Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan Writes Article Leading to Reconstructionist Movement

August 4, 1920

Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, a professor of Homiletics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, published “A Program for the Reconstruction of Judaism” in the Menorah Journal.  This article was a continuation of the thoughts he shared verbally at an informal meeting of rabbis and lay leaders earlier in the year.  Kaplan observed that institutional Jewish life in America had been defined by European immigrants.  He and his colleagues were concerned about its failure to engage second generation American Jews.  Kaplan wrote,

Judaism in America has not given the least sign of being able to perpetuate itself…Judaism under democratic conditions such as obtain in this country has thus far not been able to develop that vitality which could endow it with creative power and make it capable of sustained effort and adaptability.

He also emphasized that Zionism was a key component in his “reconstruction” of American Judaism, arguing that “the fate of Judaism is bound up with the success of Zionism.”

In 1934, Kaplan further expounded his views in the book Judaism as a Civilization.  As a leader in the Conservative movement, Kaplan had hoped to stimulate change within the denomination.  However, his ideology eventually led to the creation of a fourth American Jewish denomination, the Reconstructionist movement.  The movement was officially born in 1968 when it opened its own rabbinic seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Today there are approximately 110 Reconstructionist congregations and havurot.

In the photo, Mordechai Kaplan is learning with students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.