Eisendrath, Maurice Nathan

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EISENDRATH, MAURICE NATHAN

EISENDRATH, MAURICE NATHAN (1902–1973), U.S. rabbi and leader of Reform Judaism. Eisendrath was born in Chicago, Illinois, and received rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. After serving in pulpits at the Virginia Street Temple in Charleston, West Virginia (1926–29) and at Holy Blossom Toronto (1929–43), he established a towering reputation in Toronto, where he was involved in a weekly radio program at a time when radio was the dominant media of its age. Forum on the Air gave him prominence in Canada well beyond his own community. He used his forum to advance the ideas of prophetic Judaism, to push for anti-poverty assistance, to advocate civil rights and social justice, and to condemn the growing menace of Nazism.

In 1943, Eisendrath came to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations first as the interim director while Nelson Gleuck was away and later as the director and finally as its president, a position he held for almost three decades. During his administration the Reform movement grew in membership and changed its direction perceptibly. So too did Eisendrath. A committed pacifist at the beginning of his career, Eisendrath was forced to change his mind by Nazism, which could only be combated by force. He took Reform Judaism from an anti-Zionist movement, with some Zionist rabbis, into a more pro-Israel position, first declaring neutrality but not opposition to Israeli statehood in 1946 and later strongly supporting the new State.

He presided over the transfer of the movement's headquarters from Cincinnati to New York, and thus its integration into Jewish organizational life in the United States. He pushed for a shift in the balance of power from the South and Midwest to the East, and its ideological change from classical Reform to a new rapprochement with tradition. He was elected president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in July 1972. Eisendrath was particularly active in interfaith activities and in social action, speaking out frequently during the 1960s for civil rights and later against the Vietnam War. With the big presence of Reform Judaism in the South, both moves took courage and spurred opposition. In protest, New York's Temple Emanu-El seceded from the Union for a time. Despite the opposition of two major congregations, New York's Emanu-El and Washington Hebrew Congregation, he established the Kivie Kaplan Religious Action Center in Washington to represent Reform Judaism in Congress and the White House, fortifying the connection between Liberal Judaism and American Liberalism. He also established the House of Living Judaism, headquarters of the Union. As a young rabbi, he was one of the founders of the Canadian Conference of Christians and Jews. Eisendrath was the author of Spinoza (1932), Never Failing Stream (1939), and Can Faith Survive? The Thoughts and Afterthoughts of an American Rabbi (1964), both the latter collections of essays on contemporary religious issues. He died at the biennial convention of the uahc, on the eve of retirement.

bibliography:

Current Biography (1950), 134f.; M.Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of Reform Movement in Judaism (1988); New York Times, November 10, 1973. add. bibliography: K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern (eds.), Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993).

[Jack Reimer /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]