Central Conference of American Rabbis Mourns the Death of Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, z”l

December 7, 2023

The Central Conference of American Rabbis mourns the death of our beloved rabbi, teacher, and friend, David Ellenson, former President and Chancellor Emeritus of our Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. David was a mensch of the highest order who imparted wisdom and kindness in addition to sharing his voluminous knowledge and scholarship. He was also a devoted and generous member of the CCAR.

Raised in a warm Orthodox home, David found his own adult religious community in Reform Judaism, a story he often told without any hint of negativity toward his Orthodox upbringing. He embraced the teachings and the leaders of all movements of Judaism throughout his long career as a congregational rabbi, a professor and teacher of future rabbis, and a leading scholar of Jewish Thought. 

David’s death on the eve of Chanukah reminds us of the light he brought into the lives of CCAR rabbis, HUC-JIR, the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. David was at heart a teacher, and he taught not only academics, but showed us a model of how to live with integrity and kindness. At this difficult time, we recall that David also brought us light in our times of darkness. In the aftermath of the tragic death of his beloved successor, Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., z”l, David gave himself unstintingly to our College-Institute, coming out of retirement to serve as Acting President and comforting a Reform Jewish world in mourning. David brought the light of optimism and hope into our lives as a teacher, rabbi, mentor and friend. He has truly raised up many disciples. 

All CCAR rabbis mourn with David’s wife, Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, Executive Director emerita of the Women’s Rabbinic Network; with all of his children, Ruthie Ellenson (Lorne Manly), CCAR member Rabbi Micah Ellenson (Sara), HUC-JIR rabbinic student Hannah Ellenson (Becca Israel), Nomi Ellenson May (Spencer May), Hebrew College rabbinic student Rafi Ellenson, and David’s grandchildren. The memory of Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, is a blessing and his light will continue to shine in this world through his work and the lives that he touched. 

Rabbi Erica Asch, President
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis