Kaplan takes Judaism personally. It is a magnificent obsession with him. I have a suspicion that just as the mystics of old used stay up at midnight worrying about the Shekhina, he stays up at midnight doing Tikkun Hatzos [a midnight ritual drawn from Jewish mysticism] and worrying about the Jewish people.”— Abraham Joshua Heschel, speaking at Kaplan’s 90th birthday celebration
This vision statement for the Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood is designed to be both inspirational and aspirational. The vision outlines the way in which the Center seeks to help interested individuals and groups of Jews access a range of Kaplanian resources that can deepen their sense of Jewishness and also make as vibrant a connection as possible between meaningful Jewish identity and the making of a better world (tikkun olam). In the most immediate sense, the vision guides the activities of the Center itself. It is also suggestive of the broader contributions of Kaplanian thought to the contemporary Jewish/world stage by others who are “Kaplanian” but not in the immediate orbit of Center programs and activities.
Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) is widely acknowledged to have been one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. The goal of The Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood is to insure that the influence of Kaplan’s thought in the 21st century is commensurate with that stature.
Why is this task so important? It is of vital importance to us that serious but religiously progressive alternatives in Jewish communal life will exist for our descendants, and we believe that implementation of Kaplan’s agenda for the reconstruction of North American Judaism and beyond is the best way to do so. While progress has been made in the last decade in launching initiatives that are explicitly or implicitly Kaplanian, the fullest realization of his agenda has yet to occur. The Center also continues to seek deepest possible alignment of a Kaplanian emphasis on Peoplehood (particularism) and Tikkun Olam (universalism).
- To be a Jew entails identification with the great drama that is the life of the Jewish people. We do so when we converse with Jews of the past and present, throughout the world, and use their wisdom and experience to enrich our own lives. This conversation includes Jews of Color, Jews who were not born Jewish and LBGTQ Jews. Jews should seek the freedom, security, and the social and spiritual welfare of Jewry everywhere.
- Judaism exists to serve the needs of the Jewish people. The Jewish tradition is an ancient yet fully contemporary way to attain what Kaplan called personal and collective ‘salvation’ or ‘shlemut’ [wholeness] – what others might call self-actualization or full mentshlikhkayt.
- Our religious traditions must be interpreted in terms of understandable experience that can be made relevant to our present-day. Jews will not abandon a Judaism that is vibrant and inspirational.
- Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. Its continuity through different stages, and its identity amid diversity of belief and practice, are sustained by its sancta: the heroes, events, texts, places, and seasons that it most values.
- All efforts to build a meaningful Jewish life must be evaluated from a critical perspective that is never complacent or self-satisfied.
ELABORATION OF CORE PRINCIPLES
- Jews today need non-supernatural understandings of religion that allow for pride, connection, and meaning without the triumphalism of choseness. The Divine must be worshiped in sincerity and in truth. This worship emanates from the appreciation of the infinite which must supplement every concept of the finite.
- Democracy is important to both the Jewish and global future. Jewish communities must underscore the multiple perspectives found in historical Judaism, value dissenting voices today, and embrace pluralism. Jews must engage with other Jews who view Judaism differently.
- Men and women should have equal rights and responsibilities in the synagogue, in other Jewish communal institutions, and in general society. Though Kaplan did not address issues of sexual orientation, the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews is in the spirit of his thought and writings.
- True religion is the will to live creatively, the will to face the world and change it, the will to face people and transform them, the will to bring forth the best out of the worst. The Jewish community in our day must join the global struggle against poverty, disease, ignorance, oppression, debilitating climate change, and war. But to qualify for participation in this struggle, Jewry must also set its own house in order. The Jewish community is not free from the evils that beset society in general.
- Jews must build educational frameworks that further the moral development of our youth and enable them to accept with joy their heritage as Jews. In all specifically Jewish instruction, whether in the traditional sacred texts, in Jewish history, in the languages and literatures of the Jewish people, or whatever else is Jewish, it is not enough to convey that information for the sake of satisfying intellectual curiosity, or bolstering Jewish pride, or perpetuating Jewish ritual, or even developing certain skills that may contribute to Jewish survival. All these achievements have their place in Jewish education as subordinate purposes. But the primary purpose must always be to qualify the Jew for such participation in the life of both the Jewish and the general community as will make for a better world.
FOCUSED DELIBERATION AND CREATIVE ENDEAVORS
As a civilization, Judaism best flourishes when Jews join together to creatively engage with all of the constituent elements of Jewish life. Specifically, Jews should strongly be encouraged to join together to:
- Revive the intensive study of our religious classics and extend the concept of Talmud Torah (study of Torah) to include all study that is motivated by the desire to improve human relations and to hallow human life. All the natural and social sciences of our day, as well as the literature and art of all cultures, can be drawn upon to deepen the spiritual life and broaden the spiritual horizons of our people.
- Embrace Jewish rituals of the past and create new rituals. Historical rites should be surrendered only when either their form or content is objectionable on esthetic or moral grounds, or when circumstances make their observance a practical impossibility. When the full traditional form of a custom cannot be followed, we should attempt to preserve it, in modified form, rather than discard it altogether.
- Study and use Jewish languages. Hebrew has played a unique role in unifying the Jewish people throughout its history. We recognize that other Jewish languages (Ladino, Yiddish…) have also enriched our civilization.
- Engage with the State of Israel. The number of Jews who visit Israel, who study in Israel, who are moved to learn its language, sing its songs, read its literature, participate in the solution of its social and economic problems, naturally live a more creative life than if the State of Israel did not exist. Israeli Jews gain as well from their interactions with Diaspora Jews and Judaism. Through the State of Israel, the Jewish People can play a significant role in human affairs and demonstrate the validity of its holiest ideals. Accordingly, Jewish nationalism cannot involve injustice to others including Palestinians who have different historical claims to the land.
- Utilize the wisdom of Jewish texts and tradition to continually engage in tikkun olam, the process of positive world transformation. Such global issues as racism, global warming, and resource inequity should be first critiqued from the perspective of Jewish values and then acted upon in such a way to bring more tzedek (justice) and rahamim (compassion) to the world.
- Develop the Jewish arts. Music, drama, dance, literature, architecture, painting and sculpture—all can and should be utilized to express and enhance the values experienced in living as Jews.
- Build compelling Jewish communities at the local, national and international levels.
On a more concrete level, the Kaplan Center’s agenda will include the following projects and programs, some of which are already in progress:
1. The promulgation of Kaplanian ideas that are tried and true and the incubation of new Kaplanian approaches online, in print, and in selected small conferences sponsored by the center or larger conferences cosponsored with others.
2. The publication of Kaplan’s writings that have never appeared in print, as well as the republication of Kaplan’s lesser-known books and articles.
3. The dissemination of portions of Kaplan’s diaries, as well as of audio recordings of conversations with Kaplan, and transcriptions of conversations with him.
4. The development and dissemination of visions of Jewish education that apply and adapt Kaplan’s conceptions of Jewish education to the realities, possibilities, and challenges of the 21st century.
5. The development of partnerships with North American Jewish institutions to further the above-listed goals.
6. The development of a close collaborative relationship with the existing Kaplan Center in Israel, currently housed at Kehillat Mevakshei Derech in Jerusalem.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY/ VISION AL REGEL ACHAT
Simply put, the mission of the Kaplan Center is to disseminate and promote the thought and writings of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan and to advance the agenda of the Kaplanian approach to Judaism in the 21st century. The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood is an independent, trans-denominational, not-for-profit organization. The Kaplan Center works in cooperation with the institutional bodies of Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association but has no affiliation with those organizations.