What is Reconstructionism?
A progressive, contemporary, and engaging approach to Jewish life.
A progressive and contemporary approach to Jewish life, based on the teachings of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983), Reconstructionism was for many years the “left-wing” of the Conservative movement, and gradually emerged as an independent fourth movement in American Jewish life, marked formally by the founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia in 1968.
Adapted from Rabbi Richard Hirsh, September 2002
Reconstructionist Judaism is based on a naturalistic, rather than a super naturalistic, understanding of Judaism. We understand Judaism to be the product of the religious experience of the Jewish people through history, rather than the “divine revelation” of God. Put differently, Reconstructionism sees Jewish tradition, culture, and religion as having grown “from the ground up” instead of from the “[mountain-]top down.” Reconstructionists believe that Judaism is more than a religion: it is the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.
While we do not take the Torah literally, we do take it seriously, as a record of the discovery by our ancestors of the essential moral principles and laws of society through which we are made fully human. We are respectful of traditional Jewish observances but also open to new interpretations and forms of religious expression; tradition has “a vote, but not a veto.”
Unlike Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, Reconstructionism does not view Jewish law (halakhah) as binding, although Jewish tradition is respected. Unlike Reform Judaism, Reconstructionism retains a more traditional approach to Jewish religious practice and places a greater emphasis on ritual observance and the centrality of Jewish peoplehood. Where Reform emphasizes individual autonomy, Reconstructionism emphasizes the importance of religious community and the role of custom (minhag) in shaping patterns of observance.
While Reconstructionists hold diverse ideas about God, and have differing conceptions of God, we are united by a belief in God. We share an emphasis on Godliness – those hopes, beliefs, and values within us that impel us to work for a better world. Our new prayer book series (Kol Haneshamah) speaks of God beyond the gender issues of male/female, and beyond the traditional metaphor of “king of the universe.” For example, in our prayer books God is addressed as, among other things, “The Healer,” “The Teacher,” “The Just One,” and “The Presence.”
The Reconstructionist movement today numbers over 100 congregations and havurot, and over 300 rabbis have been ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College since it opened its doors in 1968.
The Reconstructionist Movement
RRC, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is a progressive rabbinical school where people of all backgrounds engage intensively with Jewish texts, thought and practice. Beginning in June 2012, RRC also runs programs for the Reconstructionist congregational community.
Rabbinical education: At RRC, students gain both expertise and practical training. And they experience a transformative, supportive learning environment that inspires the work they will do as rabbis. Each will bring to the community a unique vision that integrates Jewish knowledge with dedication to the Jewish people, spiritual maturity, interpersonal skills and integrity.
Services for the community: RRC brings together the training of tomorrow’s rabbis with services for congregations today. It is the first combination of its kind in the Jewish world; we look forward to the many creative possibilities.
We are committed to our roots in tradition, to egalitarianism and inclusion, and to helping Jewish communities flourish. We emphasize participatory decision making. We shape vibrant Jewish communities where people connect on their own terms and help create the Judaism they want to live.
For resources based on the values, beliefs and history of Reconstructionist Judaism, visit www.jewishrecon.org.