Dear HUC-JIR Community,

On November 9, 2021, HUC-JIR released the results of the independent investigation initiated by the Board of Governors earlier in the year. The Morgan Lewis report publicly exposed a painful part of our College-Institute and indicated ways we are not living up to our highest aspirations today. The report reinforced findings that the Presidential Task Force on Safe and Respectful Environments shared with our community in January 2021. We remain committed to addressing the concerns and creating additional secure paths for reporting and sharing.

I begin with a deep appreciation for the courage of the 170 individuals who bravely came forward and shared their distressing experiences. Their voices will guide the process of teshuvah that we, as an institution, must now undertake.

Over the last six weeks, Rabbi Andrew Goodman, Director of Student Support at HUC-JIR, has been working with internal and external stakeholders and consulting with a range of experts to build a comprehensive plan of action. This plan aims to achieve needed cultural change by revising systems, structure, and process. This type of change does not come quickly. On December 14 we delivered to the Board an 18-month path forward, with clear deliverables and measures of accountability, to ensure our work is consistent with our values.

Once the Board reviews and endorses this framework, and we begin to process the input of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we will share a more comprehensive and detailed plan. We will continue to meet with different segments of our community, and we expect our plans to be further enriched by their contributions.

In the remainder of this letter, I share the core commitments guiding us, and some of the essential elements shaping our path forward.

Ensuring a Sacred, Respectful Community of Inquiry and Exploration

Our College-Institute must achieve our highest Jewish values in a manner that is consistent with our educational mission. Our plan of action thus aims to strengthen our core commitment to support a sacred, respectful community of academic inquiry and spiritual exploration.

The idea of sacredness in the Jewish tradition is captured by the idea of being set apart from the mundane or ordinary aspects of our lives, elevating ourselves to holy and divine purposes. We will seek to strengthen ourselves as a sacred institution in multiple ways, including but not limited to the following:

  • We will embark on a process of institutional teshuvah in which we will hear from those affected, and take responsibility for the harms that individuals caused due to their positions of power.
  • We recognize that while our values are eternal, our understanding of what they require of us can be skewed by self-interest, social context, and unjust structures of power. Unethical behavior thus shall not be excused by the social norms of the time, or the fact that other institutions may have had similar challenges.

Our work in this regard will include, among other things, priorities identified by many of those who spoke to the report’s authors, including exploring the possibility of reaffirming ordination and reissuing ordination certificates for alumni for whom these acts would be meaningful.

This idea of respect and sacredness emerges from the biblical notion that each of us is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. As such, we are committed to creating standards that promote and reinforce the treatment of one another in a manner consistent with that concept. The standards that will be designed will include clear methods of accountability and will be implemented across our institution. One identified priority we will be reviewing is our approach to public honors through visual images and named scholarships, events, and objects in accordance with a carefully developed systematic and consultative approach.

While sacredness and respect are values that might be embraced by any Jewish organization, HUC-JIR is an educational institution with a mission to raise up k’lei kodesh (sacred leaders) and to advance academic scholarship. The values of sacredness and respect are essential to strengthening HUC-JIR as a community of academic inquiry and spiritual exploration. To develop as leaders, clergy, teachers, and scholars, our students and faculty often must confront profoundly important and unsettling questions. We are thus committed to ensuring a sacred and respectful community in which we are able to share, discuss, and learn from each other and from sacred texts even when the issues being raised may be disconcerting or uncomfortable.

We are an institution whose history is more problematic than many understood, and we are an institution that has always aspired to be fully grounded in our foundational Jewish values and core educational mission. We are committed to being a sacred, respectful community of inquiry and exploration. We will approach our responsibility to confront our past and create a better future with a recognition of that complexity without shying away from any of it.

I thank our Board of Governors for their collaborative partnership in strengthening our culture over the last two years. And I express gratitude again to those who came forward to tell their stories, even though it was painful and hard. Our work ahead will not be easy, nor will it be quickly achieved. But we will see it through.

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.


Responses to this email account will go to our Communications team along with President Rehfeld.