Judith Kaplan Eisenstein

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Judith Kaplan
Judith Kaplan died 1996.jpg
BornSeptember 10, 1909
DiedFebruary 14, 1996
Bethesda, Maryland
EducationColumbia University, Juilliard School, Jewish Institute of Religion, Jewish Theological Seminary Teachers Institute
Known forAuthor, musicologist and composer, first to publicly celebrate a Bat Mitzvah
Juilliard School, New York

Judith Kaplan (September 10, 1909 – February 14, 1996) was an author, musicologist, composer, theologian and the first person to celebrate a bat mitzvah publicly in America (see below).


The bat mitzvah was created to address Judaism's gender imbalance and is the female equivalent of a boy’s bar mitzvah, signifying entrance into religious majority.[1] Judith, the oldest daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (who was the founder of the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism[2]), was the first person to celebrate a bat mitzvah publicly in America, which she did on March 18, 1922, aged 12, at her father’s synagogue the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York City.[3][4] Judith Kaplan recited the preliminary blessing, read a portion of that week's Torah portion in Hebrew and English, and then intoned the closing blessing.[3][5] Her bat mitzvah was the first time that a woman led the congregation;[6] as such it represents a significant shift for Judaism in America.[5] Until this time women did not engage in public reading of the Torah and a Jewish girl's transition from child to adult was not reflected in synagogue ceremonies.[1][7]

Reflecting on the ceremony many years later she said: "No thunder sounded. No lightning struck."[8] "It all passed very peacefully."[9] Bat mitzvah ceremonies are now commonplace within the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism.[10] At the age of 82, Kaplan had a second bat mitzvah. Various feminist and Jewish leaders, including Betty Friedan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Ruth W. Messinger, and Elizabeth Holtzman were present.

During her life she was an author, theologian, musicologist and composer. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Columbia University and studied at the Institute of Musical Art, now the Juilliard School. She published a book of children's music, "Gateway to Jewish Song," and a number of cantatas on Jewish themes, including the popular "What Is Torah," with her husband, Rabbi Ira Eisenstein whom she married in 1934. Her translations of Hebrew songs are now enjoyed by Jewish children throughout the US.[9][11] She taught music education and the history of Jewish music at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies from 1929 to 1954. She taught at School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York from 1966 to 1979.

She died on February 14, 1996, in Silver Spring, Maryland.[8] Her papers are included in the Ira and Judith Kaplan Eisenstein Reconstructionist Archives of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.[12]

Selected works[edit]

  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan (1939). The Gateway to Jewish Song. Behrman House.
  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan. "Festival Songs Shirey Mo'ed by Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan: Bloch Publishing Co., New York stapled paper Covers – Meir Turner". www.abebooks.com. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan; Prensky, Frieda (1981-06-01). Songs of Childhood. United Synagogue of America Book Service. ISBN 9780838107225.
  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan. "Heritage of music: the music of the Jewish people by Judith Kaplan Eisenstein on Seforim House". Seforim House. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan; Eisenstein, Ira (1952). Reborn: an episode with music. Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. OCLC 5257031. Retrieved 2016-11-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan (1972). The sacrifice of Isaac; a liturgical drama. Reconstructionist Press. OCLC 832818. Retrieved 2016-11-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • Eisenstein, Judith K. and Ira (1947-01-01). The Seven golden buttons: a legend with music. Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation.
  • Shir ha-shahar [Song of the Dawn] (1974)[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Bat Mitzvah: American Jewish Women | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  2. ^ Greenspahn, Frederick E. (2009-11-01). Women and Judaism: New Insights and Scholarship. NYU Press. ISBN 9780814732298.
  3. ^ a b "The First American Bat Mitvah". Jewish Virtual Library. 1922-03-18. Retrieved 2013-04-13. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Waskow, Arthur Ocean and Phyllis Ocean Berman. Excerpt from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC at "History of Bat Mizvah". Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-10. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b "Judith Kaplan Eisenstein | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  6. ^ admin. "First bat mitzvah, Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, dies at 86 | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California". www.jweekly.com. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  7. ^ "The First Bat Mitzvah in the United States | Jewish Virtual Library". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  8. ^ a b Steinfels, Peter (1996-02-15). "Judith Eisenstein, 86, Author and Composer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  9. ^ a b "Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, 1st To Have A Bat Mitzvah". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  10. ^ "Bat Mitzvah ceremony a 90". Jewish Standard. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  11. ^ "Eisenstein, Judith Kaplan | Jewish Music WebCenter". jmwc.org. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  12. ^ "The Ira and Judith Kaplan Eisenstein Reconstructionist Archives". RRC. Retrieved 2016-11-02.