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Judaism as a Civilization

Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life

Authored by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Publication Year: 2010

Judaism as a Civilization is widely considered the genesis of the Reconstructionist Movement, representing a watershed moment in modern Judaism. In this classic book, Mordecai Kaplan introduced a new way of looking at Judaism: as an evolving religious civilization. His approach required innovation in liturgy and ritual, elimination of obsolete customs, and adjustment in light of prevailing social, political, and cultural conditions. Kaplan felt that all Jews—traditional and liberal, religious and secular—could play a part in this “reconstruction.” Judaism as a Civilization, first published in 1934, remains one of the most original and thought-provoking contributions to modern Jewish thought.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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CONTENTS

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pp. FM7-FM8

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Introduction to Judaism as a Civilization at 75

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pp. i-x

Mordecai Kaplan's epoch-making work marked a significant paradigm shift in thinking about religion in general and Judaism in particular. His views in Judaism as a Civilization were revolutionary, and we have not yet begun to absorb the full nature of that revolution. For centuries the reigning view among those ...

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Kaplan's Judaism at Sixty: A Reappraisal

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pp. xi-xxiv

One of my favorite paragraphs in this wonderful book-full to overflowing with trenchant analyses and critiques, bristling with anger and indignation, enlivened at every step by passionate intelligence-is the very last, where Mordecai Kaplan, after some five-hundred-twenty-two pages, finally takes leave of his reader. ...

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PREFACE TO THE 1967 EDITION

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pp. xxv-xxvi

Characterizing Judaism as a Civilization as a classic, though meant to be a compliment, is likely to shelve it in a library where it can peacefully gather dust. By the same token, telling its author that he is ahead of his time is likely to serve his contemporaries as an excuse for not taking him seriously. ...

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PREFACE TO THE 1957 EDITION

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

Judaism as a Civilization was first published in 1934. Its immediate effect was the formation of a small group of my lay and rabbinic friends, who launched the Reconstructionist magazine in January 1935. That started the Reconstructionist movement which is "dedicated to the advancement of Judaism as a religious ...

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PREFACE TO THE 1934 EDITION

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pp. xxix-xxxii

Judaism is a problem to those who have to teach it, and what Jew is exempt from teaching it? Parents who wish to inculcate in their children habits and appreciations which are part of Jewish life can no longer do so as a matter of course, but have to argue about it with themselves no less than with their children. And the ...

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INTRODUCTION TO THE 1981 EDITION

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pp. xxxiii-xlix

Since Hellenistic times, and perhaps since the days of Abraham, the history of the Jewish spirit has oscillated between the insistence on Jewish separateness in the name of total authenticity and the desire and need to come to terms with the "spirit of the age" to make Judaism, in all its uniqueness, ...

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INTRODUCTORY, CHAPTER I THE PRESENT CRISIS IN JUDAISM

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pp. 1-16

Before the beginning of the nineteenth century all Jews regarded Judaism as a privilege; since then most Jews have come to regard it as a burden. The first intimation of that change is recorded in a letter which Moses Mendelssohn wrote to Herder in 1780, explaining what had moved him to translate the Pentateuch into German. ...

PART ONE. THE FACTORS IN THE CRISIS

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pp. 17-

A. THE FACTORS OF DISINTEGRATION

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pp. 19-

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CHAPTER II THE MODERN POLITICAL ORDER

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pp. 19-27

The change which has taken place in the status of the Jew within the last century and a half, from that of alien to that of citizen, has given rise to a host of problems for the solution of which the past offers no precedent. The occasional efforts which Jews made at various times to attain the status of equality ...

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CHAPTER III THE MODERN ECONOMIC ORDER

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pp. 28-35

The economic realities of our day are even more of a challenge to Judaism than the political.1 The whole spiritual life of mankind has been upset by the machine and the technological economy. Contemporary literature in any country of western civilization is one long witness to the possession of men's minds ...

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CHAPTER IV THE MODERN IDEOLOGY

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pp. 36-46

The impact of modernism has shaken the Jew's faith in his spiritual heritage. To realize the full force of that impact, it is necessary to note especially the distinctive elements in the modern ideology which have been chiefly responsible for the radical change in the spiritual outlook of the Jew. ...

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B. THE FACTORS OF CONSERVATION, CHAPTER V INHERENT FACTORS OF CONSERVATION

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pp. 47-69

If Jewish life were completely unresponsive to the various forces that are undermining it, and made no effort to resist them, its end would be within sight. But this is far from being the case. The Jewish people has been unconsciously generating, during the centuries of oppression, new energies and spiritual potencies, ...

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CHAPTER VI ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS OF CONSERVATION

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pp. 70-79

The forces that make for the conservation of Jewish life are not limited to those which arise from the momentum inherent in the Jewish people. They are to be found also in the environment outside of the Jewish people. The greatest of these is anti-Semitism. This may sound paradoxical, yet it is no more paradoxical than ...

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C. THE DECISIVE FACTOR, CHAPTER VII NEEDED: A PROGRAM OF RECONSTRUCTION

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pp. 80-88

The foregoing description of the present-day situation in American- Jewish life discloses that the forces of dissolution and conservation are almost equally balanced. On the one hand, the obsolescence of the traditional conception of salvation as the exclusive privilege of the Jewish people, ...

PART TWO. THE CURRENT VERSIONS OF JUDAISM

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pp. 89-

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CHAPTER VIII THE REFORMIST VERSION OF JUDAISM

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pp. 91-107

Reformist Judaism represents the first deliberate and organized effort to adjust traditional Judaism to the exigencies of modern political and economic conditions and to reckon with the modern world-outlook. Reformism takes for granted that, in spite of the recrudescence of reactionary tendencies, ...

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CHAPTER IX CRITIQUE OF THE REFORMIST VERSION OF JUDAISM

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pp. 108-125

No fair-minded opponent of Reformism would venture to assert that it has been a complete failure. Judging the movement objectively, one must admit that it has prevented thousands of Jews in western Europe and America from severing all connections with their people. Many, who would otherwise have found Judaism entirely incompatible ...

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CHAPTER X CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM (RIGHT WING OF REFORMISM)

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pp. 126-132

Whatever fault one may find with the Reformist movement as promulgated by outstanding leaders like Geiger, Kohler and Montefiore, one cannot charge it with being inconsistent in its philosophy or half-hearted in the changes it advocates: Its theory is, on the whole, coherent, and the practice it recommends ...

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CHAPTER XI THE NEO-ORTHODOX VERSION OF JUDAISM

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pp. 133-150

The changes in the habitual modes of Jewish life and thought, which began to make their appearance toward the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth, were due to the contacts with non-Jews which arose out of the gradual extension of civic and political rights. ...

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CHAPTER XII CRITIQUE OF NEO-ORTHODOXY

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pp. 151-159

The striking characteristic of the reply offered by Neo-Orthodoxy to the challenge of the modern spirit is its boldness. The boldness of this reply seems commensurate with the magnitude of the challenge, and gives the apologia the force of a counter attack. Neo-Orthodoxy's eloquent reaffirmation of the traditional ...

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CHAPTER XIII CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM (LEFT WlNG OF NEO-ORTHODOXY)

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pp. 160-170

At the second meeting of the Conference of the Rabbis of Germany which took place in Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1845,1 Zacharias Frankel sought to stem the tide of Reformism by proposing a formula which he hoped would direct the course of Jewish life in consonance with both the needs of the times ...

PART THREE. THE PROPOSED VERSION OF JUDAISM

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pp. 171-

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CHAPTER XIV JUDAISM AS A CIVILIZATION

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pp. 173-185

The versions of Judaism which have thus far been reviewed hold in common the assumption that Jews differ from non-Jews essentially in the matter of religion. They therefore envisage the problem of Jewish survival as a problem either of so interpreting the religious beliefs and practices, ...

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CHAPTER XV CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF JUDAISM AS A CIVILIZATION

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pp. 186-208

A sine qua non of a civilization is a place in the sun. A civilization is the product of social interaction of a group commonly known as a nation, whose life is rooted in a specific part of the earth. The landscape of the particular part of the earth where a civilization arises and flourishes is as essential ...

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CHAPTER XVI IMPLICATIONS OF THE PROPOSED VERSION OF JUDAISM

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pp. 209-224

As a civilization, Judaism is not a static system of beliefs and practices but a living and dynamic social process, the manifestations of which are conditioned by the nature of the environment. The Judaism in Maimonides' time was as different from the Judaism in Ezra's day as Maimonides' world was different from Ezra's; ...

PART FOUR. ISRAEL. THE STATUS AND ORGANIZATION OF JEWRY

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pp. 225-

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CHAPTER XVII THE NATIONHOOD OF ISRAEL

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pp. 227-241

In any deliberate endeavor to maintain the continuity of the Jewish civilization in the face of such challenging conditions as those of today, the first question that comes to mind is: what shall henceforth be the status of Jewry as a collective entity vis-à-vis the rest of the world? ...

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CHAPTER XVIII NATIOALISM AS A CULTURAL COXCEPT

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pp. 242-252

We have seen how the present enigmatic status of the Jews as a group would naturally impel them to explore the creative potentialities of nationhood which is the only status they can henceforth occupy as a collective entity. Being more exposed than any other group to the effects of the widespread intensification ...

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CHAPTER XIX CULTURAL NATIONALISM AS THE CALL OF THE SPIRIT

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pp. 253-263

Of the conscious factors which formerly contributed to the survival of the Jews in the face of systematic persecution and oppres· sion, first place is undoubtedly to be assigned to the belief that they were the special object of divine providence, a belief held alike by the sophisticated and the naïve. ...

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CHAPTER XX THE LAND OF ISRAEL

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pp. 264-279

Judaism has always contemplated Israel's life and destiny in terms of a collective existence associated with a particular land. Nothing in traditional Judaism indicates that Israel is to function in the world as a landless people. The proposal that the Jews reconstitute themselves into a religious organization ...

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CHAPTER XXI JEWISH COMMUNAL ORGANIZATION

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pp. 280-300

So long as salvation was regarded as attainable only in the world to come, everyone was welcome to it because human imagination pictured that world ample enough to hold all who wanted to get there. But ever since men began to seek salvation in this world, which impresses them as being limited, ...

PART FIVE. GOD. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWISH RELIGION

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pp. 301-

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CHAPTER XXII INTRODUCTORY. THE NEED FOR REORIENTATION TO THE PROBLEM OF RELIGION

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pp. 303-310

The current versions of Judaism as a religion prove to be least helpful and least tenable when we want to know what to make of the diversity of religious belief and practice to which we must resign ourselves as a permanent condition of world-Jewry. Even if the Neo-Orthodox or the Reformist conception of Judaism ...

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CHAPTER XXIII THE PLACE OF RELIGION IN JEWISH LIFE

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pp. 311-331

It is futile to deplore the loss of credal uniformity which marked Jewish life in the past. The number of Jews no longer content to accept unquestionably the religious traditions of their people is definitely on the increase. They insist upon the right to think for themselves. The only limitation to which that right ...

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CHAPTER XXIV THE FOLK ASPECT OF THE JEWISH RELIGION

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pp. 332-349

Religion always constitued an integral part of a civilization, insofar as it accentuated the significance and momentousness of the particular social group through which man achieved his personality. To take part in the religious behavior of the group was always obligatory upon each member of a class, tribe or nation. ...

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CHAPTER XXV THE PAST STAGES OF THE JEWISH RELIGION

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pp. 350-384

The past is always with us; our idea of it not only influences the present but also conditions the future. In the words of Zangwill, "We shall never get the future straight until we disentangle the past." For most Jews of our day, the past is little more than a chaotic blur. ...

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CHAPTER XXVI THE FUNCTIONAL METHOD OF INTERPRETATION

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pp. 385-406

The Jewish quality of the religion of the Jews will not depend on claims to supernatural origin or claims to being more rational or more ethical than other religions. Its uniqueness will consist chiefly in the fact that it will be lived by Jews, and will be expressed by them through such cultural media ...

PART SIX. TORAH. JUDAISM AS A WAY OF LIFE FOR THE AMERICAN JEW

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pp. 407-

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CHAPTER XXVII INTRODUCTORY. TORAH AS A WAY OF LIFE

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pp. 409-415

If the Jews regarded themselves as more qualified for salvation than the rest of mankind, it was not because they believed that they possessed intrinsically superior mental and moral traits. Very few representative teachers or thinkers entertained such a belief.1 The predominant teaching has been that the Jewish people ...

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CHAPTER XXVIII JEWISH MILIEU

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pp. 416-430

What native soil is to a plant, territory is to a civilization. Yet a tropical plant may be enabled to thrive in a northern clime by means of an enclosure within which the necessary conditions of temperature and sunshine are provided. Likewise, if Jewish life is to be cultivated outside its national homeland, ...

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CHAPTER XXIX JEWISH FOLKWAYS

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pp. 431-459

In Jewish tradition, all religious observances, civil laws and ethical principles are equally designated miṣwot, or "commandments." The implication is that they were all decreed by God. The distinction first met with in the Mishnah,1 between "commandments (pertaining to the relations) between man and God" ...

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CHAPTER XXX JEWISH ETHICS

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pp. 460-478

The worth of a civilization depends not only upon the ideals and values it professes, but upon its ability to energize them. Judaism formerly possessed that ability to an eminent degree. The concept of divine revelation reenforced the moral standards of Judaism so that they acquired the potency of physical causes. ...

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CHAPTER XXXI THE MEANING OF JEWISH EDUCATION IN AMERICA

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pp. 479-508

The radical change in the life of the Jew could not but be reflected in an equally radical change in the historic functions of Jewish education. Formerly, when parents gave their child a Jewish training, they provided him with the means of making his way in this life and in the hereafter. ...

CONCLUSION

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pp. 509-

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CHAPTER XXXII CREATIVE JUDAISM—A PROGRAM

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pp. 511-522

The differences between the world from which the Jew has emerged and that in which he now lives are so sharp and manifold that they almost baffle description. The Jew shared with the rest of the ancient world the universal belief that salvation meant the attainment of bliss in the hereafter as a result of having lived ...

NOTES

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pp. 523-

ABBREVIATIONS

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pp. 524-

NOTES

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pp. 525-554

INDEX

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pp. 555-601


E-ISBN-13: 9780827610507
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827609181

Publication Year: 2010