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.
According to Jewish tradition, Jews are instructed to count the days of the "omer" -- the barley sheaf -- until the fiftieth day, which is when the first barley crop would be harvested. The fiftieth day is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot when, the rabbis tell us, Jews received Torah at Mt. Sinai. During the Omer period, reading Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) -- the most popular and accessible part of the Talmud -- is also a traditional part of these seven weeks. Pirke Avot is a source of ethical teachings codified around the year 200 C.E.
In 2005, Shavuot also corresponded with the 50th birthday of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. To celebrate our 50th birthday, JRF invited everyone to share in the study of Pirke Avot together. Reconstructionist Rabbis and educators presented three Mishnayot (sections) from one perek (chapter) of Pirke Avot on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of each week.
The teachings were:
Chapter Date Teachers
1 May 2, 2005 Rabbis Fredi Cooper, Jeffrey Eisenstat, Shai Gluskin
2 May 9, 2005 Deborah Eisenbach-Budner
3 May 16, 2005 Rabbis Shawn Zevit and Fredi Cooper
4 May 23, 2005 Rabbi Richard Hirsh
5 May 30, 2005 Rabbi Steve Segar
6 June 6, 2005 Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
See http://126.96.36.199/pirke-avot/index.html for more information.
In an article in the Jerusalem Post this week, entitled What Jews Believe, Andrew Silow Caroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, posed a question to four rabbi frends that was directed to Republican presidential candidates by an audience member holding up a Bible at their debate: "Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically this book that I'm holding in my hand. Do you believe this book?" read more »
Among Caroll's rabbinic respondents was Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Read his reply.
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.
If the expression, "the written and oral Torahs are the words of God delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai" cannot be read literally, then what does it mean? I believe the Rabbis of the Talmud are pronouncing the deepest respect possible for the received tradition.
One of the reasons that the language of reverence needed to be so powerful was precisely because of the radical innovations which the Rabbis themselves were facilitating in the development of Jewish law. The Rabbis were masterful agents of change.
The claim that sacred texts were written by human beings, not God, is most commonly thought of as serving a secular agenda.
For me, acknowledging the human hand that touches sacred texts strengthens my religious tendencies and feelings.
The Summer 2007 issue of JRF's magazine, Reconstructionism Today (RT) - "a voice for creative Jewish living" - is now online. This issue will not be mailed as we experiment with a new way of publishing that we hope will have many benefits.
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.
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.