Welcome to Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood
- "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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“Peoplehood and Personhood in the thought of Mordecai Kaplan”
To say that Kaplan believed strongly in peoplehood is of course an understatement. Peoplehood for Kaplan means relating to our history, our culture, and our religion. His values were universal and particular at the same time. He believed that all cultures and religions basically had the same values but expressed them differently through specific holidays, scriptures, and rituals that he called “sancta”. We live in the specifics. He once said, the universal without the particular is empty, the particular without the universal is blind. It is in the sancta that we see our unity, although we relate to them differently. Unity in diversity is the core of the Kaplanian attitude.
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?
Almost 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." ...
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.)
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.
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.
For the Cognoscenti: The Kaplan Quiz (Round 7)
What well-known rabbi claimed, in 1974, that he had persuaded Kaplan to add the word “religious” to Kaplan's original definition of Judaism as “the evolving civilization of the Jewish people”? (Hint: That rabbi at the same time reported that he had turned down Kaplan’s invitation to serve on the first editorial board of The Reconstructionist magazine 40 years earlier.)
Please send your answers to [email protected]. Once again, the first person to answer correctly wins free admission to a Kaplan Center conference or other event. The correct answer will be posted in a few days.
You can see previous Kaplan Quiz questions, and the answers, 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].
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. ...
Living in Two Civilizations
For me, the full vigor of the notion of living in two civilizations is always most powerful when the American and Jewish civilizations are interacting with one another. Last week, in my little shtiebel of the Mayim Rabim Reconstructionist congregation of Minneapolis, this was very evident. Oddly, the depth of the interaction was facilitated by the third civilization in which we live, the digital-global one.
The week was weighty for our American civilization, a tapestry woven out of MLK day, the Presidential inauguration, and the “women's” marches across the country. Inspired at least indirectly by the volume of Kaplan, Williams and Kohn titled The Faith of America (1951), our synagogue board knew that congregants needed an opportunity to glean strength, support,and (frankly) comfort from other congregants and Judaism in navigating this week in American life.