer book, the first in the Kol Haneshamah series, by the Reconstructionist Press in 1989 included contributions from a number of RRC faculty members.

History: Since 1993

David Teutsch became president in 1993. During his tenure the college strengthened its financial base and expanded its programs, publications, and facilities. [David Teutsch, “Rabbis for the 21st Century,” Sh’ma, January 2003.] The new series of Reconstructionist prayer books, Kol Haneshamah, was published under the leadership of Teutsch. Although RRC struggled to reach a $500,000 minimum endowment in its early years, by 1992 it reached $2.4 million, $14.8 million in 2004, and $19.7 million in 2006. [“Innovations in Spirit and Practice,” RRC Annual Report, 2007 p. 39 See also Caplan, From Ideology to Liturgy, p.135ff.] Cantorial and master’s programs in Jewish studies for were added. Three academic centers were established, The Center for Jewish Ethics (1994); Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies (1996) and Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism (2003).

RRC had long been preparing students for a variety of rabbinic careers, including campus work, chaplaincy, and Jewish education as well as congregational leadership. Especially since the mid-1990s many students take at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, a supervised program of training for clergy and other caregivers, often based in a hospital.

During this time the college expanded its vision of modeling creation of a Jewish community for its future rabbis. From 1998, aided by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a Jewish spiritual direction program founded by faculty member Jacob Staub grew. In 2007, on a completely voluntary basis, spiritual direction included 75% of the student body. The program includes individual meetings with a spiritual director, small groups, and in hevrutah (partners or dyads). [RRC Catalogue, 2008-09, pp. 48-49.] Faculty member Barbara Breitman says, “Every spiritual tradition has within it the qualities of soul that people need to cultivate in their lives so that they can live according to a higher sense of purpose: generosity, patience, gratitude, truthfulness. Spiritual companioning needs to support people in cultivating those qualities.” [RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice” p.8]

The college marked a milestone in 2002 when Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz became the first graduate of RRC to become president. The RRC curriculum continues to be based on its civilizational approach. In addition, the college focuses on developing community and integrating spiritual growth with academic studies. ["Ahavah Rabbah:To Learn And To Teach" inaugaral address delivered by Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz on April 6, 2003]

Programs and Facilities

From its early years, RRC included students in decision making. Representatives of students, alumni, faculty, and administration meet in a College Council that advises on current issues. In addition, all these groups have representatives on the RRC Board of Governors. Students are members of the Reconstructionist Student Association (RSA.)

RRC is a graduate institution. Rabbinical and other degree candidate students are required to have a bachelor’s degree, and meet Hebrew and other requirements before enrolling.

Graduates of the five-to-six year program are required to spend one of those years studying in Israel before graduating. Graduates receive the title of rabbi and a Master of Arts degree in Hebrew letters. RRC offers specialized training tracks in five different areas: congregational life; education [with Gratz College, leading to an M.A. in Jewish education] ; geriatric chaplaincy; campus rabbinate; and communal organization.

RRC also offers a masters degree program in Jewish studies and coordinates a cantorial program with the Jewish music program of nearby Gratz College.

The college's main building is 27,500 square feet and is red-brick, slate-roofed, and an example of Georgian architecture. It includes classrooms, a lounge, faculty and administrative offices, the Einstein Reconstructionist Archives; a beit midrash (study and discussion hall, also used for religious services); a media center, and conference rooms. The adjacent Goldyne Savad Library Center opened in 1999. The library houses approximately 50,000 books on Judaica, primarily in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. [RRC website, “Library Resources.” Accessed May 20, 2008.]

College Enrollment and Alumni

The first graduate of RRC, Michael Luckens, was ordained in 1973. From its second year, 1969, RRC students included women. Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was ordained in 1974, the second woman rabbi in the United States. [Tabak, Robert P. "Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 18. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 67. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. SPERTUS COLLEGE OF JUDAICA. 22 May 2008 .] Since 1984, RRC has admitted and ordained openly gay and lesbian rabbis, the first major rabbinic seminary to do so. [RRC press release, “Reconstructionist Movement to Respond to Vote of Conservative Movement on Homosexuality,” Dec. 6, 2006.]

As of June 2008, RRC had graduated 321 rabbis, nine graduates of the masters in Jewish studies program, and three cantors. [RRC Graduation program, 2008.] In 2007, the enrollment included 72 rabbinical students, four master’s students, and one cantorial student. The college had 38 full-time and adjunct faculty, and four endowed chairs. [“Fact Sheet for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: 2007-08 Academic Year,” RRC]

Most RRC graduates are members of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Approximately half the graduates serve congregations (Reconstructionist, those affiliated with other movements, or unaffiliated.) Others serve in academia, in Hillel and campus positions, as civilian and military chaplains, educators, in Jewish agencies, or are employed by the Reconstructionist movement. About one-fifth work in other areas, including as authors, editors, researchers, spiritual counselors, independent rabbis, or are retired. RRC graduates serve Jewish communities in the US, Canada, Australia, France, and Israel.

College Centers

The College sponsors three program centers:

The Center for Jewish Ethics

The Center for Jewish ethics has published a series of guides with multiple commentaries, using contemporary and classical Jewish sources on topics including bioethics, the ethics of speech, and the ethics of organizations.

Kolot, The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies

This center works in both gender and women's studies Kolot sponsors a variety of publications and seminars. It hosts a Web site for creative Jewish liturgy for holidays and life cycle events. []

Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism

Hiddur sponsors conferences and research and also publishes materials to help Jewish elders and caregivers with holiday and other observances in various settings.

Notable Faculty

Current Faculty

*Lori Hope Lefkovitz, Sadie Gottesman and Arlene Gottesman Reff Professor of Gender and Judaism. Director of Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies.
*Dayle Friedman, Director, Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism
*Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Director, Religious Studies Program, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
*Jacob Staub, Chair, Department of Medieval Jewish Civilization, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality, Director, Jewish Spiritual Direction Program
*Ira F. Stone, Instructor of Mussar and Modern Jewish Thought
*David Teutsch,, The Louis and Myra Wiener Professor of Contemporary Jewish Civilization, Chair, Department of Contemporary Jewish Civilization, Director, Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics. Director of Center for Jewish Ethics.
*Tamar Kamionkowski, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean, Chair, Department of Biblical Civilization, Associate Professor of Bible
*Dan Ehrenkrantz, President, RRC, Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor

Former Faculty

*Ira Eisenstein
*Ari Elon
*Mordecai Kaplan
*Tikvah Frymer-Kensky
*Arthur Green
*Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
*Arthur Waskow

Notable alumni

*Rebecca Alpert , Chair of Religion Dept. at Temple University, author on lesbian rabbis.
*Dan Ehrenkrantz, President of RRC
*Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, RRC faculty, active in interfaith dialogue
*Steve Gutow, director of Jewish Council for Public Affairs
*Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
*Sharon Kleinbaum, rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, prominent gay and lesbian oriented congregation in New York. On Newsweek list of leading rabbis, 2008
*Allan Lehmann, faculty member, Hebrew College rabbinical school
*Joy Levitt, first woman president of a national rabbinical group (Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association), co-editor of Reconstructionist Passover haggadah (2000)
*Brant Rosen, congregational rabbi and social activist. Listed by Newsweek magazine, 25 top pulpit rabbis, 2008
*Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, first woman to graduate RRC, noted author of children’s books
*Amy Small, past president of RRA, Reconstructionist representative to national and international organizations
*Susan Schnur, editor of Lillith, Jewish feminist magazine
*Gail Shuster-Bouskila, first woman rabbi to live in Israel
*Toba Spitzer, president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (2007-09). First open lesbian to head a major rabbinical organization
*Michael Strassfeld., co-editor of Jewish Catalogues, co-editor of Reconstructionist Passover haggadah, a Night of Questions, 2000
*Sidney Schwarz, founder of Panim, center for teaching about Judaism and public policy
*Brian Walt, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America


External links

* [ RRC's official website]
* [ Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's & Gender Studies]
* [ Ritualwell, an on-line resource for creative and feminist liturgy]
* [ Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism]
* [ The Center for Jewish Ethics]
* [ The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association]
* [ The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation]

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