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Branches of Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism


What is Reconstructionist Judaism?

Reconstructionist Judaism is a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life that integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life.

The Founding of Reconstructionist Judaism by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan

The founder of the reconstructionist movement, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, launched the movement in the 1920's with the creation of a reconstructionist magazine and his book, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life.

It was the insight of Rabbi Kaplan that Judaism could do well by incorporating the American ideals of equality and democracy. Theological perspectives that flourished in traditional hierarchical societies needed to be reconstructed to speak in a society where authority derived from the people and where one's religious or ethnic identity was not, in principle, a barrier to full economic and political participation.

Kaplan's beliefs endorsed traditional Jewish customs and practices, but the reasoning behind them changed. Kaplan promoted the idea that rituals are made holy due to the unity and community of the people performing them, as opposed to the traditional Jewish view that God's command is what makes rituals mandatory.

Kaplan saw Judaism not as a religion, but as a civilization, characterized by beliefs and practices, as well as language, culture, literature, ethics, art, history, social organization, symbols, and customs. He promoted the notion of a synagogue-center that offered religious prayer services as well as study programs, drama, dance, song, sports and exercise. He encouraged democracy in the synagogue community and advocated voluntary membership, elected leadership, and respect for the religious opinions of individuals.

What do Reconstructionist Jews Believe?

Judaism is an Evolving Tradition

Reconstructionism is a "bottom-up" approach to Judaism. It begins with the experiences of the Jewish people. It speaks less of revelation and more of discovery. It emphasizes connection, opportunity and responsibility over commandment. Each generation of Jews has subtly reshaped the faith and traditions of the Jewish people. Reconstructionist Jews seek to nurture this evolution, and consider it the power that allows Judaism to continue as a dynamic tradition in every age.

Judaism is a Spiritual Path

Reconstructionist Jews understand Judaism primarily as a spiritual path, the means by which the search for ultimate meaning in life is conducted. God is the source of meaning, the power within that urges us toward generosity, responsibility, concern and self-fulfillment. God is found when we look for meaning in the world and work to realize the goals of morality and justice.

Jewish People Share Past, Present and Future

Reconstructionist Jews believe the Jewish people share historical memory and destiny, a commitment to the Hebrew language and the land of Israel and are heirs to a rich legacy of thought, laughter and tears that continues to grow in our day. Reconstructionist Jews work towards a shared vision of Jewish peoplehood amongst a wide diversity of Jewish religious ideology and practice.

Jews Choose the Covenant

Reconstructionists diverge from definitions of Judaism that see God as choosing Israel from among other nations, initiating the covenant and revealing the law. They believe it is the Jewish people who choose to live in a context of covenant, through which tradition becomes holy. They believe in an historic mission, to witness the divine presence throughout the world, and especially to testify that every human life is sacred, created in the divine image.

Reconstructionists are Religious Humanists

Reconstructionists believe in the human authorship of all religious traditions, including their own, and they realize that no tradition has a monopoly on religious truth. Reconstructionists believe that all peoples are called to build a world of justice and compassion, and we welcome dialogue with persons of good will in all traditions.

Books on Reconstructionist Judaism

The Reconstructionist Press is the major source of books on the Reconstructionist Judaism, including:

The Kol Haneshamah prayerbook series, accessible to those finding their way into Judaism and inspiring to those familiar with Jewish liturgy, featuring gender-neutral English translations, new Hebrew and English liturgy, transliteration of all communally spoken prayers, and extensive explanations and commentaries.

Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach by Rabbis Jacob Staub and Rebecca Alpert

Books by Mordecai Kaplan, including:
  • Judaism as a Civilization
  • The Meaning of God in Modern Religion
  • The Future of the American Jew
  • Questions Jews Ask
  • Greater Judaism in the Making
  • Not So Random Thoughts
Books about Mordecai Kaplan, including:
  • Dynamic Judaism - The Essential Writings of Mordecai Kaplan, edited by Emmanuel Goldsmith and Mel Scult
  • The American Judaism of Mordecai Kaplan edited by Emmanuel Goldsmith, Mel Scult and Robert M. Seltzer
  • Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century - A Biography of Mordecai Kaplan by Mel Scult
  • Reconstructing Judaism: An Autobiography by Ira Eisenstein, the primary organizer of the Reconstructionist movement and Kaplan's closest collaborator
Books that express Reconstructionist approaches to Judaism:
  • Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People
  • Harold Shulweis, For Those Who Can't Believe
  • Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai
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