“And if he is a sage … everyone is like his relative, everyone mourns together …” (Talmud Bavli, Moed Katan 25a)
“When a president dies – we all rend our clothes in mourning” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 9:15)
The leadership of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, its rabbis and members are saddened by the tragic death of our teacher and friend Rabbi Prof. Aaron Panken of blessed memory, President of our Seminary for training Rabbis, Educators and Communal Workers in North America and Israel – Hebrew Union College, Institute of Jewish Studies.
Rabbi Panken, a scholar of the literature of the Second Temple and Chazal, had been at the head of Hebrew Union College for the last four years, bringing with him a spirit and vision of love of Torah and love of Israel, intellectual depth, pedagogical innovation, striving for academic excellence, and personal exemplary commitment to the future of Reform Judaism and the future of the entire Jewish people. Under his leadership, the College continued to be the leading institution for the ordination of rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, and community leaders in North America, shaping the future of North American Jewry.
Rabbi Panken z”l held a clear love of Zion, was fluent in Hebrew and was familiar with the events in the State of Israel and in Israeli society. Rabbi Panken was wholeheartedly dedicated to the strengthening of Reform Judaism in Israel by nurturing the Israeli rabbinic leadership and generations of young Israelis who view the Israeli Reform Rabbinate as the realization of a life of Zionism. Rabbi Panken maintained the glorious tradition of his predecessors by developing the HUC Jerusalem campus, and by continuing to require students from the Diaspora to experience a full year of study in Israel, and as the first and leading institution for the certification and ordination of liberal rabbis in Israel. In November 2017, Rabbi Panken ordained four new rabbis in a moving ceremony in front of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, thereby bringing the number of Israeli Rabbinical graduates of the Israel program of HUC to more than 100.
We share the deep sorrow of the Panken family: his wife Lisa, his children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter, his sister Rabbi Melinda Panken, and his sister-in-law Daryl Messinger (chairwoman of the Board of the Union for Reform Judaism), and the entire family.
We mourn together with all of the colleagues, friends and disciples of Rabbi Panken in North America and throughout the Jewish world.
May there be a flourishing and nurturing of the Reform Rabbinate in Israel, and the promotion of the values of pluralism, religious tolerance, Torah study and Tikun Olam in the State of Israel and throughout the Jewish world as a legacy to Rabbi Panken’s leadership and teaching.
“We are saddened by those who have gone and are no longer with us” (Sanhedrin Tractate 111; 1)