Ira Eisenstein

A key figure in the founding of the Reconstructionist Movement.


Ira Eisenstein is best known for implementing the ideas and philosophies of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and for his role in the creation of the Reconstructionist Movement in Judaism.

Born in 1906 in New York City, Eisenstein was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1931. In 1934, he married Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan. Judith is most famous for being the first woman in the United States to have a Bat Mitzvah.

Ira Eisenstein, who helped found Reconstructionist Judaism.Studying at Columbia College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Eisenstein became a disciple of Rabbi Kaplan. He was so influenced by his teachings, that upon his ordination from JTS, Eisenstein served as a rabbi at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a congregation which Kaplan had founded in 1922.

After leaving SAJ, Eisenstein moved to Chicago to work at Anshe Emet Synagogue, the first Conservative synagogue in the United States to form a Jewish day school. In 1959, sensing that his father-in-law’s philosophies needed more attention and organization, Eisenstein left Anshe Emet to focus his time on promoting Reconstructionist Judaism.

Rabbi Eisenstein became the head of the Reconstructionist Foundation and editor of the Reconstructionist, a magazine highlighting Reconstructionist philosophies and thoughts. However, the Reconstructionist “Movement,” as we know it today, did not exist. Mordecai Kaplan, for all his independent philosophies and views, felt uncomfortable breaking away from the Conservative Movement and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he taught. He saw Reconstructionist Judaism as a philosophy of how American Judaism should function and improve itself, but not a separate movement outright.

Eisenstein, and others, disagreed with Kaplan. They viewed Reconstructionism as a distinct movement, and were frustrated that its leaders were being trained at Conservative and Reform rabbinical schools. Eventually, Kaplan gave permission for a Reconstructionist school to be formed. In 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Rabbi Eisenstein serving as president.

Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Jeremy Moses is the Editorial Fellow at He has a BA in American History and Modern Jewish Studies from McGill University. He served as the advisor for United Synagogue Youth in Montreal. He spent two summers working as a Unit Head at Camp Ramah in Canada.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy