Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan

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EISENSTEIN, JUDITH KAPLAN (1909–1996), U.S. musicologist, educator, composer, and author. Born in New York City, Eisenstein was the eldest of the four daughters of Rabbi Mordecai Menachem *Kaplan, the philosopher and founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, and Lena (Rubin) Kaplan. In 1922, at the age of 12, she celebrated one of the earliest known bat mitzvah ceremonies in the U.S. at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, where her father was the presiding rabbi. Judith Kaplan Eisenstein had a second bat mitzvah at the age of 82 where she was honored by a number of Jewish and feminist leaders.

Kaplan continued her Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary Teachers Institute and her secular education at Columbia University Teachers College, from which she received her B.S. in 1928 and her M.A. in 1932 in music education. Following a brief first marriage that ended in divorce, Kaplan married Rabbi Ira *Eisenstein, her father's assistant at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, in 1934. This marriage endured for over 60 years; the couple had three children. From 1929 to 1954 Judith Eisenstein taught music education and the history of Jewish music at the Jewish Theological Seminary's Teachers Institute (now the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies). While at the Teachers Institute she began her publishing career with a Jewish songbook for children, Gateway to Jewish Song (1937). She wrote several more books on Jewish music and on Jewish musical history for young readers; these include Festival Songs (1943) and Songs of Childhood (1955) with Frieda Prensky. In the years between 1942 and 1974, Eisenstein composed two song cycles and five cantatas on Jewish themes, written in collaboration with her husband. The most frequently performed of these is "What Is Torah?" (1942).

Eisenstein began doctoral studies at the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1959. Her dissertation was entitled, "The Liturgical Chant of Provencal and West Sephardic Jews in Comparison to the Song of the Troubadours and the Cantigas." After receiving her Ph.D., she taught at huc-jir from 1966 to 1979. In 1978, when her husband became president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the Eisensteins moved to Philadelphia. Eisenstein taught at the rrc from 1978 to 1981. Her book, Heritage of Music: The Music of the Jewish People, was published in 1972 and reprinted in 1990. In 1987, she wrote and broadcast a series of 13 radio lectures on the history of Jewish music.


I. Eisenstein, Reconstructing Judaism: An Autobiography (1986); P.B. Eisenstein, "Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, 1 (1997), 370–71.

[Carole Kessner (2nd ed.)]

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