The Reform Pension Board (RPB), originally named the Rabbinical Pension Board, was founded in 1944. The pension plan—now called the Reform Pension Plan (previously the Rabbinical Pension Plan)—was designed to provide rabbis with a pension that would assist them and their spouses to have a dignified retirement. The establishment of the Plan also relieved the rabbi’s last congregation of the full burden of funding his pension. (There were only male rabbis in 1944!) The Plan distributed the cost of the pension among all of the congregations that the rabbi had served over the course of a career. Individual congregations would now proportionally fund their share of the rabbi’s plan, covering only the time that the rabbi was in their employ.

Since the assets were held centrally by a Reform Movement trust, but funded locally by each congregation, the rabbinate’s mobility within the Movement was dramatically increased with the advent of the Plan. Prior to the establishment of the Rabbinical Pension Plan, large congregations typically retained their rabbis for a long period of time and would not replace them with candidates who were past the age of 40 to 45. Congregations wanted a minimum of 20 to 25 years of service before they would commit to funding their rabbi’s retirement. With its emphasis on proportionate funding, the creation of the Reform Pension Plan created a significant increase in mobility since the Plan is portable within the Reform Movement. Theoretically, any rabbi at any age could occupy any Reform pulpit in the country.

The Original Plan

The original 1944 plan consisted of these basic provisions:

  • Individual retirement income policies were issued primarily by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. The Plan provided for an individual policy with a fixed death benefit until retirement and a guaranteed annuity amount payable at age 65. The benefit was based on an annual payment of a fixed premium to age 65. The rabbi’s original salary plus parsonage determined the premium paid. As the rabbi received increases in salary and parsonage, additional individual policies were purchased to reflect each increase.
  • The initial premium was ten percent of the rabbi’s salary plus parsonage; seven percent contributed by the congregation and three percent contributed by the rabbi.

The Evolution of the Plan

While the Rabbinical Pension Plan originally served only rabbis in 1944, it has expanded its definition of eligibility over the years to now include professionals from congregations affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and other Reform Movement organizations today. As these changes occurred, the names for the Rabbinical Pension Plan and the Plan itself were changed to better reflect the broad base of the Reform Movement professionals it serves. Here is a timeline that outlines the evolution of the RPB to its current state:

  • 1949 – National Association for Temple Administration (NATA) becomes eligible
  • 1956 – Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) becomes eligible
  • 1998 – Name is changed to Reform Pension Board. The Plan name becomes the Reform Pension Plan
  • 2002 – Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools (PARDeS) becomes eligible
  • 2003 – Program and Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism (PEP-RJ) becomes eligible
  • 2005 – Directors and assistant directors of Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) become eligible
  • 2015 – Advancing Temple Institutional Development (ATID) becomes eligible

Further Developments

In 1960, following extensive study, the RPB revised the Plan from individual policies to a group-oriented life insurance and pension plan. The John Hancock Life Insurance Company was the initial investment manager and life insurance carrier.

While the RPB has continued to evolve from 1944 to the present, the current Plan’s basic form and structure were approved at the 1967 UAHC Biennial in Montreal. This includes the currently recommended contribution amount of 18 percent of the participant’s salary (plus parsonage where applicable); 15 percent to be contributed by the congregation and 3 percent to come from the participant’s salary.

Following the 1973-74 bear market, the RPB developed a procedure to reduce the volatility of participants’ accounts as they approach retirement age, typically 65. Beginning with the year that a participant reaches age 60, his or her equity fund is transferred into a fixed income fund over a five-year period. Reducing the volatility of a participant’s account by reducing the allocation to the equity markets using the “five-year transfer” let participants make a more accurate estimate of the principal amount that would be available to them at retirement. They were thereby provided with a more reasonable projection of the annual pension amount they could expect to receive during retirement. Through the 1980s, participants generally used the principal and investment earnings accumulated through their entire career to purchase annuities.

Responding to participants’ requests to develop a benefit option that contained some of the features of an annuity combined with a lump sum, the RPB introduced the Estate Option (later renamed the “Flexible Payment Option”) in 1983. The option’s basic payment characteristic is similar to a lump sum distribution. The RPB retains the investment management responsibility, while participants individually determine their own monthly withdrawal amount with certain parameters. The original maximum withdrawal allowed was 15 percent of the initial account balance at the time of retirement. This was later changed to 15 percent of the account balance at the beginning of each RPB plan year. The minimum withdrawal allowed is the IRS minimum distribution amount. The initial Estate Option provided for investments in fixed income instruments only.

In 1993, the RPB offered participants the opportunity to opt out of the “five-year transfer.” If they decided to do so, their funds remained in both the equity and the bond funds through retirement. This new option was named the “Balanced Fund Estate Option”; the original estate option was renamed the “Fixed Fund Estate Option.” Purchasing annuities became much less popular with the addition of the Flexible Payment Option.

Beginning with the plan year 2001, the RPB introduced a participant investment choice program. For the first time in our history, participants were given the option to allocate their assets between the RPB’s equity and bond funds. With the adoption of the participant investment choice program, participants no longer needed to decide whether to opt out of or accept the default five-year transfer program.

Investment Portfolio

The RPB did not always maintain as diversified an investment portfolio as is the case today. When the RPB engaged John Hancock Life Insurance Company in 1960, it was agreed that the insurance company or one of its investment management affiliates would direct the entire investment portfolio. The largest portion of the portfolio was invested in a fixed fund that was a group annuity contract, GAC 578. Each year, John Hancock Life credited participants with their current fixed return for the new money and combined that rate with all prior years’ rates. The combination was called the “case rate.”

In 1985, the fixed fund was renegotiated with John Hancock to include Guaranteed Investment Contracts or GICs. Six years later, the RPB gradually began moving away from GICs and selected a separate manager for fixed income funds. Scudder, Stevens and Clark was the first of the RPB’s fixed income bond managers, and was soon joined by Standish, Ayer, and Wood in 1993 and by BlackRock Financial Management in 1996.

The RPB gradually changed the investment of equities as well. The entire equity portion of the Plan was originally managed by Independence Investment Associates (IIA), a John Hancock subsidiary. In 1984, the RPB assigned $5 million to Neuberger and Berman and $2.5 million to Harris Associates, while allocating $11.5 million to IIA. “Small cap” equity managers Gardner Lewis and Kennedy Capital were engaged in 1994. Eventually, Sanford Bernstein was added in 1997 to manage an international equity portfolio.

The increased diversification eventually required outside performance evaluation. Stratford Advisory Group was retained in 1984 and worked for the RPB for more than 10 years. Rogerscasey, in an expanded role, replaced Stratford in 1994 and assisted in the evaluation and replacement of managers as required. Summit Strategies Group replaced Rogerscasey in 2011.

The Investment Committee, along with Summit Strategies Group, carefully monitors the performance of all investment managers.

Long Term Disability

In the 1960s, the RPB added a Long Term Disability (LTD) program. CIGNA became the LTD insurance carrier in 1975 and remained as such until 2011, when the RPB replaced CIGNA with MetLife as the insurer of this important coverage that provides income replacement benefits for eligible participants. The benefit is coordinated with the federal Social Security Disability program.