You Shall Pursue

December 21, 2012

Reconstructionism Part 1: What is Reconstructionist Judaism Anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — marleyweiner @ 1:30 pm

I have been at rabbinical school for almost a semester. And as part of summing up my immersion into the world of Reconstructionism, I decided to explain in layman’s terms just what it means to be a Reconstructionist Jew. Reconstructionism is one of the younger, smaller movements of Judaism (and the question of whether or not it is a movement at all is actually surprisingly complicated) and I get a lot of questions asking exactly what Reconstructionism is. I figured it would be helpful to create a blog series so that I can point interested people to a neat little summary of the theology, history, and how it relates to my own thinking.

Reconstructionism is based on the philosophy and writing of Mordecai Kaplan, a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary who hoped to create a radical new way of thinking about what it meant to be Jewish. He was the first to propose the idea of Judaism as a civilization, meaning that Jewish art, Klezmer, Jewish food, Yiddish theater, Zionism, the Arbeiter Ring, Ladino, etc. were all expressions of Judaism just as important and valid as the Talmud and the mitzvot. His belief was that Judaism could only be taken as a whole, and that one could not separate out the religious parts or the cultural parts and say “this, and this alone, is Judaism.” Rather, he proposed that Jews shared common languages, history, literature, religion, and culture throughout history, and that the Jewish people would need to engage in a multiplicity of Jewish expressions in order to make sure that the civilization stayed vibrant. Out of this grows current ideas of Jewish nationality and peoplehood.

Kaplan also believed as strongly in America as he did in Judaism. He expected Jews to participate as much in the broader American society and civilization as in the Jewish one, and hoped that the best values of each civilization would influence the other.

Some misconceptions that I hope to address in this series:

  • Reconstructionism is not “in between Conservative and Reform”
  • Reconstructionists are not all atheists (although some of us are!)
  • Reconstructionists are not all crunchy granola hippies (although many of us are!)

This will be a series in six parts. You can click here for links to the other parts as they become available:

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