Eisenstein, Ira

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EISENSTEIN, IRA (1906–2001), U.S. rabbi and leader of the *Reconstructionist movement. Born in New York City, Eisenstein grew up in Harlem along with his friend Milton *Steinberg. Eisenstein was a grandson of Judah David *Eisenstein, a traditional scholar who compiled the anthology Oẓer Dinim u-Minhagim. He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1931. He later served as president of the *Rabbinical Assembly from 1952 to 1954. As a son-in-law and leading disciple of Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Eisenstein was associate rabbi from 1931 to 1954 of Kaplan's Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York City, the first Reconstructionist synagogue. Eisenstein was the associate chairman and later the editor of The Reconstructionist from 1935 to 1982, which in the 1930s and 1940s was the premier intellectual journal of the American Jewish community and which he was instrumental in creating. In 1954, the invitation was extended for Eisenstein to become the rabbi of Anshe Emet congregation in Chicago. The relationship with Anshe Emet did not endure, and in 1959 he returned to New York to become the president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, which he had founded. The foundation continued to publish the magazine, coordinated annual conventions of Reconstructionists, expanded the Reconstructionist Press, and began to issue a series of pamphlets on Reconstructionist ideas. One of these, titled "The Havurah Idea," was the first published program for what would in the 1960s and 1970s become a new and vital form of Jewish community.

While Mordecai *Kaplan, who was deeply rooted in the Jewish Theological Seminary, was reluctant to see Reconstructionism become a separate denomination, Eisenstein advocated for the creation of institutions that could embody Reconstructionist ideas. He founded the Fellowship of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot in 1955. Following Kaplan's retirement from jts in 1963, Eisenstein rallied Reconstructionist lay leaders in support of establishing a seminary for the training of Reconstructionist rabbis, and in 1968 he became the founding president of the *Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (rrc) in Philadelphia, from which he retired in 1981.

In fulfillment of Kaplan's concept that American Jews "lived in two civilizations" Eisenstein's vision of rabbinic training mandated that rrc students simultaneously pursue a Ph.D. in religious studies at nearby Temple University where they would interact with faculty and students of many different religious traditions.

Eisenstein was coeditor of the controversial New Haggadah (1941), which eliminated the ten plagues as "unedifying" and celebrated Moses, rather than God, as the one who had "liberated Israel." With Kaplan, Steinberg, and Eugene Kohn, Eisenstein helped edit the original Reconstructionist prayerbooks for Sabbath (1945), High Holidays (1948), and Festivals (1958). This liturgy applied Kaplan's key ideas such as eliminating the idea of Jews as the chosen people and the mention of miracles and the hope for a personal Messiah, although only Kaplan was "excommunicated" by a small sect of Orthodox rabbis upon the publication of the Sabbath Prayerbook.

Recognizing that Kaplan's major books were often seen as overly long and complex for the average reader, Eisenstein helped to popularize Kaplan's work in Creative Judaism (1936) and What We Mean by Religion (1938). He also wrote Judaism under Freedom (1956) and Reconstructing Judaism (1986) and co-edited Mordecai M. Kaplan: An Evaluation (1952). With his wife, the musicologist Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, he co-authored a number of cantatas based on Jewish themes.

[Jack Reimer /

Richard Hirsch (2nd ed)]

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Eisenstein, Ira

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