Mordecai Kaplan's masterpiece continues to captivate readers three quarters of a century after its initial publication. Judaism as a Civilization is garnering national attention in part due to a January 28 piece by Diane Cole in the Wall Street Journal, titled Invented the Bat Mitzvah, Rejected a Supernatural God. Cole delivers a succinct recap of Kaplan's life and challenges, and explains why Judaism as a Civilization remains relevant today.
The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation is proud to have partnered with the Jewish Publication Society to reprint the book that inspired the birth of the Reconstructionist movement. Many consider this work to have contributed more than any other to the shaping of contemporary North American Judaism. JRF is grateful to Mel Scult, Kaplan's principal biographer, for providing this edition with a new introduction. This edition is dedicated to one of Kaplan's closest and most influential disciples, Rabbi Jack Cohen, in celebration of his 90th birthday.
You can order the book from the Reconstructionist Press's online bookstore: here. Affiliate members receive 20% off after checkout. You can also order copies from JPS.
The Kaplan Blog brings to the web a small portion of the material which will be used in the second volume of Communings of the Spirit: the Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan edited and with introductory material by Dr. Mel Scult. Dr. Scult is providing us with a unique opportunity to look over his shoulder, so to speak, as he interacts and compiles the material for the next volume.
At the beginning of each volume of Kaplan's diary (of which there are 27) Kaplan recorded quotations from books he had been reading and which he especially liked. He once wrote in the diary that people should be known by what they quote.
In the following quotation we see Kaplan quoting from Buber’s collection of Hasidic tales. Buber and Kaplan were very different but Kaplan did appreciate much in Buber’s philosophy and the Hasidic tales were certainly part of the legacy of Buber which Kaplan wanted to pass on. read more »
A rabbi once told the following tale:
Below you'll find a selection which reveals another place in the Kaplan diary where he discusses the problem of evil and the way to cope with it. I noted in the previous selection dealing with Kaplan's reactions to the play on the Diary of Anne Frank that Kaplan's impulse is to always focus on ways to cope with suffering even if we cannot explain it. Here he comments on a sermon by his most brilliant disciple, Rabbi Milton Steinberg. read more »
It was in the middle of the war and Steinberg gave a sermon on Thanksgiving that was astounding to say the least. Steinberg mentions the rabbinic dictum that we should bless the evil along with the good and applies this to the War. Neither Steinberg nor Kaplan knew the full extent of the Holocaust but they knew enough to make the reaction here all the more surprising and provocative.
Last night I went with my granddaughter Miriam to see the play Anne Frank. I thought it was marvelously well done, from every standpoint, but it left me extremely depressed. It embittered me against mankind for having made it possible for such a cold-blooded, calculating demonic crime to be perpetrated against millions of innocent men, women, and children to be enacted, and what is worse, to be erased from the conscience—if that crime made the least impression on it.
Every time I preach a sermon, the substance of which I had given to the men in the sermon seminar, I realize how much more difficult it is to speak from the pulpit than to teach in class. The more important the idea expounded, the greater the difference in the amount of care that has to be given to the development and illustration of it. read more »
When I had distributed to the men at the sermon seminar the outline on How to Seek God, I was sure that I could give a repeat performance of it from the S.A.J. pulpit on Rosh Hashanah, without giving it any more thought.
December 8, 1938 read more »
The first of the three requirements which Jewish studies must meet in order to qualify for centrality in the school curriculum is the ability to help the educand [student] achieve a cosmic orientation. No education fulfils its function if it fails to enable the child to orient himself cosmically. The need for cosmic orientation is to the human being just as natural as are the needs for health and sustenance. With his extraordinary capacity of memory, imagination and reason, man actually lives in an environment that infinitely exceeds in space and time the one he exists in physically.
The problem of Judaism would not be so acute if the traditional doctrine of revelation were merely obsolete. The trouble is that to cherish that doctrine is as unethical as being guilty of bigamy. To believe that we are in possession of the authentically revealed will of God is incompatible with religious tolerance to say nothing of religious equality. read more »
[Kaplan biographer Mel Scult writes: Kaplan was truly a revolutionary and I would like to maintain that we have not yet begun to understand the radical nature of his theological commitments. The central event of Sinai which we celebrate on Shavuot is not reinterpreted here or put into language that is more acceptable to us. It is rather dismissed as unethical because it assumes the existence of some eternal truth, a doctrine that Kaplan dismisses. Many moderns are in the same situation but they refuse to face it squarely and to see our situation for what it is.
I am entirely unequal to giving anything like adequate expression to the feelings that well up in my heart at the thought that the war in Europe is at an end. If only it were like waking up from a terrible nightmare! read more »
But unfortunately the unspeakable atrocities committed by the insane murderers are too real to disappear with the break of the dawn, and the living victims of the war are too much part of our own lives to be forgotten.