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Aims of Reconstructionism

Reconstructionism is a movement to revitalize Judaism. It does to Judaism what Copernicus did to astronomy: it shifts the center of gravity of Jewish life from Jewish religion to Jewish peoplehood. It does to Judaism what Darwin did to biology; it affirms that Judaism has undergone evolution in response to the changes it has encountered in the world about it. It does to Judaism what Whitehead did to philosophy; it gives Judaism "concreteness and adequacy.” In formulating a modem scientific ideology based on the assumption that Judaism is an evolving religious civilization, Reconstructionism is habituating Jewish life to the scientific climate of opinion of our day.

'"Reconstructionism focuses attention on what's wrong with Jewish life and on what has to be done to set it right. It follows Lincoln's well-known advice, ”If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it." On the basis of such knowledge, Reconstructionism tries to give both driving force and direction to a sprawling amorphous social amalgam known as world Jewry.

Reconstructionism is based on an adequate ideology, in that it views Judaism synoptically, scientifically and functionally. It is synoptic, in that it sees Judaism as a multi-dimensional way of life; it is scientific in that it sees Judaism as subject to the laws of human-nature and society; it is functional, in that it calls upon us to improve the Jewish situation by reconstituting the Jewish People, reinterpreting the traditional con-ception of God and replenishing Jewish culture.
In brief, Reconstructionism aims to render Judaism authentic, relevant and morally and spiritually uplifting for the modem Jew.

Improving Tradition because of Inner Demand

There is one difficulty with Reconstructionism. As with all revolutionary thinking, it has the Socratic function of the gadfly. It finds fault with the conventional, the accepted and the merely respectable, because of their inadequacies. That itself is not likely to add to its popularity. It has to go through the three stages of first being regarded as absurd, then being laughed at, and then being accepted as a matter of course. It is now in the second of these stages.

Reconstructionism arose to make good the inadequacies of the existing Jewish ideologies. From the viewpoint of tradition as a way of life, Orthodoxy is concerned in preserving tradition; Conservatism, in explaining tradition; Reform, in changing tradition because of outward pressure; Secularism, in rejecting tradition; Reconstructionism, in improving tradition because of inner demand.

Orthodox ideology ignores what is tantamount to a geological upheaval in the modem political and economic order of human society, and spurns as negligible the intellectual challenges to traditional Judaism.

Reform ideology reckons with the modern social and intellectual revolution, but lacks action appeal; it is mainly a way of preaching abstract and wishful ethics.

Conservative ideology is of a divided mind; in matters of ritual it follows Orthodoxy, and in matters of theology it follows Reform.

Jewish secularism, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, ignores the role of religion in the life of the Jewish People and the indispensability of the sense of sacredness to the humanization of the human being. A Jewish People without Jewish religion is a ship without a rudder and a compass.

A Nine Point Ideology

The following is a summary of Reconstructionist ideology:
1. Judaism is nothing less than a civilization. It consists of the group life of a people identified with a particular land, having a continuous history, a religion in common, a language and a literature of its own, and folkways, mores, law codes and arts of its own.
2. Judaism as a religious civilization has been evolving in response to the changes in the world about it. It has passed through three stages in its evolution and is now on the threshold of a fourth stage.
3. Jewish religion is that aspect of Judaism which enables the Jew to utilize every event, act and experience of Jewish life as a means of coming to know and worship God as the Power in the universe that impels and helps him to achieve salvation, or to make the most of life.
4. As a civilization, Judaism is the product of more than a millennium of autonomous national life of our ancestors in Eretz Yisrael and approximately two millennia of Diaspora outside Eretz Yisrael. With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish People is now in need of being reconstituted on new structural lines.
5. Outside Eretz Yisrael, Judaism can function in the life of the Jew only as a secondary civilization, the primary one being that of the country of which he is a citizen. Outside Eretz Yisrael Jews have to live in two civilizations.
6. As a secondary civilization outside Eretz Yisrael, Judaism can flourish only through the medium of local organic communities, ethically functioning Jewish religion, and social and cultural intercourse with the Jews in Israel.
7. The revitalization of Jewish religion, both in Israel and in the Diaspora is indispensable as a means of giving purpose and direction to the rebirth of the Jewish People.
8. For the Jewish religion to, be revitalized, it has to evolve a conception of God and of the salvation of man; which, by virtue of its greater approximation to reality than any of the conceptions thus far advanced, is bound to be more effective than they have been in impelling man to think and act with a sense of moral responsibility. 
9. Jews outside Eretz Yisrael, whose primary civilization is that of the country they live in, owe it to their Jewish religion to foster the spiritual significance of the memorable heroes, events, texts and places of their country's civilization. They can thus fulfill their own religious vocation as well as express their loyalty to their country in terms of universal spiritual values.

Appeal to Mind, Heart, and Will

The foregoing nine-point ideology, besides being synoptic, scientific and functional, has the advantage of appealing to the mind, to the heart and to the will. It enables us to fulfill the precept: "You shall love the Eternal your God with your whole mind, with your whole soul, and with your whole might.” There can scarcely be any integrity in life unless it is integrated and whole.
Reconstructionism has intellectual appeal. It maintains that the Jew should have not only the right but also the obligation, to exercise freedom of thought and expression in dealing with Jewish tradition, or its moral validity. It prizes intellectual honesty above conformity.

Reconstructionism emphasizes the evolutionary character of Judaism. It thereby removes from Judaism the moral lia-bility of dogmatism and authoritarianism. It seeks to reconstruct the image of the biblical past, in keeping with the latest biblical researches and archaeological discoveries. It dissociates God and supernaturalism, religion and otherworldliness.

Reconstructionism calls for a conception of God and of the ethical function of religion that can keep abreast of man's highest wisdom and his most ardent spiritual aspirations. At the same time, it allows for theological pluralism. Orthodoxy, Reform and Conservatism may accept many of the planks in the Reconstructionist Platform, without subscribing to its theology.
It maintains that Judaism can survive the disintegrative influences of political freedom and equality only by counter measures of a political character, like fostering Zion or the nuclear Jewish community in Israel, and of a social character, like building environment in the Diaspora: homes, schools, synagogues, cen-ters, vacation camps and other media of congregation as Jews.

The foregoing assumptions and endeavors are based on the modem scientific approach to reality, hence their intellectual appeal.

The Emotional Appeal

Reconstructionism, contrary to what those who misunderstand it say about it, is profoundly emotional in its appeal. To be sure it does not claim to have sex or glamour appeal, snob or success appeal. It does not cater even to happiness which is said to accompany blind faith. (That one who is drunk is happier than one who is sober is no reason for being drunk.)
Reconstructionism seeks to foster emotional appeal by making us aware of what God should mean to us in terms, not of vicarious experience nor of metaphysical speculation, nor of blind leaps of faith, but of the kind of personal experience which is highly charged with the emotion of holiness.

God should mean to us the loyalty and love for the social body, society or people to which we belong. Loyalty and love for the Jewish People can help to make us fully human in the best sense of that term, and therefore belong to the dimension of Divinity or holiness.

God should mean to us the sense of moral responsibility. Its emotional value derives from the feeling of human dignity implied in being treated as a person, with the freedom and the right to choose among alternatives those which make life worthwhile. Moral responsibility should be experienced as a manifestation of Divinity.

God should mean to us the normal want to be whole and integrated mentally and morally, with ourselves and our fellowmen. The will to integrity or honesty is thus a manifestation of Divinity.

God should mean the inner drive to creativity which is the drive to transcend our human limitations. In traditional religion that drive was projected onto the idea of God as Creator. Modern man, impelled as he is to improve society, himself and the world about him, has to learn to view his creative efforts as an opportunity not only to experience the reality of God's power but also to demonstrate the nature of God's will for humanity.Loyalty or love, responsibility, integrity and creativity are built into the human consciousness. They are manifestations in human life of cosmic processes which, in their mutual interaction in the life of human individuals and societies, impel and help man to strive for perfection, fulfillment or salvation. God or Divinity is thus experienced as the Power that makes for salvation, or the fulfillment of human destiny.
What can be more emotional than the appeals in the name of loyalty, responsibility, integrity and creativity, particularly when they are known to be actual, authentic revelations of Divinity?

Action Appeal

As for the action appeal of Reconstructionism, in conceiving Judaism as a civilization which is entering upon a new stage in its development, Reconstructionist ideology proposes a plan of ac-tion which carries with it a sense of loyalty and moral responsibility on all fronts of Jewish life.

The Peoplehood front: Jews throughout the world should be formally reconstituted into a people united by Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. That calls for the formulation of a Constitution that would define the social structure of the Jewish People as consisting of an autonomous nucleus known as Zion in the Land of Israel, and that would spell out the duties and rights of the various Jewries, in keeping with what is desirable and achievable.

The Zionist front: The Zionist movement should be reorganized so that if might concentrate on the need of trans-porting Jews from those countries in which their future is in jeopardy. It should dissociate itself from all political and party interests in Israel.

The Diaspora front: Reconstructionism calls for the replacement of the present organizational chaos of communal Jewish life with Kehillot or organic communities, in which the various communal activities - religious, educational, cultural, social, philanthropic, and public relations -would be mutually coordinated and all Jewish functionaries would be servants of the Jewish community.

At present, no functioning relations exist among the three main types of Jewish activity carried on, respectively, by religio-social institutions, educational institutions, and welfare institutions. There can be no Jewish future in the Diaspora unless those three types of Jewish activity will be integrated into an overall, morally and spiritually motivated welfare Jewish community. Only thus will it be possible to create among Jews in the Diaspora the psychological unity essential to its spiritual unity.

The Educational front: The present elementary Jewish education is woefully inadequate, and secondary Jewish education is only beginning to come into existence. A third alternative will have to be found to the afternoon Jewish schools and the all-day Jewish schools. Possibly a two or three year all-day Jewish schooling on the secondary level and several summers in Jewish educational camps might be a solution. In any event, the center of gravity of Jewish culture and education has to be shifted from the earlier to the later years in the life of the Jew.

In addition, wherever feasible, Hebrew as a language should be introduced into colleges and secondary schools. A most noteworthy consequence of identifying Judaism as a civilization, and not merely as a religion, is that it then becomes eligible as a legitimate subject of instruction on a university level in state universities, even where instruction in religion is taboo. The same, of course, is true of high schools and colleges.

The Cultural front: Jewish life should be made more beautiful and interesting through art. Music, drama, dance, literature, architecture, painting and sculpture -- all these forms of culture can and should be utilized to express and enhance the high values experienced in living as Jews.

The Civic front: The art of living in two civilizations should not only constitute the subject matter of educational and cultural activities, but should culminate in Jews' contributing to the development of civic religion to help America to achieve moral and spiritual unity on the basis of its psychological or cultural unity.

Victor Hugo said, "There is no power like the power of an idea whose time has come." Reconstructionism has unquestionably the power to breathe new life into the Jewish People. Whether its time has come depends entirely upon all of us in whom there still pulsates the will to live as Jews.

...Mordecai Kaplan

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Tue, July 14 2020 22 Tammuz 5780