Reconstructionist Judaism in Detail
The principles of Reconstructionism were formulated by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, z"l, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in the early part of the 20th century. He urged that modern American Jews try to understand and keep key elements of traditional Judaism, while also incorporating the best of modern democracy. Many innovations in the larger Jewish world, for example, Bat Mitzvah, had their origin in Reconstructionism. The major principles of Reconstructionism include:
Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. Begun in America as a response to the challenge of modern life, Reconstructionism understands that we live in two civilizations, Jewish and North American. We strive to take the highest values from each and bring them to bear on one another. Each generation has the responsibility to study its heritage and to reevaluate, refocus, and reformulate tradition to enhance Jewish life in the present and for the future.
Torah and Halachah [Jewish Law] have a vote, not a veto. Reconstructionists do not take the Torah and Halachah literally, but we do take it seriously. While we do not consider Halachah binding, it remains an important starting point for discussion and decision making as we struggle to make our tradition relevant to our lives. Reconstructionism is both respectful of traditional Jewish practice and open to new interpretations and forms of religious expression.
God is that power in the universe that gives meaning to our lives and helps us live life to the fullest. Kaplan encouraged Reconstructionists to wrestle with their own definitions of and relationships with God. Our diverse views of God share an emphasis on godliness, rather than on the supernatural. Like Kaplan, we believe that God is a source of meaning in our lives, and that Judaism is our path for discovering that meaning and finding fulfillment.
Reconstructionists accept patrilineal descent. A person is considered Jewish if he or she is born of a Jewish parent, mother or father, and raised and educated as a Jew.
Reconstructionists are egalitarian. As professionals and congregants, on ritual and secular levels, men and women are equal. Traditional prayers have been revised to include our matriarchs and gender-neutral God language.
Hebrew is a living language. Hebrew is our universal language of prayer and the spoken language of the State of Israel. We believe it is important to use it and pass it on to the next generation. Our prayer books contain prayers in Hebrew, English transliteration, and English.
Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. We also believe in the legitimacy of Jewish life in the Diaspora.
The origins and principles of the Reconstructionist Movement are based on a democratic model. At Kol HaLev, this means that congregants and our rabbinic leadership are involved in a dynamic democratic partnership in which decisions are arrived at jointly, with the Rabbi serving as teacher, facilitator and partner. We recognize that participation produces growth – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Members at every level of Jewish knowledge and observance are encouraged to participate fully in all aspects of congregational life.