The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan
Publication Year: 2013
Mordecai M. Kaplan, founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, is the only rabbi to have been excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in America. Kaplan was indeed a heretic, rejecting such fundamental Jewish beliefs as the concept of the chosen people and a supernatural God. Although he valued the Jewish community and was a committed Zionist, his primary concern was the spiritual fulfillment of the individual. Drawing on Kaplan's 27-volume diary, Mel Scult describes the development of Kaplan's radical theology in dialogue with the thinkers and writers who mattered to him most, from Spinoza to Emerson and from Ahad Ha-Am and Matthew Arnold to Felix Adler, John Dewey, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. This gracefully argued book, with its sensitive insights into the beliefs of a revolutionary Jewish thinker, makes a powerful contribution to modern Judaism and to contemporary American religious thought.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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T_here are always many people to thank when one writes a book, and this book is no exception. I am grateful to Professor David Kraemer, librarian at the Jewish T_heological Seminary, for permission to quote from the diaries of Mordecai Kaplan, the originals of which are at the Seminary. I also want to express my thanks to Rabbi Deborah Waxman, director ...
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I have been studying Mordecai Kaplan, his life and his thought, contin-ually since 1nine.o72. One might reasonably ask, as my wife of_ten has, how someone could remain with one subject for so long. Part of the answer lies in the wealth of material Kaplan lef_t behind. In addition to the books and articles that appeared during his lifetime, there is a mass of un-...
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Mordecai M. Kaplan was one of the most radical Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. When it came to expressing his opinions, Kaplan had much courage and never hesitated to speak his mind. He vehemently rejected the belief in the Jews as the chosen people of God. The center of his radicalism focuses on his theology and his concept of God. Kaplan ...
1 Excommunications: Kaplan and Spinoza
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Most of us think of Mordecai Kaplan as the founding father of the Reconstructionist movement. Indeed he was, but his life was marked equally by another, quite different, biographical event: he was the first rabbi in the United States to be excommunicated by the ultraOrthodox. Excommunication is usually associated with the Catholic Church and not with ...
2 Self-Reliance: Kaplan and Emerson
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For the modern Jew, the needs of the autonomous self threaten the co-herence of the Jewish community. Individualism is the greatest problem facing the Jewish people. For Mordecai Kaplan, as for so many other twentieth-century Jewish leaders, the primary problem was how to deal with the new sense of self that is at the root of both American culture and ...
3 Nationalism and Righteousness: Ahad Ha-Am and Matthew Arnold
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I am more convinced than ever that Achad Ha-Am’s conception of nationality plus [Matthew] Arnold’s interpretation of Israel’s genius for righteousness contains that which could form the positive expression A key aspect of Mordecai Kaplan’s talent as a thinker, as we will see again and again, is his ability to combine widely disparate concepts and ideolo-...
4 Universalism and Pragmatism: Felix Adler, William James, and John Dewey
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The question “What is Judaism?” therefore resolves itself into the question “How do these beliefs and practices function?” For the first time we are getting at the very essence of Judaism; for the Academics, myself included, are fond of exploring influences, of dem-onstrating the way in which a key aspect of a person’s thought relates to ...
5 Kaplan and Peoplehood: Judaism as a Civilization and Zionism
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...[Emil Fackenheim said that Kaplan represented] “the best side of the American pragmatic genius which refuses to subordinate realities to the requirements of philosophical or theological systems. The other is the indomitable love for amcha [the Jewish people] by an indomitable man.”Despite our focus on Mordecai Kaplan’s individualism and on Ralph ...
6 Kaplan and His God: An Ambivalent Relationship
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According to Maimonides, “it is not correct to say that God is living, or that God knows or wills. The truth is that God is life, God is knowledge, and God is will.” From the standpoint of knowledge, God is at the same time the known and the process of knowing. Theologically or philosophically speaking, there is little, if any, difference between Maimonides’ conception of God and the conception of ...
7 Kaplan's Theology: Beyond Supernaturalism
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The eternal is an infinite becoming, and not an actual being. That is why we should conceive of God as process and not as entity—for God is a term to designate all those phases of the new direction that life takes on in man which are indicative of life’s infinite possibilities of growth.Theologically speaking, we might say that Mordecai Kaplan was caught ...
8 Salvation: The Goal of Religion
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Salvation is unhampered freedom in living and helping others to Salvation is generally considered a Christian term. Although it appears in the Hebrew scriptures (yeshua), this basic theological concept has never occupied a central place in rabbinic or in modern Jewish thought. Nevertheless, as we have seen, it was axiomatic in Kaplan’s system from ...
9 Salvation Embodied: The Vehicle of Mitzvot
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Let every prayer we recite, every song we sing, every teaching we listen to set the current of Israel’s life coursing through our whole being, challenge us to test the ever living truth of what Israel has learned concerning man’s task on earth, and reveal to us the God who always stands at the door of our heart waiting as it were to be admitted. In this spirit let us pray: “May the words of ...
10 Mordecai the Pious: Kaplan and Heschel
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The only way in which man is actually delivered from the sinister use of high principles is through the grace of God. Of that grace he is the beneficiary so long as he experiences humility or piety, an experience which means awareness of a transcendent power in the cosmos—a universal consciousness or spirit—that seeks to direct humanity into ...
11 The Law: Halakhah and Ethics
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What we need is a regimen of observance which shall be affirmative and inspiring. But if this requirement is to be met, it can be only on the acceptance of diversity in regimens as normal and legitimate. All that is necessary is that they help to intensify the Jewish consciousness of their observers, and help to To understand fully Mordecai Kaplan’s approach to halakhah and mitz-...
12 Kaplan and the Problem of Evil: Cutting the Gordian Knot
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Where in this conception of God is the place of evil? It is not in necessity but in the creativity of God. Evil is not (as I formerly believed) mere chance or negation, but something very real. It would not be evil if it were mere negation of being. All evil may be reduced either to the destruction or lowering of life. It is the antithesis of life, and in man, ...
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I have been thinking about Mordecai Kaplan for the better part of the last forty years. I have for a time avoided this conclusion—but, in the final analysis, we must admit that Kaplan really is a heretic. The word is an uncomfortable one, especially with the image it conjures of a roomful of rabbis burning his prayer book. Indeed, it is a word that caused Kap...
Appendix: "Thirteen Wants" of Mordecai Kaplan Reconstructed
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Selected Bibliography and Note on Sources
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Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 1 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: The Modern Jewish Experience