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Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Established 1968
Type Private
Affiliation Reconstructionist Judaism
President Rabbi Deborah Waxman
Academic staff
Location Wyncote, Pennsylvania, USA

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.[1] It is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. RRC has an enrollment of approximately 80 students in rabbinic and other graduate programs.[2]

As of June 3, 2012 the Reconstructionist movement was restructured. RRC is now the primary organization of the movement, headed by Rabbi Deborah Waxman.[3] She is believed to be the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary.[4][5]


  • Programs and Facilities 1
  • College enrollment and alumni 2
  • Notable faculty 3
    • Current faculty 3.1
    • Former faculty 3.2
  • Notable alumni 4
  • College Centers 5
    • The Center for Jewish Ethics 5.1
    • Kolot, The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies 5.2
  • History: Founding to 1981 6
  • History: 1981-1993 7
  • History: Since 1993 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Programs and Facilities

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 . 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.[6]

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, and the first female Reconstructionist rabbi. Since 1984, RRC has admitted and allowed the ordination of openly gay, bisexual, and lesbian rabbis, the first major rabbinic seminary to do so.[7] Deborah Brin is the first openly gay rabbi in Judaism. She was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1985.[8]

As of June 2008, RRC had graduated 321 rabbis, nine graduates of the masters in Jewish studies program, and three cantors.[9] 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.[10]

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.

Notable faculty

Current faculty

  • Deborah Waxman, President of RRC
  • Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Director, Multifaith Studies and Initiatives Program, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
  • Tamar Kamionkowski, Chair, Department of Biblical Civilization, Associate Professor of Bible [11]
  • Mordechai Liebling
  • Amber Powers, Assistant Vice President, Enrollment and Rabbinic Formation
  • 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.
  • Linda Holtzman, instructor of practical rabbinics and rabbinic formation specialist

Former faculty

Notable alumni

  • Rebecca Alpert, Chair of Religion Dept. at Temple University, author on lesbian rabbis
  • Deborah Brin, first openly gay rabbi in Judaism, ordained by RRC in 1985.[8]
  • Dan Ehrenkrantz, President of RRC
  • Richard Libowitz Professor of Intellectual History at Temple University, and Director of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches
  • Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, RRC faculty, active in interfaith dialogue
  • Steve Gutow, president and CEO of Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • Carol Harris-Shapiro, lecturer in Temple University's Department of Intellectual Heritage and author of Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi's Journey through Religious Change in America
  • Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • Sharon Kleinbaum, rabbi of Congregation Beit 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 female president of a national rabbinical group (Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association), co-editor of Reconstructionist Passover haggadah (2000)
  • Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, former director, Torah of Money at Jewish Funds for Justice
  • Brant Rosen, congregational rabbi and social justice activist. Listed by Newsweek magazine, 25 top pulpit rabbis, 2008
  • Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, first woman ordained by RRC (in 1974), noted author of children’s books.[12]
  • Amy Small, past president of RRA, Reconstructionist representative to national and international organizations
  • Susan Schnur, editor of Lilith, 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, founding executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America

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

Created in 1996, 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.[13]

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.”[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.” [17]

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

Ziegleman Hall, the RRC's main building

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 1980s, 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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).[22] 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.” [23]

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.[24]

In 2013 Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the President of RRC.[4][25] As the President, she is believed to be the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; RRC is both a congregational union and a seminary.[5][4]

In 2015 RRC voted to accept rabbinical students in interfaith relationships, making Reconstructionist Judaism the first type of Judaism to officially allow rabbis in relationships with non-Jewish partners.[26]


  1. ^ "The Fourth Denomination". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 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 
  2. ^ Fact Sheet for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: 2007-08 Academic Year,” RRC.
  3. ^ "Video and Audio | RRC". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  4. ^ a b c "Reconstructionists Pick First Woman, Lesbian As Denominational Leader". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  5. ^ a b "RRC Announces New President Elect" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  6. ^ Barasch, Sarah. "Home | RRC". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  7. ^ RRC press release, “Reconstructionist Movement to Respond to Vote of Conservative Movement on Homosexuality,” Dec. 6, 2006.
  8. ^ a b "Powered by Google Docs" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  9. ^ RRC Graduation program, 2008.
  10. ^ “Fact Sheet for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: 2007-08 Academic Year,” RRC
  11. ^ "S. Tamar Kamionkowski, Ph.D. | RRC". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  12. ^ O'Brien, Jodi A.; O'Brien, Jodi (2009). O'Brien, Jodi A., ed. Encyclopedia of gender and society, Volume 1. SAGE. p. 475.  
  13. ^ "Tradition & Innovation". 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  14. ^ Ira Eisenstein, “From School of Thought to Movement.” Reconstructionist, 41:1 (February, 1975) p.5
  15. ^ M. Kaplan, “Why A Reconstructionist Rabbinical College?” Reconstructionist 35:14 (2 Jan. 1970).
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, p. 4.
  18. ^ RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, pp. 25, 35-36
  19. ^ RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice and Study Move to the Head of the Class: by Gerald S. Cohen, p.5.
  20. ^ David Teutsch, “Rabbis for the 21st Century,” Sh’ma, January 2003.
  21. ^ “Innovations in Spirit and Practice,” RRC Annual Report, 2007 p. 39 See also Caplan, From Ideology to Liturgy, p.135ff.
  22. ^ RRC Catalogue, 2008-09, pp. 48-49.
  23. ^ RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice” p.8
  24. ^ "Ahavah Rabbah:To Learn And To Teach" inaugaral address delivered by Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz on April 6, 2003
  25. ^ Anne Cohen (2013-10-09). "Trailblazing Reconstructionist Deborah Waxman Relishes Challenges of Judaism - News –". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  26. ^ Lisa Hostein (October 1, 2015). "Reconstructionists give green light to intermarried rabbinical students". Jweekly. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 

External links

  • RRC's official website
  • RRC on YouTube
  • RRC on Facebook
  • Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's & Gender Studies
  • Ritualwell, an on-line resource for creative and feminist liturgy
  • The Center for Jewish Ethics
  • The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

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