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LICHTENSTEIN, TEHILLA

LICHTENSTEIN, TEHILLA (1894–1973), spiritual leader of the Society of Jewish Science in New York City from 1938 to 1973. Lichtenstein was the first woman to serve as religious leader of an ongoing U.S. Jewish congregation. Born in Jerusalem to Chava (Cohen) and Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, Rachel Tehilla, who later identified herself simply as Tehilla, moved with her family to Hoboken, n.j., at the age of 11. The youngest of five children, she and her siblings received a good Jewish and an excellent secular education. Like her sisters, Nima Adlerblum, Tamar de Sola Pool, and Esther Taubenhaus, Lichtenstein was an ardent Zionist and an active member of many Jewish organizations. She received a B.A. in classics from Hunter College, an M.A. in literature from Columbia University, and was a doctoral student in English literature at Columbia until 1920, when she married Reform rabbi Morris Lichtenstein.

The Society of Jewish Science, founded by Morris Lichtenstein in 1922, sought to reawaken religiously apathetic Jews to Judaism's spiritual possibilities while combating the attraction of thousands of American Jews to Christian Science. With the birth of her sons, Immanuel (b. 1922) and Michael (b. 1927), Tehilla's early involvement in the society was limited but important. She served as religious school principal and edited the monthly Jewish Science Interpreter and her husband's writings. Following Rabbi Lichtenstein's death in 1938, she became the society's spiritual leader in accordance with the provisions of his will. Over 500 people came to see her conduct services and deliver her first sermon. By the late 1950s, the society had opened a synagogue in Long Island and subscribers to the Jewish Science Interpreter totaled close to 2,000.

While Tehilla Lichtenstein's role as religious leader came about by circumstance rather than design, for 35 years she articulated her understanding of Jewish Science in over 500 sermons and scores of essays, lectures, and radio broadcasts. Actively encouraged by her sister, Tamar, and brother-in-law, Rabbi David de Sola Pool, and ably assisted by many others, Lichtenstein emphasized the connection between mind and body, the importance of tapping into the divine healing power within, and ways of achieving health and happiness within a specifically Jewish context. Yet she also placed great emphasis on Jewish peoplehood, the centrality of Israel to Jewish self-identity, women's equality, including their ordination as rabbis, and the revitalization of Judaism itself. While Lichtenstein continued to be influenced by her husband's teachings, by the late 1940s many of her sermons took a different direction. Like such inspirational leaders as Norman Vincent Peale, she increasingly offered sound, practical advice, emphasizing the importance of family connections and a positive attitude towards life. Some of Lichtenstein's essays were published in Applied Judaism: Selected Jewish Science Essays (ed. D. Friedman, 1989). Her papers are housed at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

bibliography:

E.M. Umansky, From Christian Science to Jewish Science: Spiritual Healing and American Jews (2005).

[Ellen Umansky (2nd ed.)]

Lichtenstein, Tehilla

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