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Elsie R. Stern, Ph.D.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Bible, RRC

Elsie R. Stern, Ph.D., brings a dynamic approach to RRC’s top academic post; her scholarly acumen and administrative leadership drive our impact both within the Reconstructionist movement and on the North American Jewish landscape.  For Stern, the horizon of our academic mission lies beyond training rabbis. She aims to create resources for the entire Reconstructionist movement—RRC graduates, lay leadership, congregants—as well as for the many other people who can benefit from a Reconstructionist approach to Jewish living.

She comes to the fore at a liminal moment, as the faculty she supervises completes the design of a major curricular restructuring, “Reimagining Rabbinic Education (RRE).” The College has long invested students with strong practical training that incorporates contemporary professional theory and practice. RRE advances and transforms this approach, organizing students’ progress around core competencies and offering them a range of learning opportunities that will prepare them for the 21st century rabbinate. Stern leads the implementation of the new curriculum. At the same time, she focuses on fully leveraging the synergies between rabbinical training and congregational services, as RRC and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (formerly JRF, the movement’s congregational union), unite as one organization, now under the name of “Reconstructing Judaism”. She plays a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the Reconstructionist movement—including partnered initiatives to develop new degree programs and credit-bearing offerings.

Stern is a member of the president’s cabinet and provides leadership to faculty and to students. She sets the tone of day-to-day academic life at the College. In addition, she serves as a key public spokesperson and as an ambassador; she travels to affiliated congregations, meets with leaders of other rabbinical seminaries and Jewish professional training programs, and speaks publicly to a broad array of audiences, including journalists, peers and prospective rabbis.

Stern is a vibrant biblical scholar whose teaching, often focused on social justice issues, is prized by many students. She moves into the vice presidency having served as associate professor of Bible at RRC since 2012. She was an assistant professor in the Department of Theology at Fordham University, where she taught Bible and Jewish studies, and she served as the assistant director for public programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. She has taught widely in both formal and informal educational settings in the United States and abroad and has written curricula on a wide range of topics. Her current research focuses on the transmission and reception of biblical texts in early Jewish settings. She is particularly interested in the ways in which the torah that is transmitted by rabbis and teachers, and received by Jewish audiences, is and always has been far more expansive and variegated than the written texts themselves.

Stern received her Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and her Master of Arts and doctorate from the University of Chicago. She is the author of From Rebuke to Consolation: Bible, Exegesis and Ritual in the Literature of the Tisha b’Av Season (Brown Judaic Series, 2004) and is a contributor to the Jewish Study Bible and The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).


American Values, Religious Voices: A Letter to America's Leadership

As part of the American Values, Religious Voices project, Elsie Stern writes to America’s executive and legislative leadership on the 50th day of President Biden’s administration to reflect on what it means to be “in the thick of” sacred work.


New Book Sparks Conversation Between Torah, Kaplan and Real Life

A Year With Mordecai Kaplan: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D. is a deeply rooted and boldly relevant Torah commentary. For each week’s reading, Rabbi Reuben weaves together traditional commentary, a nugget of Mordecai Kaplan’s thought, and a vivid personal insight that illuminates the connection between the two. This powerful and accessible work invites us to engage with Torah, Kaplan and contemporary human experience in ways that are nourishing, optimistic and inspiring.


Here, There and Everywhere — Three Views of Revelation for Shavuot

When we speak of the “revelation” of Torah, what do we mean? Elsie Stern shared three perspectives from traditional Jewish texts, viewed with a Reconstructionist eye.

Spoken Audio

The Numinous Power and Storytelling

What do Star Wars and the Exodus have in common? Stories of a power outside of ourselves. 


The Intricacies of Consent

An act of consent lies at the heart of the whole rabbinic Jewish enterprise. The rabbis understood the covenant at Sinai to be the foundational moment of the ongoing relationship between God and the Jewish people. In order for the covenant to be valid, Israel must have agreed to it.


The Quiet Themes Come to Life

Elsie Stern looks back on the fall Jewish holidays, and ahead to a year of productive conversations at RRC.


My Questions for This Pesach Season

Passover conversations with non-Jews who are part of Jewish communities and families