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Professor Emeritus Jerome Eckstein: Philosopher, Educator and Driving Force Behind Judaic Studies

May 22, 2009

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Jerome Eckstein

Professor Emeritus Jerome Eckstein

When Jerome Eckstein first came to UAlbany in 1966, the Edward Durell Stone-designed uptown campus had just opened, and only parts of the academic podium were occupied. Eckstein had come to UAlbany to introduce a graduate program in the philosophy of education. It was the start of a 31-year career as a tenured professor in which Eckstein would make a habit out of launching new academic endeavors. Eckstein, 83, passed away on May 8th after a brief illness.

A philosopher by trade, Eckstein maintained a lifelong passion for the study of religion, from his time studying at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in New York City in the 1940s through the completion of his latest book, an Interpretation of Genesis. It is perhaps understandable then, that Eckstein was a driving force behind the creation and growth of UAlbany’s Judaic studies department. He held a joint appointment to both Judaic studies and religious studies (another program he helped to create) until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1997.

"Jerry Eckstein was the wisest person I have known, not simply because of his vast knowledge of so many academic disciplines, including philosophy, religious studies, literature, and psychology, but also because of his love for the truth, a passion that sustained him through a long and productive career," said Jeffrey Berman, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at UAlbany.

Eckstein’s books include The Platonic Method: an interpretation of the dramatic-philosophic aspects of the Meno (1968); Deathday of Socrates (1981); Metaphysical Drift, Love and Judaism (1991), and On Meanings of Life, Their Nature and Origin (2002).

"Jerry was a meticulous reader, crystal-clear writer and insightful thinker," said Daniel Grossberg, associate professor emeritus of Judaic Studies and past director of the Hebrew program at UAlbany. "Above all, he was a beloved colleague and faithful friend and valued mentor."

After his retirement, Eckstein was a visiting professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Virginia Commonwealth University. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and was awarded a fellowship from the American Council Learned Society for his research on the Talmud.

Virginia Commonwealth Professor Melvin Urofsky and UAlbany professor Jerome Eckstein

UAlbany Judaic Studies chair Jerome Eckstein, right, with Virginia Commonwealth professor Melvin Urofsky in the early 1970s. Eckstein is accepting the gift of microfilm and photocopies of the Louis D. Brandeis letters from Urofsky.

Eckstein was born in New York City on June 28, 1925 to Marcus and Blanche (Wolberg) Eckstein. After attending Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary from 1943 through 1945, he went on to receive his bachelor’s from Brooklyn College in 1949. Eckstein followed this with two years of study at the New School for Social Research studying psychology. He received his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1961. His teaching career began as an instructor at both City College of New York and Columbia.

He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Hoisington Eckstein; his stepdaughter, Mari O'Donnell (husband Frank Midurski and grandchildren, Gregory, Faith and Jody Midurski); the children from his previous marriage, daughter, Sandy Bellehesen (husband David, grandchildren, Meier, Rive and Ani); daughter, Esther Schwartz (grandson Zachary); and son, Michael Eckstein; his brother, Joseph Eckstein; and nieces, Karen Beldock (husband Steve, children, Jared and Marisa) and Lori Tauscher (husband Ronald); and a large extended family.

He was valued by family, friends and students not only for his learning but for his off beat sense of humor. Contributions in his memory can be made to Temple Beth-El or Southwestern Vt. Medical Center in Bennington, Vt. or Albany Medical Center Neurosciences Institute in Albany.

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