If you keep up with the news of the Jewish world, you may have read about a proposal being considered by the Hebrew Union College Board of Governors to end rabbinic training at its Cincinnati campus after 147 years.
Cincinnati is one of four campuses of HUC. All first year rabbinic students start their five year program in Jerusalem and then continue for four years in New York, Cincinnati, or Los Angeles. Until about 25 years ago Los Angeles only offered years two and three of the curriculum and LA students then had to transfer to New York or Cincinnati to finish and get ordained, but LA started offering the full curriculum culminating in ordination some time in the 1990s.
When I applied to the HUC rabbinic program I chose the Cincinnati campus because of the overall lower cost of living compared to New York and because Cincinnati has dormitory facilities. I wanted to be able to concentrate on my studies and remember saying at the time to people who asked why I chose Cincinnati, that the typical HUC New York student lived in Brooklyn, went to school in Manhattan, had one part time job on Long Island and a second one in Westchester, and had no car.
But at the time, the HUC application made it very clear that you were applying to the HUC rabbinic school and that, while they would take your request to go to a specific campus into consideration, they reserved the right to assign you to any campus. One of my classmates was the nephew of a very prominent Reform rabbi. He had asked to attend New York but was assigned to Cincinnati. His uncle told him that he would “take care of it” and so my future classmate drove from his home in Wisconsin to New York to enroll in his classes. He was told to get back in his car and drive to Cincinnati, which he did.
A few years ago HUC stopped assigning students to a particular campus and the number of rabbinical students in Cincinnati dropped precipitously. In an attempt to bump up the numbers they cut the tuition for Cincinnati vs. the other campuses and the numbers increased, but when the tuition break for Cincinnati ended the numbers declined again.
The current proposal would replace the Cincinnati ordination program with a “low residency” rabbinical program. Students would do most of their studies online but there would be occasional “intensives” that would take place on the Cincinnati campus. As the world of education moves increasingly towards distance learning (I have done two different accredited certificate programs entirely online), I think this makes sense, although I recognize the loss that Cincinnati in particular and the Midwest in general will feel if this suggestion passes.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-based Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies announced that it was cutting its tuition by 80% in a move to attract more students. While Ziegler started out as the Los Angeles branch of JTS, it became fully independent and started its own ordination program in 1996. The world of rabbinic education is changing and it will be interesting to see what happens.
We continue to be deeply concerned about the welfare of the Ukrainian people under attack from Russia and those who have fled the country. Our own Masorti (Conservative) movement has been active in Ukraine for decades with what was until recently a thriving network of congregations, schools, and camps. If you want to assist the worldwide Masorti effort in Ukraine and neighboring countries please give at this link.
As a reminder, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has established a Ukraine Emergency Fund to meet emergency humanitarian needs. You can find out more and donate here.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian