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 and Heschel
Two books dealing with fundamental theological issues appeared in the fall of 2013, both published by Indiana University Press, my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan and Shai Held’s Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence. The journalist and writer Shmuel Rosner interviewed us both by e-mail. Our responses to his provocative and challenging questions were published on JewishJournal.com. They can be viewed by clicking the links below.
Interview with Mel Scult:
Interview with Shai Held:
Many thanks to Shmuel Rosner for conducting these interviews.
For Mel's blog, click here.
For Mel's latest book, click below:
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
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.)
Imagine the Possibilities: The Future of Jewish Liturgy and Prayer
Please join us in Manhattan on Sunday, May 17, 2015 for a conference presented in partnership with Mechon Hadar.
For more information, please click here.
For the live stream of the conference on Sunday, beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time, please click here.
The video recording of “The Human Foundations of Divine Law: A Conversation about Halakhah with Rabbi David Wolkenfeld and Rabbi Ethan Tucker” is now viewable here.
Diary of Mordecai M. Kaplan
Monday, June 29, 1953
We left Jerusalem at 8:15 AM last Thursday, June 25, exactly 13 weeks after we had arrived there. The TWA plane left Lydda at 12 and arrived at Athens at three. The official at Lydda who looked at the passport noticed that I was registered as Rabbi. He, therefore, asked me whether we wanted Kosher food for lunch on the plane. We were, no doubt, the only passengers that preferred Kosher, yet we were served it in grand style.
By 4.00 PM we were on our way to the Acropolis. There we hired a guide for $2.00 who showed us around. It was a moving experience for me. I felt the shock of self identification with the basic elements of Western civilization, the mythology, history, philosophy and art of ancient Greece. Coming after the thirteen weeks I had spent in Israel, it was like a refreshing shower after a grueling workout in the gym. That was only mentally and spiritually. Physically, I was quite tired. When evening came round Lena and I sat in the park near the Grande Bretagne where we were staying, watched the people sitting around leisurely, ordering their drinks, and conversing, all in the intimate fashion of European life. Even we couldn't avoid ordering ice cream. After a while we went back to our hotel. Friday morning at 9.00 we had the same guide take us to the synagogue – a newly built simple marble structure. The Shamash told me that out of the 60,000 Jews who had lived in Athens before the war, only 3000 were left and that many of them wished to migrate to Israel. Only about 120 children attended the religious school which is conducted by a young man from Israel. Opposite the synagogue is a Jewish hospital that was established with money provided by the JDC. In the lobby of the synagogue is a marble slab recording the fact that 800 souls perished at the hands of the Nazis.
From the synagogue the guide took us to the Museum of Ancient Relics. Not quite the same feeling of self identification as in the Acropolis – like the difference between being on top of Mt. Blanc and seeing it from a distance. From there to the Tower of Winds which is situated near the ancient Roman marketplace and not far from the Agoura.
As we were preparing to leave Athens at 3.00 by plane, I asked one of the officials that he provide Kosher dinner for us on our way from Rome to Paris. We arrived at Rome at 6.00. Just before dinner was to be served, Lena and I recited the Sabbath eve prayers. As I was reciting them, I experienced a sense of self identification with my early Israelite ancestors through the medium not of visible things and places but of living words, which they had conceived, written down, transmitted and which generation after generation repeated. As for the glories of mythology, I am inclined to prefer the one of Vayechulu to the one about Zeus and Semele, or the many about Minerva. This time the Sabbath eve prayers performed for me the important function of helping me recover the significance of my Jewish identity. We learned that TWA had wired to Rome to provide Kosher for us. We had “gefilte fish” de luxe.
We are grateful to the Jewish Theological Society of America for permission to reproduce pages from Kaplan's manuscript diaries on our website, as well as for making the diaries available online (http://sylvester.jtsa.edu:8881/R/S95CIHP5QI6PHY6RVIGH2RH4VC7AS7J26NKKU71TPELINCK4DQ-00684?func=collections-result&collection_id=1335).
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. ...
Deborah Dash Moore
This fascinating diary entry covers two days: a Thursday and a Friday at the end of June 1953, eight years after the conclusion of World War II, five years after the State of Israel was established, and only ten days after the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for conspiracy to commit espionage.
Mordecai and Lena Kaplan are flying from one sacred city—Jerusalem—to another—Rome—via a third—Athens. Each city physically embodies religious and cultural traditions—Jewish, Christian, and Western—that Kaplan engages as a Jew. ...