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Call for a New American Judaism

Some Jewish leaders feared that American Judaism was failing to meet the challenges posed by modernity. Soon after World War I, Mordecai M. Kaplan, an Orthodox rabbi on the faculty of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, formulated a program for the "reconstruction" of American Judaism. Kaplan's ideas were influential, especially within the Conservative movement. In 1922, his theories were given concrete form by the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which later evolved into a movement known as Reconstructionism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the first place, we are intensely desirous of having Judaism play an important role in the spiritual life of mankind, and we therefore refuse to view with equanimity the plight in which Judaism finds itself today. We are not deceived by the few sporadic signs of activity and interest in things Jewish, because we know full well that they represent nothing more than the momentum of Jewish life in the past. . . .

. . . we are agreed that the salvation of Judaism cannot come either from Orthodoxy or from Reform. Orthodoxy is altogether out of keeping with the march of human thought. It has no regard for the world view of the contemporary mind. Nothing can be more repugnant to the thinking man of today than the fundamental doctrine of Orthodoxy, which is that tradition is infallible. . . .

Our dissent from Reform Judaism is even more pronounced than that from Orthodoxy. . . . The reason for this attitude of ours toward Reform is that we are emphatically opposed to the negation of Judaism. The principles and practices of Reform Judaism, to our mind, make inevitably for the complete disappearance of Jewish life. Reform Judaism represents to us an absolute break with the Judaism of the past. . . .

In view of the fact that existing congregational and rabbinic organizations seem to be insensible to the danger which is threatening Judaism, and spend most of their time either perfecting their machinery or listening to speeches full of soothing banalities, it is imperative that something be done immediately apart from those organizations to halt the impending disaster to our religion.

In getting to work upon a program for the reconstruction of Judaism we must take care not to miscalculate the magnitude of the task before us. . . .

The adoption of the social viewpoint is an indispensable prerequisite to a thoroughgoing revision of Jewish belief and practice. That viewpoint will enable us to shift the center of spiritual interest from the realm of abstract dogmas and traditional codes of law to the pulsating life of Israel. We will then realize that our problem is not how to maintain beliefs or uphold laws, but how to enable the Jewish people to function as a highly developed social organism and to fulfill the spiritual powers that are latent in it. . . .

In view of these considerations, I believe that a program for the reconstruction of Judaism ought to include the following three items: (1) The interpretation of Jewish tradition in terms of present-day thought. (2) The fostering of the social solidarity of the Jewish people through the upbuilding of Palestine, and the establishment of Kehillahs [communities] and communal centers in the Diaspora. (3) The formulation of a code of Jewish practice so that every Jew may know definitely what constitutes loyalty to Judaism.

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