• Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.  We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Welcome to Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

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  • "Reconstructionism is a method, rather than a series of affirmations or conclusions concerning Jewish life or thought. ... Reconstructionism is not the ideas about God, ritual, community ... which anyone may hold. It is a method of dealing with Judaism, or with that which unites Jews in time and space, and differentiates them as a group from non-Jews."  -- Mordecai M. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask (1956), pp. 80-81. 

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Mel's Desk

"Kaplan on Creation, Creativity, and Us"

Kaplan is much undervalued as a theologian.  We think of him as a sociological thinker, with his central concept of “Judaism as a Civilization.”  But, of course, he is much more than that.  We might refer to him as the sociologist become theologian.  Below we will see the theologian at work.

Kaplan understands that when we talk of creation we mean to refer to the order and unity that comes out of the chaos – out of the Tohu va-Vohu as the Torah puts it.  (I love this expression, not the chaos but the words, because there is so much chaos in my life and in the world that I need to remove.)  The order and the unity that are the primary qualities of creation may be found not only in the outer universe but also in the inner life of each of us.  The inner life is always a reflection of the larger cosmos.  We are connected.  Thus, whenever we create, we are in a sense contributing to the greater order and unity that is the ongoing process of creation. Our creative acts are a manifestation of the Divine. ...

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For Mel's latest book, including a discount code, click below:  

Mel discusses his book The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan in a podcast.

For that book, click below:

For an interview with Mel in the New Jersey Jewish News, titled "Judaism should serve the Jewish people," click here

For Mel's blog, click here

 

From the Executive Director

Why a Kaplan Center?

More than 80 years ago, at the very beginning of the very first issue of The Reconstructionist journal, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan and his colleagues reprinted an editorial from a 1928 issue of that journal’s predecessor, The S.A.J. Review, succinctly explaining their reasons for the creation of a new movement. “[T]he problem of Jewish life is just th[e] problem of unity,” the editorial stated. “A solution to the problem of Jewish life depends upon finding, or making, a positive ideology which will enable both Orthodox and Reform, both believers and nonbelievers, to meet in common and to work together. It is only by conceiving Judaism as a civilization, and not as a general religious movement embracing many sects, that we will be able to construct such an ideology and reconstruct the Jewish civilization." ...

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Audio and Video Archives

For one of the most cogent statements of Kaplan's theology, in his own voice, please listen to "Kaplan's Theology".

(From Mel Scult's collection of recordings of his interviews with Kaplan in the early 1970s.)

 

For Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's salute to Kaplan on the occasion of Kaplan's 90th birthday, please listen to "Heschel Salutes Kaplan".

(We are grateful to Heschel's biographer, Edward Kaplan, for providing this recording.)

More Audio-Visual Materials

 

You can experience, or re-experience, our "Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood" conference by clicking here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can watch or listen to recordings of recent Kaplan Center programs by clicking here.  

 

News from the Kaplan Center

Not yet on our e-mail list?  We would love to add you.  Please e-mail Dan Cedarbaum, at [email protected].  

 

The Kaplan Conversations

We are happy to offer you a new venture from the Kaplan Center.  Each month, we will present a selection from the recently published Communings of the Spirit – The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, Volume 2: 1934–1941, edited by Mel Scult.  We invite you to react to Kaplan’s often radical ideas, to his daily struggles with himself, and to his entanglements with the Jewish community.  We will then put up some of the responses on our website.

So come and join the conversation by clicking here.

The Kaplan Quiz (Round 11) 

In 2022 we will be celebrating the centennial not only of the SAJ's founding, but also of Judith Kaplan Eisenstein's Bat Mitzvah.  With that in mind, we ask:  What famous 20th-century rabbi wrote the following regarding Bat Mitzvah?

"Clear logic and principles of pedagogy virtually require equal celebration for a girl when she reaches the age of responsibility for mitzvot.  …  The difference which is made in the celebration for a boy and a girl upon reaching maturity makes a very hurtful impression on the feelings of the maturing girl, who has in all other areas attained equality."

Was it: 

(a)  Ira Eisenstein; 

(b)  Mordecai Kaplan;

(c)  Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg;

(d)  Stephen Wise;

(e)  Moshe Feinstein; or   

(f)  Robert Gordis?

Please send your answers to [email protected].  Once again, the first person who answers the question correctly gets free admission to a Kaplan Center conference or other event.  The correct answer will be posted within a couple of weeks.  

You can see previous Kaplan Quiz questions, and the answers, by clicking here.  

 

 

 

Eric's Forum

For the next year, I will be using this space to post selections from the published writings of Mordecai Kaplan that address issues of continued relevance to Jewish (and non-Jewish) life. Most of these will be passages that are not well known. A new selection will be posted every month. 

For each passage chosen, I will provide a brief introduction that places it in its historical context and situates it within the rest of Kaplan’s thought. After each excerpt, I will share my own thoughts on the passage and then invite you to post your own response to it. My hope is that this forum will thereby become a venue for a vibrant discussion of contemporary issues in Jewish life that is in dialogue with the thought of Mordecai Kaplan. Teaching Kaplan at McGill University and elsewhere, I have seen that engaging with Kaplan in this way leads to rich conversations.

This month’s selection is taken from Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers. This book was published by the Reconstructionist Press in 1956 and gathers together many of the “Know how to Answer” columns that Kaplan wrote for The Reconstructionist magazine throughout the 1950s. These columns were responses to questions addressed to Kaplan in writing at lectures given in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (Kaplan insisted that audiences submit their questions on note cards because he believed that this both led to clearer questions and encouraged them to formulate their thoughts as a question.) The book divides the columns thematically—Jewish peoplehood, God, ritual etc.—and each section begins with a significant article published in The Reconstructionist that challenged Kaplan’s approach to the subject, followed by the response that Kaplan published at the time. ...

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Education Corner

Jeffrey Schein

Text Me, and a Powerful Poem

Later this summer the volume Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology (Jewish Resources for Understanding, Embracing, and Challenging our Evolving Digital Identity) will be published by Hamilton Press.  I have shared with readers of the Kaplan Center website in an earlier column the ways in which the project seems to me to be quintessentially Kaplanian.  Creatively living in two civilizations demands an ongoing, mutually critical dialogue between our Jewish values and our everyday lives, which are increasingly digital lives.

Now I would like to offer a ta’am/taste of the volume in the form of a poem offered as commentary by Dr. Adina Newberg to a chapter on Jewish and human identity in the digital age. ...

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