Reconstructionism is a progressive movement that makes Judaism relevant to contemporary life, with an emphasis on social action, the arts, and community, while still honoring Jewish tradition. Reconstructionist Judaism is passionate Judaism. We constantly experiment with new ways of worshipping, studying, and strengthening community to make our Jewish experience more meaningful.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, whose vision and interpretation became the Reconstructionist movement, saw an opportunity to incorporate the American ideals of equality and democracy into the study and practice of Jewish life. For Kaplan, “The past has a voice but not a veto.” He promoted the idea that rituals are made holy due to the unity and community of the people performing them, as opposed to the traditional Jewish view that God’s command is what makes rituals mandatory.
He saw Judaism not as a religion, but as an evolving religious civilization, characterized by beliefs and practices, as well as language, culture, literature, ethics, art, history, social organization, symbols, and customs. Kaplan promoted the notion of a synagogue-center that offered religious prayer services as well as study programs, drama, dance, song, sports, and exercise.
Egalitarian, democratic, welcoming of interfaith and non-traditional families, pluralistic, participatory, and innovative, Reconstructionism infuses the wisdom of traditional Judaism with modern philosophical, psychological, and social insights. As Reconstructionists, we hold diverse ideas about God while embracing the hopes, values, and beliefs that impel us to work for a better world. Our philosophy gives us strength and solace in times of need, challenges us to grow, and inspires and encourages us. Reconstructionist Judaism isn’t what you expect, and the surprise will delight you.
How Are We Different?
People from many different backgrounds find that Reconstructionist Judaism speaks to them in a unique voice. We share Reform’s commitment to making Judaism accessible and desirable for modern lifestyles. We also share an emphasis on social action. We differ in that we tend to maintain more Hebrew and more traditions in our services and daily lives. We study and innovate traditions to make them meaningful to us.
Our movement was born out of, and feels close to, the Conservative Movement. We differ because our values call for more “opening” of traditions to new participants and interpretations. We invite creativity and democracy into Jewish practice. While we try to capture the spirituality of Orthodox Judaism, we differ in that we do not see Torah as a set of God-given, unchangeable laws, but as the beginning of a meaningful human process. We are much more accepting of individual choices in Jewish belief and practice.
Our diverse views of God share an emphasis on godliness rather than the supernatural. We value that power in the universe that infuses creation with a sense of transcendence, connects us to one another and impels us to improve the world and ourselves. You might say that the best in us is in the God in us.
What do Reconstructionists Value?
- We love being Jewish! Our Judaism is joyful and life-affirming.
- We value critical thought. We accept that some of our ancestors’ “best efforts” to understand and live ethically in the world can be updated to be more inclusive and more meaningful. We like to ask questions. “What has this custom or idea meant to Jews in different times and places? How might we borrow from, or add to, this tradition, so that it can still speak to us today?”
- We cherish the Hebrew language, and it is an important part of our worship together. We want its beauty and its comfort to be accessible to all, so our prayer books and services have generous translations and transliterations.
- We are egalitarian. Women and men are equal participants, equally honored and represented in all prayers, traditions and leadership.
- We are not exclusionary. Non-Jewish partners and family are welcome members in our services and community. We reject a view of “chosenness” that implies that the Jewish people have a monopoly on religious truth and godliness.
- We are all learners. A Reconstructionist rabbi is “trained to explain” and we welcome members at all levels of knowledge, observance and participation.
- We value democracy and participation. Lay people are active partners in worship, ritual and informed decision-making about Jewish practice.
- We are a community that supports and cares for the each other.
- We work for Tikkun Olam (making the world a better place) through social and environmental action.
- We bring contemporary thought and creativity to our worship.
- We are respectful of traditional Jewish practice but also open to new interpretation and forms of religious expression; tradition has “a vote but not a veto.”
- We believe that we are involved in the current evolution of Judaism and are responsible for shaping the spiritual and cultural legacy we will leave to future generations.