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Community Blog In Memoriam: David Ariel

By Hebrew College

Dr. David Ariel was the kind of professor who inspired devotion and a deep commitment to learning in his students, many of whom took class after class with him regardless of the material.

He taught in Hebrew College’s Me’ah program, sponsored by CJP, for more than six years, as well as in Me’ah Select for four years. He also taught in the new Open Circle Jewish Learning program for its first two years.

Ariel, 68, died on June 16, 2018.

Ariel was president of Ariel Learning, a global Jewish learning organization. He previously served as president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford and as president of Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland.

In addition to Me’ah and Open Circle, he taught for the American Joint Distribution Committee in Eastern Europe; for Kivunim, a gap-year program in Israel; and for Hillel; and he lectured widely on Jewish Thought throughout the United States, Israel, the former Soviet Union, and Europe.

Ariel’s students said his classes were inspiring and illuminating. His teaching was “excellent,” and he was able to “explain complex issues so they are understandable but not oversimplified.” When he didn’t know an answer, he would do research and provide an answer at the following class.

They also said his courses had an impact on their view of Judaism and their knowledge of history.

“This class was so superb. I have no ideas for improvement. I am so enthusiastic about Dr. Ariel,” one Me’ah Classic student wrote in a recommendation.

“This class made me think about my Judaism and how important Jewish learning is,” a Me’ah Select student wrote.

“Thank you for the opportunity to praise my teacher, David Ariel, with whom I have taken four courses,” wrote one Open Circle student. “David is a sophisticated thinker, yet he is respectful of his students’ input, even as he may disagree. I feel lucky to have had him as a teacher.”

Ariel was a consultant to many universities and foundations, and volunteered for numerous organizations, including as a judge for the National Jewish Book Awards, as senior policy advisor to the North American Commission on Jewish Education, and as a consultant-evaluator for the Higher Education Accreditation Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

He graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University. He wrote four books, including “Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest in Judaism” and “What Do Jews Believe? The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism.”

A few days before he passed away, on June 8, Ariel wrote to the Adult Learning Department about his experience teaching Open Circle.

“Teaching in Open Circle is a wonderful experience. The adult learners have so many thoughtful insights, probing questions, and warm friendships with each other.”

Hebrew College is planning an evening of learning in honor of David Ariel with Temple Emanuel on Thursday, November 1, from 8 to 9 p.m. The teaching portion will be led by Ariel’s friend, Dr. Everett Fox, Allen M. Glick Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies Adjunct Professor of History at Clark University. There will also be reflections from two of David’s students. Temple Emanuel’s cantors will conclude the evening by singing the scholars’ Kaddish, “Kaddish D’rabanan.”

Below are some reflections from Ariel’s students. If you would like to add a memory, please reach out to

His death has affected me deeply, and it will take me awhile to realize he is gone. I will so miss what else he had to teach me, his warmth, his approachability,  his stories, his humor, his joy in teaching and learning. He was truly one of the best teachers I ever had in my long life of learning.

I too am so shocked & so very sad about the passing of our amazing brilliant teacher.  David was a scholar who truly knew his stuff and knew how to teach and engage students on all topics Jewish. He never spoke down to us and never made anyone feel less than- he respected each of us for our perspectives. He taught us so much!  We will always be grateful.


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