David Ellenson z"l
David Ellenson directed the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and was a visiting professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University from Fall 2015 through Spring 2018. Chancellor-Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he served as president of HUC-JIR from 2001-2013.
For two decades Ellenson served as head of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR. He has also served as a visiting professor at both UCLA and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and he has been a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem as well as a Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the spring of 2015, New York University appointed him as Distinguished Visiting Professor and he taught there in the Skirball Department of Judaic Studies in 2015-2016.
A scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson was recognized for his writings and publications in these fields. He wrote extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the nineteenth century, Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era, the relationship between religion and state in Israel, the history of modern Jewish religious movements, and American Jewish life.
Ellenson authored or edited seven books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers. His book, “After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity,” won the National Jewish Book Council’s award as outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. His work, “Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy,” published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, as well as his book, “Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa,” co-authored with Daniel Gordis and published by Stanford University Press in 2012, were also both nominated for book awards by the National Jewish Book Council. His newest book, “Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice,” appeared in September of 2014 in the University of Nebraska/Jewish Publication Society’s Scholar of Distinction Series. His academic colleagues honored him with the publication of “Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition – Essays in Honor of David Ellenson,” edited by Michael A. Meyer of HUC-JIR and David N. Myers of UCLA, in 2014.
Ellenson received his PhD from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 1977. Previously, he received his BA degree from the College of William and Mary in 1969 and the University of Virginia granted him an MA in Religious Studies in 1972. At Brandeis he taught courses on "Who is a Jew? Jewish Status and Identity in Israel and America."
Rabbi Ellenson died on December 7, 2023. He is sorely missed by the numerous people whose lives he touched. Read the announcement we issued at the time.