Creative Judaism

Rabbi Richard Hirsh’s Introduction to Creative Judaism (Ira Eisenstein, 1936)

Mordecai Kaplan published his 550-page Judaism as a Civilization in 1934, generating considerable interest and discussion among Jewish leaders. But Judaism as a Civilization was, in the words of Ira Eisenstein, “too elaborate for the average reader . . . a number of people interested in acquainting themselves . . . with the conception of Judaism as a civilization have requested that a shortened and simplified version of the book be prepared.”

Rabbi Eisenstein undertook that project, consolidating Kaplan’s extensive volume into a 200-page summary whose purpose was “to make clear exactly what it means to be a Jew” at a time when “many Jews today do not want to be Jews.”

Eisenstein’s little book, Creative Judaism, condensed Kaplan’s verbose prose into an accessible and readable summary of key points. Eisenstein explains concisely and clearly “Judaism as a Civilization”; “What Makes Judaism a Civilization”; and “What This Version of Judaism Implies.” 

His concluding chapter, “Creative Judaism—A Program,” explained to the average Jew how to “rediscover Judaism by learning to know its true scope and character”; to “redefine the national status and reorganize the communal life of the Jews”; and to “reinterpret and vitalize our tradition.” 

For those wanting to grasp “what all the excitement was about” when Judaism as a Civilization appeared, Creative Judaism was a quick and easy way into the discussion. 

While both books are approaching their 90th anniversaries, and the Jewish world out of which they emerged and to which they spoke is long gone, the essential ideas on which Kaplan’s approach to Judaism rests remain vital and vibrant. Creative Judaism helps us rediscover the importance of providing clear categories and concepts that can still help Jews navigate through their heritage in a meaningful and transformative way.