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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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. ...
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." ...
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.
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."
(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.
Kaplan and Birmingham (1963)
While working on a project for The Ira and Judith Kaplan Eisenstein Reconstructionist Archives of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (here), I came across a letter to Mordecai Kaplan from Rabbi Everett Gendler, a prominent student of Kaplan’s who is still living, thanking Kaplan for his speech to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly (RA) convention of 1963 and for his role in “ma[king] it possible for the Rabbinical Assembly to speak as it should have on the Birmingham Situation.”
Gendler, a member of the convention’s program committee, had in the previous year participated in prayer vigils and protests in Albany, Georgia, in support of Civil Rights. He led a group of 19 Conservative rabbis who left the 1963 RA convention to go to Birmingham, Alabama to support Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in their on-going efforts to desegregate the city. (To learn more about Rabbi Gendler, click here.) King’s campaign was front-page news at the time because of the city’s use of attack dogs and high-pressure water cannons on protesters of all ages and its arrest of more than a thousand activists.
The RA delegation to Birmingham, the first to be sent to the South by a major American Jewish religious denomination, has a storied place in the history of American Jews and the Civil Rights movement. Kaplan, however, is never associated with it. I wondered: What is Gendler’s letter referring to? I found the answer in Kaplan’s diaries and in the 1963 volume of the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly.
Announcing Our New Educational Visioning Project
We are thrilled to share the evolving 21st century Kaplanian vision for Jewish education with you here on this website.
I am usually suspicious of simple metrics, but in this case presenting that vision for Jewish education "by the numbers" provides a useful summary of the project’s various dimensions:
- 5 years from conception to completion
- 18 rabbis, educators, and lay leaders contributing
- 4 different reading groups re-engaging with the chapter on Jewish education in Judaism as a Civilization
- 14 gems extracted from that chapter for their enduring relevance and contemporary value
- 3 passages tagged as of historical relevance but of no contemporary application
- 34 guide questions generated for school and life-long learning committees
- 60 rabbis, educators, and lay leaders filling out the Kaplanian Report Card
- 4 webinars planned to explore the website and vision in 5780.
And countless hours spent by Rabbi Erin Hirsh to make sure the website is well organized and user-friendly.
Also innumerable moments of Jewish and intellectual pleasure for me as I guided this process.
We now look forward to receiving from you a myriad of comments, refinements, and arguments l'Shem Shamayim. Learn, contribute, and enjoy!