Adapted from the Keddem Outlook, April 1999 (Nisan/Iyar 5759)
We are often challenged to explain our movement, to respond to the preconceived notions of those fellow Jews who are curious: what are we up to? What does it mean to be Reconstructionist, and how is it different from other approaches to Judaism?
Reconstructionist Judaism has its roots in the perceptions and writings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. The foundations of Reconstructionism lie in the Conservative movement, but the driving concern of Reconstructionism is the creation and articulation of a Judaism that could be sustained, that could survive the 20th century, and would continue to grow as "the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people." Not merely capturing the spirit of the times, Kaplan recognized the need to reconcile Judaism to modern science, the need to emphasize Jewish peoplehood, and the various ways in which Jewish tradition might be utilized or redirected in order to assure Jewish continuity.
As Reconstructionists, we at Keddem seek to study our tradition and incorporate the best of the past while not slavishly clinging to concepts and practices which make no sense to who we are and what we need to create a meaningful existence. "The Jewish religion exists to serve the Jewish people, and not the Jewish people to serve the Jewish religion."
We also acknowledge that Judaism has always changed with the people as they lived. Never a monolith, it is clear from the study of our history that many forms of Judaic practice existed concurrently, although geography and communications were limited. In our own time, the virtually limitless communications capability we enjoy should enable a renaissance of study and exchange of ideas.
What are some Reconstructionist ideas? Most radical, to some, is the Reconstructionist concept of God. Unlike many religions, Judaism has never demanded a rigid or proscribed faith in the Deity as a condition for belonging. Like most liberal Jews, Reconstructionists differ from the traditionalists who maintain that the Torah is the literal word of God, given to Moses on Sinai, rather believing it to be a document written by human beings. Beyond that, Reconstructionism acknowledges that as individuals we all differ somewhat in our concepts of God and our feelings about the relationship of God and the world. Neither agnostics nor atheists are excluded from our community. While many of our prayers praise attributes of God, it has long been acknowledged that we are reflecting our own idealized attributes in these prayers, since it is impossible to understand God.
Reconstructionist thought also varies from that of other liberal movements around concepts of the "Chosen People" and the personal relationship of God and the Jews. Much of the traditional liturgy appears to appeal to a personal God capable of "granting petitions to the Chosen People." For one who believes that all people are capable of "emulating God" through ethical behavior, this concept is both chutzpah and non-inclusive. While we maintain our own uniqueness, we reject the idea that the validity of others' pathways to God and ethical behavior should be denied. Such denial leads to a form of elitism that is divisive and ultimately detracts from our humanity. The Reconstructionist liturgy reflects that rejection through appropriate alterations.
Reconstructionism is also sensitive to the idea that men and women are equal before God, and rejects patriarchal characterizations of God and prayer language that excludes both half the human population and God's own "female" aspects.
Now, as always, it is well to reflect on one's own freedom to choose a spiritual way and to preserve the rights of others to so choose. Reconstructionists acknowledge diversity of thought, belief, and action. Some may struggle with different ethical dilemmas and others with the minutiae of the details of keeping kosher. But while we may differ in our individual practice of Judaism, we are always respectful of the paths of others. We do not condemn people for being more or less observant, and we discuss our ideas in an open forum.
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