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.
The Kaplan Quiz (Round 5)
The well-known rabbi who wrote that "I am closest in spirit to Reconstructionism" was Solomon Goldman, and the bulletin was that of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, the congregation that Rabbi Goldman served from 1929 until his death in 1953.
On Sunday, November 20, at that synagogue, we will be exploring Rabbi Goldman's legacy, as well as the legacies of his successors in Anshe Emet's pulpit, the first of whom was Rabbi Ira Eisenstein. Please click here for the details.
You can see previous Kaplan Quiz questions, and the answers, by clicking here.
In Memory of Rabbi Dr. Harold Schulweis, z"l
The recent death of our revered Senior Fellow Rabbi Dr. Harold Schulweis, one of Mordecai Kaplan’s greatest students and a congregational rabbi whose ideas and work reverberated far beyond the walls of his California synagogues, led me to revisit the many references to him in the Kaplan diaries of the 1950s. Below are two entries that are interesting for different reasons. My thoughts on these excerpts appear in italics underneath the selections.
1) Saturday night, June 11, 1955
On Thursday June 2 I left for Oakland at 1.00 PM (N.Y. time) and got to San Francisco at 6.30 PM (San Francisco time). I was met by Rabbi Harold Schulweis who after considerable pleading had gotten me to accept the invitation of the Oakland Jewish Community to deliver the main address at their Tercentenary Service scheduled for June 5. ...
Reconstructionist Jewish Education Today: Evolving the Vision
Shlomo Alkabetz, the Kabbalistic liturgist of “Lecha Dodi,” reminds us that there is a complex relationship between action and intentionality. Of the Sabbath we sing, “Sof ma’aseh b’mach’shava t’chila,” last day to be created but the ideational foundation for all that preceded it.
We might say the same about the ordinal relationship between the chapters in Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization. It turns out that Kaplan’s chapter on Jewish education is the last full chapter of Judaism as a Civilization. Yet, Jewish education is most powerfully the knowledge and reflective thread woven through prayer, ritual, “Tikkun Olam,” and community building. Learning functions this way in John Dewey’s functional philosophy of education to which Kaplan is so deeply indebted.