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Leader of Reconstructionist Jewry dead at 94


NEW YORK, July 1 (JTA) — Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, one of the founders of the Reconstructionist movement, died June 28 near Washington at the age of 94.

Eisenstein was a close confidant of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, and was the main founder and first president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s rabbinical seminary.

The Reconstructionist movement, which now has about 100 congregations in North America, says the Jewish experience is based on more than tradition.

Reconstructionism, as defined by Kaplan and Eisenstein, sees Judaism as a civilization that is constantly evolving.

Mark Seal, executive vice president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, called Eisenstein a man of “extraordinary vision” who “believed that the ideas of Mordechai Kaplan would transform modern Jewish life, and by extension, everything around it.”

Eisenstein had an active sense of humor and kept in touch with the Jewish world throughout his life, Seal said.

In his last years, Eisenstein taught a religion class for adults at his home in suburban Maryland — and he mastered the personal computer at the age of 90.

Eisenstein held a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University and was ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

In 1945, he succeeded Kaplan as the chief rabbi of Manhattan’s Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the first Reconstructionist synagogue, where he served until 1954.

He was president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation from 1959 to 1970 and editor of the journal The Reconstructionist from 1935 to 1981. He is the author of the books “Creative Judaism,” “What We Mean by Religion,” “The Ethics of Tolerance,” “Judaism Under Freedom” and “Reconstructing Judaism: An Autobiography.”

His wife, Judith, who died in 1996, became in 1922 the first woman to have a Bat Mitzvah. She was Kaplan’s daughter.

Eisenstein is survived by three children and a grandchild.

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