Isaac Klein

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Isaac Klein (1905–1979) was a prominent rabbi and halakhic authority within Conservative Judaism.


Personal life, education, and career

Klein was born in Hungary and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1921. He earned a BA from City College in New York in 1931. Although nearing ordination at the Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, he transferred to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA), where he was ordained in 1934 and received the advanced Jewish legal degree of Hattarat Hora’ah under the great talmudic scholar Rabbi Professor Louis Ginzberg. He was one of only three people, along with Boaz Cohen and Louis Finkelstein, to ever to receive this degree from JTSA. Klein subsequently earned a PhD from Harvard under the pioneering academic of Judaic studies Harry Wolfson.

He married the former Henriette Levine in 1932 and had three daughters, Hannah, Miriam, and Rivke. Devoted to his family, he dedicated his major work, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice to his children, sons-in-law and 13 grandchildren listing each by name.

Klein served as rabbi at Kadimoh Congregation in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1934–1953; Temple Emanu-El, Buffalo, New York, 1953–1968; Temple Shaarey Zedek, Buffalo, (which was created from the merger of Emanu-El with Temple Beth David in 1968), 1968-1972. A beloved Rabbi, he influenced generations of congregants and visiting students and, together with his wife who was an educator, founded Jewish day schools in both Springfield and Buffalo.

Despite the difficulties facing a congregational Rabbi raising a family, Klein volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War II as a chaplain, motivated by a cause he saw as clearly right with important implications for the Jewish People. He served over 4 years, rising to the rank of Major and was an advisor to the high commissioner of the Occupation government. He also served on special assignments for Jewish soldiers in the U.S. Army in the 1950s, receiving the simulated rank of Brigadier General for these missions. His experiences in the war are described in his book The Anguish and the Ecstacy of a Jewish Chaplain.

Role within Conservative Judaism

Klein was a leader of the right-wing of the Conservative movement. He was president of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1958–1960, and a member of its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 1948-1979. He was the author of several books, notably, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. One of the outstanding halakhists of the movement, he served as a leading member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards from 1948 until his death in 1979.

As a leading authority on halakha he authored many important teshuvot (responsa), many of which were published in his influential "Responsa and Halakhic Studies". From the 1950s to 1970s, he wrote a comprehensive guide to Jewish law that was used to teach halakha at the JTSA. In 1979 he assembled this into A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, which is used widely by laypeople and rabbis within Conservative Judaism.

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