Tehilla Lichtenstein becomes leader of Society of Jewish Science
On December 4, 1938, Tehilla Lichtenstein first took the pulpit as the leader of the Society of Jewish Science in New York City, giving a sermon entitled “The Power of Thought.” Her topic reflected the Society’s idea, borrowed from Christian Science, that God’s healing power lies within each individual. With this service, Lichtenstein became the spiritual leader of the Congregation of Jewish Science in New York—the first woman to serve as the spiritual leader of any American Jewish congregation.
Born in Jerusalem in 1893, Lichtenstein had left doctoral work in English at Columbia University to marry Morris Lichtenstein, a Reform rabbi, in 1920. Together, the Lichtensteins established the Society of Jewish Science in 1922.
The Lichtensteins hoped to create a variant of Judaism that could offer the spiritual sustenance that they believed too many Jews were finding within Christian Science. They showed that through Judaism, as through Christian Science, one could emphasize spirituality, the goodness of God, and the effectiveness of prayer. Unlike Christian Science, Jewish Science did not deny the benefits of modern medicine. Rather, it attempted to harmonize Judaism with science. They believed that their program of meditation, affirmation and visualization would reveal that in its essence, Judaism was the highest of healing sciences.
During the early years of the Society, Tehilla Lichenstein ran the Society religious school where she taught Hebrew and Bible and edited its monthly journal, the Jewish Science Interpreter. When Morris Lichtenstein died in 1938, Tehilla became the spiritual leader of the Society. Illustrating her view of Judaism as a practical religion, Lichtenstein’s early sermons included the topics “Seven Rules for Happy Living” and “When is War Justified?”. Although some of Lichtenstein’s teachings drew on her own experiences as a wife and mother and focused on interpersonal relationships, she also gave sermons taking up such issues as Soviet foreign policy and anti-Semitism in post-war America.
In addition to her regular sermons, Lichtenstein continued to edit the Interpreter, taught classes in Jewish Science, and trained members of the Society to become spiritual healers. In the 1950s, she hosted a weekly radio program. She continued to preach from the pulpit until 1972, and remained the leader of the Society until her death in 1973.
Sources: Doris Friedman, Applied Judaism: Selected Jewish Science Essays by Tehilla Lichtenstein (New York, 1989); Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 850-851; New York Times, December 3, 1938, December 10, 1938, December 17, 1938; Ellen Umansky, From Christian Science to Jewish Science: Spiritual Healing and American Jews (New York, 2005).
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Tehilla Lichtenstein becomes leader of Society of Jewish Science." (Viewed on September 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/04/1938/tehilla-lichtenstein>.