Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) is a Jewish seminary in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. It is the only seminary affiliated with Reconstructionist Judaism. 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.
|President||Rabbi Deborah Waxman|
A 2012 restructuring of the Reconstructionist movement's institutions left RRC as the primary organization of the movement, headed by Rabbi Deborah Waxman. This central organization changed its name to "Reconstructing Judaism" in January 2018. — the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College remains part of this organization
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.
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 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.” 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. 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.
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.”
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.
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. 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. 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.
David Teutsch became president in 1993. During his tenure the college strengthened its financial base and expanded its programs, publications, and facilities. 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. Cantorial and master’s programs in Jewish studies 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). 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.”
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.
In 2011 Sandra Lawson became the first openly gay African-American and the first African-American admitted to RRC.
In 2013 Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the President of RRC. 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.
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.
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.
In conjunction with the rabbinic program, RRC offers joint masters programs in Jewish education and in nonprofit management with Gratz College, a coordinated masters in nonprofit leadership with the University of Pennsylvania, and certificate programs in Congregational and Family Systems and in Marital and Family therapy with the Council for Relationships.
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.)
The college's main building is 27,500 square feet (2,550 m2) 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.
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.
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.
The Center for Jewish Ethics
The Center for Jewish Ethics, founded in 1994, helps address the ethical challenges of contemporary life, through the training of future rabbis, hosting of conferences, and publication of ethics-related material.
Kolot, The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies
Created in 1996, this center worked in both gender and women's studies. Kolot sponsored a variety of publications and seminars. It hosted a Web site for creative Jewish liturgy for holidays and life cycle events. In 2004, Kolot spun off a program for Jewish teenage girls, "Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing", to "Moving Traditions", a program that promotes a more inclusive and expansive view of gender. Ritualwell is another initiative of Kolot still in operation. The center closed in the mid-2000s.
- Deborah Waxman, President, Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor; Assistant Professor of Contemporary Jewish Thought
- Tamar Kamionkowski, Chair, Department of Biblical Civilization, Associate Professor of Bible
- Mordechai Liebling, Director, Social Justice Organizing Program; Instructor of Practical Rabbinics
- Rebecca Alpert, professor in Religion Dept. at Temple University, author on lesbian rabbis
- Deborah Brin, one of the first openly gay rabbis and one of the first hundred women rabbis
- Dan Ehrenkrantz, President of RRC
- 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
- Sharon Kleinbaum, rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, prominent gay and lesbian oriented congregation in New York. On Newsweek list of leading rabbis, 2008
- Joy Levitt, first female president of a national rabbinical group (Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association), co-editor of Reconstructionist Passover haggadah (2000)
- Mordechai Liebling, Director, RRC's Social Justice Organizing Program, former director 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.
- 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
- "The Fourth Denomination". Myjewishlearning.com. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. 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
- Fact Sheet for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: 2007-08 Academic Year,” RRC.
- "Video and Audio | RRC". Rrc.edu. Archived from the original on 2014-01-07. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- Pine, Dan (2018-01-30). "Reconstructionist org rebrands as Reconstructing Judaism". J. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "Reconstructionists Pick First Woman, Lesbian As Denominational Leader". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
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- Ira Eisenstein, “From School of Thought to Movement.” Reconstructionist, 41:1 (February, 1975) p.5
- M. Kaplan, “Why A Reconstructionist Rabbinical College?” Reconstructionist 35:14 (2 Jan. 1970).
- 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.
- RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, p. 4.
- RRC Catalogue, 2007-09, pp. 25, 35-36
- RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice and Study Move to the Head of the Class: by Gerald S. Cohen, p.5.
- David Teutsch, “Rabbis for the 21st Century,” Sh’ma, January 2003.
- “Innovations in Spirit and Practice,” RRC Annual Report, 2007 p. 39 See also Caplan, From Ideology to Liturgy, p.135ff.
- RRC Catalogue, 2008-09, pp. 48-49.
- RRC, 2007 annual report, “Spiritual Practice” p.8
- "Ahavah Rabbah:To Learn And To Teach" inaugural address delivered by Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz on April 6, 2003
- "Rabbi is latest of many titles for Philly woman". WHYY. Retrieved 2019-05-12.
- "Book Sandra Lawson for Speaking, Events and Appearances". APB Speakers. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
- Anne Cohen (2013-10-09). "Trailblazing Reconstructionist Deborah Waxman Relishes Challenges of Judaism - News –". Forward.com. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- Lisa Hostein (October 1, 2015). "Reconstructionists give green light to intermarried rabbinical students". Jweekly. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
- "Titles and Degree Programs". Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- Barasch, Sarah. "Home | RRC". Rrc.edu. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- RRC press release, “Reconstructionist Movement to Respond to Vote of Conservative Movement on Homosexuality,” Dec. 6, 2006.
- Kurland, Rachel (2018-01-31). "Reconstructionist Judaism Gets a Rebrand - Jewish Exponent". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 2018-10-24.
- "About the Center for Jewish Ethics". Reconstructing Judaism. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "Tradition & Innovation". Ritualwell.org. 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- "Kolot: Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing! The Early Years".
- "About". Moving Traditions. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "About Us". Ritualwell. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism". RRC. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "Resources/Publications". RRC. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
- "S. Tamar Kamionkowski, Ph.D. | RRC". Rrc.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-09-07. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- O'Brien, Jodi A.; O'Brien, Jodi (2009). O'Brien, Jodi A. (ed.). Encyclopedia of gender and society, Volume 1. SAGE. p. 475. ISBN 978-1-4129-0916-7.