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The Most Influential Jewish Philosopher You Never Heard Of

Adapt or die: this principle now permeates discussions among not just biologists but anthropologists, sociologists, and even theologians seeking the origins of religion in an evolutionary need for group survival.  The adage is especially applicable to a 1934 classic of Jewish evolution, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life.  While Kaplan’s contemporaries, theologians Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel, remain widely read today, Kaplan (1881-1983) is relatively unknown.  Yet, what would contemporary American Judaism be without him?  

Relevant Links
Invented the Bat Mitzvah, Rejected a Supernatural God  Diane Cole, Wall Street Journal. Although Reconstructionism remains the smallest of the four denominations, Mordecai Kaplan’s influence can be felt across the spectrum. 
Reconstructing Judaism  Joseph J. Siev, Jewish Ideas Daily. A look into the history and aims of the Reconstructionist movement, a peculiarly American institution that has never truly realized the hopes of its visionary founder.
The Return of Peoplehood  Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily. After the establishment of Israel, Kaplan concluded that “nationalism” needed to be reformulated in the light of Jewish political statehood. Hence his recourse to peoplehood.
The Excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan  Zachary Silver, American Jewish Archives Journal. In 1945, a group of Orthodox rabbis transformed the face of American Jewish religion by burning Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s Sabbath Prayer Book and excommunicating its author. (PDF)

Kaplan introduced the synagogue bat mitzvah (his daughter, Judith, was the first bat mitzvah, in 1922).  He promoted Jewish community centers, created the concept of Judaism as an evolving civilization, and allowed Jews to “reconstruct” Judaism with new, relevant meanings.  As a professor at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary for more than 50 years, he influenced several generations of rabbis.  After he retired from JTS in 1963, he helped found the Reconstructionist movement.

Kaplan was—still is—often criticized as radical or even heretical.  In 1945 the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada not only excommunicated Kaplan but burned his Sabbath Prayer Book.  Kaplan’s introduction to the Prayer Book described it as merely an adaptation of the Orthodox prayer service for the “modern spirit.”  But that spirit was a rationalist cast of mind that questioned the supernatural aspects of Judaism.  “Since Scripture came into being over a long period of time and through human instrumentalities,” he wrote, “this prayer book avoids implying the historical accuracy of those Biblical episodes which relate miracles and supernatural events.”

Kaplan also changed the liturgy by removing references to Jews as the chosen people; he kept references to the immortality of the soul but removed any mention of corporeal resurrection.  To him, these changes were evolutionary survival mechanisms, like the change to rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple.  To the UOR, the changes constituted heresy.  To the outside world, the attack on Kaplan was shocking enough—in light of fresh memories of Nazi bonfires of Jewish books—so that it was reported in the New York Times and Time magazine.

So, who was this “heretic”?

Kaplan was born in Lithuania in 1881, the son of a distinguished rabbi who brought the family to New York in 1889.  The younger Kaplan graduated from City College and was ordained at JTS in 1902.  Working toward his doctorate in philosophy at Columbia, he was drawn to the Pragmatist philosophers and to sociologists and anthropologists studying the evolutionary benefits of religion.  He also studied with Felix Adler, founder of the non-theistic Ethical Culture Society.  Adler had angered many Jews, including Kaplan, who felt that Ethical Culture had “de-Judaized” Judaism.  Yet Kaplan was intrigued by Adler’s emphasis on ethics, social justice, and community action.

Throughout his life, Kaplan retained his belief in God and his observance of Jewish laws.  But his studies convinced him that there were too many internal contradictions, and too much archeological evidence, to allow one to view the Scriptures as the work of God rather than human beings; and his goal became the development of a Jewish theology that could reconcile reason and faith and enhance a sense of communal belonging.  In 1922 he left a traditional New York congregation to establish his own synagogue, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which became the laboratory for Kaplan’s ideas about reinterpreting traditional ritual and liturgy. 

In Kaplan’s “reconstructed” formulation, the Jewish religion was the “soul” of the Jewish people—but just one element defining Jewish civilization.  Other elements were the Jews’ ethical principles, sacred scripture, language, land (Kaplan was an early, ardent Zionist), beliefs, traditions, literature, and history.  Individuals could belong to and identify with the Jewish people as a culture and civilization regardless of their beliefs and practices.

In his 1937 work The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, Kaplan also questioned the relevance of laws whose interpretation had not changed in centuries:

The very notion that any text written hundreds of years ago, at a time when the social situation was radically different from what it is today, can give us clear and valuable guidance in deciding, ethically, issues that did not arise until recent times is utterly antagonistic to the modern evolutionary outlook.

As Kaplan said elsewhere, the challenge was to take Torah seriously without taking it literally.

For Kaplan, God was not an omnipotent, supernatural being but the “power that makes for salvation,” an internal force that allowed individuals to seek goodness and moral perfection for themselves and the world. Such “salvation” would be found not in the next world but in this one, through discovery of personal meaning and achievement of positive social goals.  Kaplan was, in this sense, self-help guru long before the phrase was invented.  He was criticized for his references to “salvation,” a word closely associated with Christianity.  But Kaplan answered that while Christian salvation occurs in the hereafter, the Bible also uses the term to denote “redemption from evil and self-fulfillment in this world.”  He explained, “Salvation means deliverance from those evils, eternal and internal, which prevent man from realizing his maximum potentialities”—in positive terms, “the maximum fulfillment of those human capacities which entitle man to be described as ‘made in the image of God.’"

How radical were Kaplan’s ideas?  His beliefs echo not only the Pragmatists and Transcendentalists but Spinoza, excommunicated by his 17th century Jewish community for, among other things, denying God’s supernatural powers and the notion of an afterlife.  To traditional rabbis, neither Spinoza’s God nor Kaplan’s was recognizable.

Still, by the time Kaplan died at the age of 102, those ideas seemed less radical.  The dense, often awkward quality of his writing is one fact that has kept potential readers away; another is that, as the decades passed, many of his once-controversial ideas became conventional.

Even Kaplan’s idea that that the Torah was composed by different authors is now widely accepted.  Etz Hayim (“Tree of Life”), the Torah and commentary volume used in most Conservative synagogues today, includes this formulation: “Detailed study . . . has led modern critical scholarship to theorize that the Torah is a compilation from several sources.”  And “[b]ecause the Torah, in this perspective, is an amalgam,” it contains “factual inconsistencies; contradictory regulations; and differences in style, vocabulary, and even theology.”  While this wording does not endorse a theory of multiple authorship, it leaves the door open for readers who wish to do so.

It is a door that more 21st-century Jews might enter, if they knew it existed.  These days, when discussion of religion often veers between polar extremes of fundamentalist acceptance and atheistic rejection, Kaplan’s approach—adapting, or reconstructing, rather than abandoning completely—seems less radical than just plain practical.  Kaplan’s emphasis on Jewish “civilization,” of which religion is just one part, allows secular Jews to remain connected by belonging, even without believing.  And if you’re not sure?  Kaplan’s naturalistic view of religion embraces a broad spectrum of belief, from deep spirituality to agnosticism.  With mainstream religious affiliation dwindling throughout America, maybe it’s time to remember Mordecai Kaplan’s message: adapt or die.

Diane Cole is the author of the memoir After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges, and writes for many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Jewish Week and the Psychotherapy Networker, where she is a contributing editor. 

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Ben Goldberg on November 12, 2012 at 6:12 am (Reply)
A great summary of Kaplan's life and work. But he is anything but obscure. He is the founding ideologue of the Reconstructionist movement, which now has more than 100 communities in the US, and remains a frequently referenced thinker within the Reform and Conservative movements. In fact, an article that appeared in this pages within the last week about the future of the Reform movement mentioned Kaplan as American's Jewry's most recent original theologian. While Heschel and Buber did become more popular following WWII, Kaplan is nonetheless a very prominent figure in American Jewish thought.
Jankel on November 12, 2012 at 7:07 am (Reply)
This is exactly why, when, at 20 yo, after 12 years of Heder-Talmud Torah studies, I finally went out from traditional Judaism (in France); and being unable to convert a non Jewish atheistic (like me) girl to something I didn't believe in anymore, and having not on hand yet, My Solution of Cultural Civilisational Judaism I thought about and "was convinced of"...!!! I became finally "socially" expelled from the Jewry.......
And my son (circumcised) not being accepted in any Heder or Talmud Torah. (I think that my mother and her brother, my lovely dynamic uncle who managed the business, have lied to the Mohel who accepted to practice the Brith properly...)
52 years after, I see my Ideas fortunately coming out in fashion and Kaplan would have been happy too...I suppose.
If the Rabbis had had the Power to burn Giordano Bruno, they would have done it....But their situation wasn't that and they just kept the Herem inside their tiny oppressed society....
Torah and its Hermeneutic is a marvel of evolutionary thinking which change the World but has been sclerosed into an archaic faith....fortunately, with its very original aspect of Orthopraxia instead of Beliefs Dogmatism and a doubtful fantastic "commentaries system" "Beyond the Verse" like E. Lévinas said.......This is absolutely Inestimable...!!!
S W on November 12, 2012 at 7:10 am (Reply)
"...maybe it’s time to remember Mordecai Kaplan’s message: adapt or die."

As with other JID articles and the panoply of contradictory arguments in these last years, the challenge is not "adapt or die." The question is "adapt to what?" While Kaplan's reconstructionist adaptation was his answer, in whole or part, someone else's rejects Kaplan's version of a belief in God altogether. There is a naivete about words, which seem to say so much while saying so little, rather like elusive and over-generalized political sloganeering. When one asks "adapt to what" with the hope of gathering more specifics, there will come for many a disagreement with which "what." The "broad spectrum of belief, from deep spirituality to agnosticism" of which the writer speaks now includes atheism for some self-identified secular Jews, and Christianity for others who would also use the adjective, "Jewish," as their method of self-indentification. Adaptations, to be sure.

In looking at the SAJ site, one finds reference to the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement site, not the Union for Reform Judaism, the Conservatives/Masorti or the several Orthodox umbrella organizations. "Adapt or die?" Referring back to Darwin's thesis, it is only a matter of mundane proof through measures of longer term survival, not rhetorical devices, stances and slogans. The previous JID article by Reform rabbi Evan Moffic and its comments details a similar line of thought.

Who identifies which adaptation will survive and which will die, the very real world application of the High Holiday questioning - מי ישפל ומי ירום -- Basic, factual measures will tell the demographic tale long after all the various stances contending against their opposing stances have been silenced by simple reality. Each year we see changes, growth in some and diminution in others. It seems likely all we need do is count the passing years, and see which adaptation prospers and which withers in order to answer this fundamental question.
Lisa Pildes on November 12, 2012 at 7:17 am (Reply)
Thanks for this article. It would have been nice if the author had mentioned that there are Reconstructionist synagogues and havurot throughout the United States. Our schul, The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, in Evanston, Ill. will be soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Those who are interested can go to the movement's website.
Wendl Kornfeld on November 12, 2012 at 7:26 am (Reply)
An excellent explanation and background on a subject (i.e., tenets of Reconstructionism) which has long and often bewildered many of us.
Avery on November 12, 2012 at 7:35 am (Reply)

"The very notion that any text written hundreds of years ago, at a time when the social situation was radically different from what it is today, can give us clear and valuable guidance in deciding, ethically, issues that did not arise until recent times is utterly antagonistic to the modern evolutionary outlook."

An Israeli:

"Jews transcend reality ... Jews don't just give in to reality, but rather shape it. That today's seeming agreements with the Palestinians are agreements of despair, and that the 3,500-year-old Bible was and remains relevant. That the Jews, on the threshold of the furnaces, shouted, 'Next year in Jerusalem.' That Judaism has succeeded precisely because it was not realistic; after all, one of the most seemingly delusional things is to live in the Diaspora and think all the time about Jerusalem."
Rabbi Rami on November 12, 2012 at 8:37 am (Reply)
Thanks so much for this Diane. I wrote my Master's thesis on Kaplan in the early seventies, and was blessed to study with him privately for a year in Jerusalem. He was 99 years old then, but no less the brilliant rebbe. I still find great wisdom and comfort in his writings, and continue to be challenged by his teaching. He isn't easy to read, but well worth the effort.
Rabbi Evan Moffic on November 12, 2012 at 9:42 am (Reply)
Like Rabbi Rami I think Kaplan remains relevant and meaningful to contemporary Jews. Often the only thing people know about him is that he gave his daughter the first Bat Mitzvah in America. The truth is that he articulated the most lasting and meaningful American Jewish theology. ee
Levi Bookin on November 12, 2012 at 10:10 am (Reply)
It is interesting that it is the Orthodox who are thriving, while the Reform and leftwards are slowly dying out.

Perhaps adaptation has to be within a Jewish framework.
    LARRY KAUFMAN on November 12, 2012 at 5:52 pm (Reply)
    What you say is just plain not true. The Orthodox are enjoying their moment in the sun -- a surprise to most of the Jewish world which thought as recently as 75 years ago that they'd be gone by now. And Reform is hardly dying, although it is currently feeling the pain of an anti-institutional zeitgeist that's affecting our society as a whole. Reform has done more adapting than Mr. Bookin want to acknowledge, and has particularly adapted within a Jewish framework.
Linda on November 12, 2012 at 10:49 am (Reply)
New York City is home to multiple Reconstructionist congregations. In addition to the SAJ, West End Synagogue offers a vibrant, community-oriented approach to Judaism. To get a taste of Kaplan's ideas in operation, go to for information, and stop by to see what it's like.
Carl on November 12, 2012 at 10:58 am (Reply)
His vision actually sounds a lot like Jewish life in Israel
Sam Prince on November 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm (Reply)
Mr. Bookin's comments intrigue me. Perhaps if the Orthodox were not so militant in enforcing their my way or the highway theology there would be far more people identifying themselves as Jews rather than not knowing what to call themselves. 1000 years ago Jewish law was changed when it comes to determining the religion of a child. With so many children now born of parents where one is Jewish and one is not, perhaps it is time for the Orthodox to accept that religion can be determined by the religion of either parent.
Levi Bookin on November 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm (Reply)
Without commenting on the principle raised by Sam Prince, it is reasonable to predict that no such change will take place in Orthodox thinking.

If other people make their own rules, that is up to them, but I do not see a Jewish future in it.
    JDE on December 21, 2012 at 10:13 am (Reply)
    The Orthodox are hardly "thriving". The Haredim now comprise the vast majority of Orthodox, and their society is dying - succumbing to pressure from without and crumbling from within. They can no longer provide for their growing numbers and refuse (for the most part) to educate their children so they can work and function outside of their cloistered world.

    Orthodoxy is at a watershed. The Haredim have a generation left at most, and when they go, they'll be taking most of Orthodoxy with them. The right wing Modern Orthodox are Haredi in all but name, and there aren't enough left wing Modern Orthodox left to sustain a subculture. Like it or not, whatever hope Judaism has for survival rests with the liberal denominations.

    But you keep telling yourselves you'll outlast us.
      Rob on December 27, 2012 at 6:51 am (Reply)
      You are delusional. Orthodoxy is growing, thriving. Even Haredim. Most Orthodox, including Haredim, will eventually work instead of learn full time, while still living by Torah. Non- orthodox movements are killing themselves by abandoning Torah, watering it down to make their "Judaism" indistinct from Goyism
        JDE on December 27, 2012 at 10:49 am (Reply)
        Right. Keep clinging to that security blanket.
Jankel on November 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm (Reply)
50% mixed marriages and further loss of 70% of their children is a clear view of the situation...isn't it?
I know christianized Jews (married to Christians) whose children went back to judaism these last 35 years in the proportion of 30% (2 kids from a brotherhood of 7...) but I ignore if that statistic can be generalized??? Anyway, the discussion is senseless so far, a "civilization Judaism" is "enough" to keep people inside the Jewish People and spirit, and those who "believe" will go back to the Yeshiva...! I don't believe a second that Jews even in the smallest Shtetl were truely faithful to 613 Mitzvoth and Maimonides would have eagerly said he was agnostic in fact if he had not risked to be burnt at the stake by Christians or or excommunicated by the whole world Jewry...: A Dead Man. then...
Survival of a tiny Sect (10% maximum of jewish People) isn't the sense of the Jewish People; and Haredim aren't the Future of either the Jewish People nor Humanity's spiritual progress. They are now the similar "brothers" of Islamists' worse mental....
    Rob on December 27, 2012 at 7:02 am (Reply)
    The point of Judaism is not the spiritual progress of humanity, it's about the spiritual progress of the individual Jew towards kedusha, holiness.

    if the non-orthodox movements wish to survive, they should focus less on repairing the world and more on repairing the Jew, through performing mitzvot. "tikkun olam" is not a mitzvah even if some mitzvot happen to coincide with "social justice"
Ivy on November 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm (Reply)
"The Most Influential Jewish Philosopher You Never Heard Of"??

We've heard of him! Rabbi Kaplan is well represented here at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia (, where he is one of 18 honorees in our Only in America/Hall of Fame Gallery of extraordinary American Jewish achievers. We also have a traveling exhibition presented with Moving Traditions, "Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age," that examines how bat mitzvah evolved from Kaplan's radical innovation into a nearly universal American tradition. Check it out now at Larchmont Temple, and thanks, Rabbi Kaplan.
hana blume on November 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm (Reply)
Where's the citation for the reason that Spinoza was excommunicated?
    Jankel on November 13, 2012 at 10:10 am (Reply)
    If I can remember (you can find it easily on wiki-pedia and sources, with a lot of texts...) Spinoza didn't believe in "Soul"'s immortality and for him, God wasn't that Pure Idea nor anthropomorphic Idea He was usually believed to be; but the Nature of things itself...
    If you cannot believe in Christ marching on the waters and ressuscitating, you cannot believe neither, Rationally, in these childish fancies....
    Spinoza was rejected like he would have been rejected by Chrisitian Church if he had been a Christian. He was not pursuable for heresy by Christianity as a Jew (but he kept silent then and very prudent) and Jews hadn't any Power to lapidate or hung him....
    Imagine a second, these Jews with a political absolute power?
    and.....Haredim , ruling Israël with 80% of convinced people ....and 20% silenced ones...
Rene Lehmann on November 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm (Reply)
I good article but what a terrible headline! It is perhaps the headline writer who never heard of Kaplan - the rest of he read of JTA's Daily Digest certainly have.
len on November 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm (Reply)
Yes, we heard of him. And no, the idea that that the Torah was composed by different authors is not his. Nor is it widely accepted among religious Jews.
Jerry Blaz on November 13, 2012 at 5:49 am (Reply)
I first studied Reconstructionism back around 1946 when I discovered a course at what is now called the Spertus College of Judaism in Chicago. I then left for Israel and became a Halutz, living in a border settlement near the Gaza Strip. While there I lectured on Reconstructionism at the Ideological Seminar of the United Kibbutz Movement about Kaplan and Reconstructionism.

In the mid-60s I became one of the founding members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, one of whose members has already left a comment here. I studied with Kaplan and saw him last when he had returned to the U.S. from Israel and was at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverside; he was then 100 years old.

I was was also a friend of Judith his daughter (the first bat mitzvah) and a Jewish musicologist in her own right who was married to Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, who was the first president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a great scholar in his own right.

After a couple of decades of "spirituality" instead of rationality, I'm glad to see Kaplan being rediscovered by the newer generations. I knew that if I lived long enough, it would happen and Diane Cole's article in one of a number of recent articles I've read on the internet about Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionst Judaism that gives me hope and heart that Kaplan's vision will spread. Originally, Kaplan didn't want to start a different "trend" in Judaism to "compete" with "other Judaisms," but it ended up that way mainly because of the dynamics of existing trends with their own institutions. Maybe his idea of what he called an organic Jewish community will come into its own this time. For those concerned about the survival of Judaism and Jews, the organic community is the best solution.
Eitan on November 13, 2012 at 9:20 am (Reply)
Two comments:

(1) Kaplan is very well known outside of the Ultra- and Modern Orthodox worlds. I have studied his ideas many times in various Conservative and pluralistic settings.

(2) Can you (or someone else) provide a link or citation for the burning of siddurim that you write about in the beginning of the piece? I have never seen this story brought up before and would like evidence of it.
Jankel on November 13, 2012 at 9:57 am (Reply)
Dear Ien,
do you know that Earth is a globe which is revolving (?) and that Galileo was finally rehabilitated by Pope John Paul II, very recently...?
So are the religious Jews: everything idiotic, but except true Jews, who are universally recognized as smart intelligent rationalist AND faithful spiritualist people, nevertheless....
Nobody cares what these psychotics are believing...Reality goes on...without them.
Ben Goldberg on November 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm (Reply)

If you look at the top of the page in the Relevant Links sidebar, there's a scholarly article by Zach Silver about this incident.
Echo on November 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm (Reply)
Like others who commented, I am highly disappointed by the headline to this article. Someone at JID is badly out of touch with contemporary American Jews.

Since I don't want this comment to be only "me, too," let me ask: Who are the ranking Jewish theologians today? One reason we need to keep invoking Heschel, Buber and Kaplan is that since their deaths there is hardly anyone of stature in the realm of Jewish theology. The field isn't entirely desolate, but I don't see in the past 40 years anyone who seems to match up with the aforementioned trio.
    Don Thomas on November 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm (Reply)
    What about Rabbi Harold Schulweis and Rabbi Arthur Green?
Mark Hurvitz on November 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm (Reply)
I have not been able to find the original citation in the New York Times that Eitan requests. But, there are a number of references to it on the Web:

And, at this page on the Valley Beth Shalom Web site, R. Harold Schulweis writes (quoting Kaplan reporting on the burning):

I first met your rabbi in 1945. He came fresh from Yeshivah College into the Seminary where I was teaching homiletics. I was then 64 years old. Schulweis, like others, read the New York Times of June 12, 1945, that the Reconstructionist Prayer Book that I and my colleagues had written was burned by rabbis from the Aggudath Harabonim at the Hotel McAlpin. And I was placed in herem, excommunicated, not to be spoken to, and most assuredly not to be read. It was a shock, even to those who opposed me, this burning. It was 1945, after the Second World War, after the episodes of the Nazis who burned so many books. And here we Jews were burning books. Still, I comforted myself into believing that progress was delayed because 500 years before, Calvin, unhappy with what he regarded as the heresy of Servetus, burned Servetus. I got away with murder because they only burned my book. What’s a book among friends?

I trust that someone with access to the New York Times physical archives can verify the details.
    Zach Silver on November 14, 2012 at 11:03 pm (Reply)
    As Ben Goldberg says, all references for the excommunication and book burning can be found in the footnotes:
Jankel on November 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm (Reply)
Poor comments about the Topic Itself, here.....!?
Just some dispute on formal positions...and well known millennium Jewish Theocratical Authoritarian styled conservatism...
I would have appreciate to read debates about a serious and complex topic, from Spinoza to Kaplan (and Me?!!)
In fact, nobody seems to really SAY anything valuable here...Amazing or/and Appalling?
RRC on November 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm (Reply)
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is dedicated to training rabbis in the spirit of Mordecai Kaplan -- rabbis who partner with Jewish people to continually invigorate Judaism while understanding and appreciating its traditions. Our website offers videos, audio interviews, diary entries and more on Kaplan and his legacy:
Don Thomas on November 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm (Reply)
What about Rabbi Harold Schulweis? Rabbi Arthur Green?
arlene J Pearlman on November 16, 2012 at 7:26 am (Reply)
Apparently there are folks who do not know about The Society for Humanistic Judaism (or its many congregations in the US, Israel, Canada, South America).
We uphold the basic tenets of Ethical Culture but keep our Jewish history and culture, celebrations and traditions alive without supernatural references or beliefs.
Jankel on November 16, 2012 at 11:14 am (Reply)
Apparently..not...but it has NO INFLUENCE on everyday common Jewish life anywhere else than in some some small Jewish modern Sects YOU know....
It is nice to tell people that We have Everything we need on hand... but who has it really?
Israël? where civil marriage isn't recognized ?
You are welcome to send on line some addresses in Europe !? Thanks
Zalmen on December 5, 2012 at 12:55 pm (Reply)
Talking about GREAT actual Jewish leaders, like Rabi Kaplan, who help define actual Jewish modern understanding, You should also review another Great Jew, definning deeply the Jewish thought, He is Called Emmanuel Levinas, though not a "smijah's) rab, but a complete Jew and master. (Rabi means also teacer, or master) by his OWN vivances, Hes an holocoust survivor,who had trough knowledge of philosophy, and TORAH.. ClRifies the meanning of ETHICS, as fundemental part of Jewish thought!,
As Hillel stated, the respect to the OTHER, he defined it by a new way called ALTERITY.....a full way of realization of humans!,
Y. Ben-David on December 26, 2012 at 12:54 am (Reply)
Kaplan was certainly an important figure in American Jewish history. Although his Reconstructionist Movement never really got off the ground in an organizational sense, having established few congregations as compared to the Reform and Conservative movements, he put his finger on the thinking of non-Orthodox Jews in America....a religious civilization.....Jewish religious lingo without having to worry about the Divine command.
As an Israeli, I would be interested in knowing about Kaplan's attitude towards Zionism. Having been associated with the Conservative movement, I would assume he would have been pro-Zionist, as that movement never had an anti-Zionist wing. In spite of this I note that several Reconstructionist rabbis in North America are among the most virulently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel propagandists, several being active in the so-called "Jewish Voice for Peace" which is possibly the largest Jewish anti-Zionist organization in North America.
I do know the Reconstructionist movement is the least represented of the non-Orthodox streams in Israel, having only a handful of congregations.

The best way I know of expressing Kaplan's philosophy is based on a joke that was told about his views: "Kaplan believes the Jews are a divinely chosen people whose heavenly mandated mission to mankind is to teach the world that there is no Deity and the Jews are no different than anyone else".

Such a philosophy can not be viable in the long-term. This is simply yet another Jewish attempt to make a soft-landing on the runway of assimilation.
Rob on December 27, 2012 at 6:37 am (Reply)
"Even Kaplan’s idea that that the Torah was composed by different authors is now widely accepted. "

...Accepted by people who don't live by Torah, because that idea rationalizes their lack failure to live in a way in meaningfully distinct from that of non-Jews, I.e living a Torah life.

That sums up all the non-orthodox movements: eviscerating Torah, the essence of Judaism, as an absolute by declaring it man-made, thus arbitrary, transient, and thus not obligatory,, so as to rationalize assimilation and the abadonment of what makes Judaism different and worthwhile.

I love all Jews and weep for all Jews lost from Judaism, but watering down Judaism does not strengthen it. Putting mans personal needs, desires, and political correctness above G-d and Torah is not Judaism but rather a theological inversion of Judaism.
JDE on December 27, 2012 at 10:46 am (Reply)
"That sums up all the non-orthodox movements: eviscerating Torah, the essence of Judaism, as an absolute by declaring it man-made, thus arbitrary, transient, and thus not obligatory,, so as to rationalize assimilation and the abadonment of what makes Judaism different and worthwhile."

Yes, you've got them all pegged. [/sarcasm]

You're utterly clueless.
    Rob on December 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm (Reply)
    Those Jews without knowledge of Torah are clueless ones. The ones who know it and choose to reject its mitzvot are apiksorsim.
JDE on December 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm (Reply)
Okay, I guess you've told me.

Run along back to the Middle Ages now.
rob on December 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm (Reply)
Wow, great comeback. You won't or can't refute or rebut what I wrote, so you make a feeble attempt to insult me. Who's the clueless one?

To turn around your feeble comeback, why don't YOU run... towards assimilation and your non-Jewish descendants.
    JDE on January 2, 2013 at 6:00 am (Reply)
    Why would I waste my time? Nothing anyone could say would dissuade you. You have a belief system on which you've staked your life and your afterlife, you'll protect it at all costs and you see other denominations as a threat to that belief system, so you feel the need to invalidate them. You don't want to hear any contradictory evidence - which is readily accessible and all around you. You don't need me to present it to you.

    Frum people and evangelicals - you're all the same. If someone can't be bothered, you assume you've won.
Murray ARONSON on February 18, 2013 at 9:04 am (Reply)
Come on, you never heard of! Mordecai Kaplan is still well known among Jews of at
least a certain educational and interest level. I am 66 and remember well attending a lecture of his at Cong. Bnai Jeshurun in New York - where else? - around 1965 or 66. I also saw Rabbi Kaplan at Cejwin.
Lebalo on March 14, 2013 at 7:34 am (Reply)
'Throughout his life, Kaplan retained his belief in God and his observance of Jewish laws.'
Being an unreknowned person, were I ever to live one way but promote another way of life and thinking, I have no doubt that the majority of commenters here would cut my throat with a serrated knife.
It strikes me that, with all due deference to Kaplan's brilliance, the man had not come to any real conclusion. Living beyond a hundred years was not enough of a lifetime for him. Yet he cuts a slice of bread for himself and only leaves crumbs for his followers.
Adaptation? Moorish Spain to Madison Avenue with everything else in between and we're still here?
Although yeshiva trained, but completely non-observant, I have no doubt that my Jewish identity rides on the coattails of that rigid stiff-necked group called various shades of Orthodoxy.
And 'As Kaplan said elsewhere, the challenge was to take Torah seriously without taking it literally,' since when was Torah ever taken literally except in Kaplan's perception of it?
Well at least he never served shrimp to unsuspecting rabbonim.

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Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham