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Philosophically, Reconstructionism has its roots in the work of Mordechai Kaplan, who argued for a naturalistic conception of G-d and a functionalist view of Judaism as a religious civilization. He acknowledged that Jewish communities have always evolved to adapt to their historical circumstances, and was particularly interested in the ways in which American Judaism could construct communities that would permit its members to live in two civilizations (American and Jewish) at once, participating fully in each of them.
Kaplan's conception of G-d was a transnatural one -- he spoke of "the power in the Universe that makes for salvation", rather than an anthropomorphic G-d intervening to reward and punish. As a result, the tradition we have inherited (e.g. keeping shabbat and kashrut, the text of our liturgy, etc.) is our cultural inheritance of how our ancestors related to this power in the universe -- it is not an unchanging divine mandate. Our tradition should, indeed must, be reconstructed in each generation to reflect our own understanding of this relationship -- as Kaplan said, "The past has a vote, not a veto."
Kaplan's conception of G-d spoke of "the power in the Universe that makes for salvation", rather than an anthropomorphic G-d intervening to reward and punish. By salvation, he meant the power to improve oneself, not any sort of religious salvation.
The philosophy of the movement contains a principle called "Transvaluation". This means that any person (at least the leaders of the movement) have the right to re-define a word to make it mean what they want. Kaplan did not believe in G-d, but he did believe that nature existed; he also believed that the universe was open to the possibility that people could better themselves. Kaplan "transvalued" the word "G-d" to mean the nature of the world. As a result, people who no longer believed in the traditional Jewish conception of G-d could now call themselves "religious" and could say that they "believe in G-d". This system proved quite appealing to a large number of people who had a deep love for the Jewish way of life, but who were not religious in the traditional sense.
Kaplan's personal theology was extremely rationalistic, but in forming his movement's seminary he probably did not realize the long term effects. He set up a seminary in which people could train to be Reconstructionist rabbis. In doing so he encouraged the study of religious texts, even if he himself discouraged what most people would call "religion". What eventually began to happen was obvious in hindsight: Hundreds of committed Jews studied for years in a religious environment, and they began to do what Kaplan rejected his whole life: They began to believe in the traditional Jewish G-d, especially as G-d was envisioned by the Medieval Kabbalists. As a result, many people in the Reconstructionist community now have a traditional Jewish belief in G-d!
One hallmark of the Reconstructionist community has been its flourishing creativity. It has been at the forefront of many modern trends in Judaism, especially in the egalitarian approach to religious life and liturgy.
In terms of size, the Reconstructionist movement is smaller than the Reform or Conservative movements. Reconstructionist communities are generally quite spiritually open, and quite accepting of experimentation.
The organization of Reconstructionist Congregations is called the Jewish Reconstruction Federation <http://www.jrf.org>.
Additional information may be found in the Reconstructionist Reading List, available at http://www.scjfaq.org/rl/jrc-index.html..
This is a primarily North American movement that has nothing in common with "traditional" Jews in Israel. It is a relatively new offshoot from Conservative, but philosophically closer to Orthodox. They attempt to be as lenient as possible within an Orthodox framework, although many Orthodox would not accept their leniencies, such as using microphones on shabbat. It has yet to be determined if conversions and divorces under Traditional auspices are acceptable within the Orthodox world.
There is an umbrella organization for the organized "Traditional" movement (please contrast this usage with the generic term "traditional"). This organization is the Union for Traditional Judaism. More information can be found on their home page, http://www.utj.org/home.
Humanistic Judaism practices a non-theistic form of Judaism. For those involved in Humanistic Judaism, Judaism is the culture and the historical experience of the Jewish people. Jewish history has taught us to rely on human power to discover truth. It is a break from both Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism because it does not use theistic language in its liturgy.
Humanistic Judaism acknowledges that it is possible to integrate knowledge of and respect for other beliefs into the education of a child being raised in Humanistic Judaism, without confusing or intermingling distinct and different religious traditions, and without mixing or compromising the child's identification with Judaism. Specifically, the Jewish members of a mixed family may participate in the cultural observances of the non-Jewish members as guests of the latter, not as celebrants. Humanistic Judaism does not approve of the concept of mixing or joining religious identities with other faiths. Additional information may be found in the Humanistic Reading List, available at www.scjfaq.org/rl/jsh-index.html. A web page of links and information about Humanistic Judaism is available at URL: <http://www.teleport.com/~hellman>.
You can also contact:
Society for Humanistic Judaism
28611 W. Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills MI 48334
+1 810 478-7610
or drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org (Society for Humanistic Judaism). Home page: www.shj.org. There is an electronic mailing list for those with an interest in exploring and/or furthering the development of Humanistic Judaism. The list is hjmail, it is available through yahoogroups.com.
Readers interested in Humanistic Judaism might also want to contact the sister organization to SHJ, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations (www.csjo.org). Written inquiries may be sent to:
Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations
19657 Villa Drive North
Southfield, MI 48076
+1 248 569-8127
Another good resource is the Center for Cultural Judaism, www.culturaljudaism.org
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to email@example.com. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© (c) 1993-2002
Daniel P. Faigin <email@example.com>