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What is Reconstructionist Judaism?

By Rebecca Partington
Updated May 23, 2024
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Reconstructionist Judaism is a branch of Judaism which places emphasis on the continual development of Judaism and the Jewish people. Jews who support Reconstructionist Judaism actively encourage this development because they feel that change is what has kept Judaism in practice over a very long period of time. Jews who practice Reconstructionist Judaism examine traditional Jewish beliefs and practices in light of both their historical and their present-day context. They then decide how those beliefs and practices might be accepted, adapted, or rejected in a manner that best suits present-day needs and values.

The Reconstructionist Jews have some important main beliefs, such as the belief that Jewish people should carefully examine their beliefs in order to fully understand them. They believe that God is the source of all meaning in life and that religion is a way to try to understand that meaning. Reconstructionist Judaism also supports the humanist view of religion, which means that people create religions rather than receiving them fully formed from a divine source. The humanist view also recognizes the validity of other religions and encourages communication and goodwill between them.

Reconstructionist Judaism was founded by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan in the 1920s. He wrote a book and started a magazine, both of which were greatly influential in the development of the new branch of Judaism. Kaplan believed that traditional Jewish beliefs and practices were important, but that their relevancy should be examined closely. While traditional Judaism asserts that beliefs and practices are important because God commands them, Reconstructionist Judaism asserts that they are important because many people believe and practice them together as a community.

Kaplan also thought of Judaism as a civilization instead of a religion because it includes language, art, culture, ethics, history, and other elements essential to civilization. Kaplan's view of God was that God was the result of the process of human self-fulfillment and that an actual God may or may not exist. While Kaplan's views of the existence of God have influenced Reconstructionist Judaism, many Reconstructionist Jews believe in the actual existence of God.

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Discussion Comments
By frankjoseph — On Oct 23, 2009

Reconstructionism also takes a gender neutral approach to it's form of Judaism. In fact, it was the father of the Reconstructionist movement, Rabbi Kaplan, who initiated the Bat Mitzvah (for 12 year old girls). Previously there was only the Bar Mitzvah (for 13 year old boys). Bat Mitzvah's have even permeated some Orthodox synagogues.

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