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An Intro to Reconstructionist Thought

Reconstructionist thought was conceived by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and set forth in his seminal work, Judaism as a Civilization, published in 1934. Kaplan defined Judaism as "the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish People." Evolving: as he demonstrates, Judaism has always evolved, from the biblical phase to rabbinic to modern. Religious: reflecting the vital role that religion plays in the lives of Jews, searching to discover what is ultimately meaningful in life and to express the resulting visions in behaviors and ideas. This search takes place within the concept of a group, a "civilization," with all the richness of its languages, religious practices, laws, music, history, arts, cuisines, calendars, rituals, etc., linking Jews over time and distance as a People.

Kaplan believed that the divine works through nature and human beings. He neither identified God with things in the world (natural) nor did he consider God to be beyond or detached from the world (supernatural). Therefore, Kaplan’s theology came to be called “transnatural.” In his view, there is more to the universe than the sum of its parts. A transnaturalist believes that God works through us rather than upon us. Thus, our sense of responsibility to bring divinity into the world is sustained by the sense that there is a power at the source of human endeavors.

Kaplan rejected the concept of the “choseness” of the Jews, claiming that the Jewish vocation as well as the vocation of all self-identified groups, leads us to a specific path to self-realization through the development and expression of our inherited traditions.

Kaplan’s influence on Judaism, especially in North America has been widespread, especially in regard to the status of women, and democratizing and equalizing congregational and community life in general. He is well known for aphoristic statements such as "The past has a vote, not a veto," and "God is the power that makes for salvation." Kaplan writes, "God is to me the process that makes for creativity, integration, love and justice. The function of prayer is to render us conscious of that process."

Our B’nai Havurah library has copies of Judaism as a Civilization as well as many other explanatory works, including Kaplan’s Not So Random Thoughts, published in 1966 by the Reconstructionist Press , Communings of the Spirit: the Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, edited by Mel Scult. An excellent introduction to Reconstructionist thought, also in the library, is Exploring Judaism by Rabbis Rebbeca Alpert and Jacob Staub.

For additional resources, call in the office at 303-388-4441.

......Mordecai Kaplan

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Tue, July 14 2020 22 Tammuz 5780