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.
- 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.
Adapted from Rabbi Richard Hirsh, September 2002
The Reconstructionist Movement
RRC is a unique kind of organization in the contemporary Jewish landscape. We are a progressive rabbinical school – where people of all backgrounds engage intensively with Jewish texts, thought and practice. And as of 2012, we are also the center for programs of the Reconstructionist congregational community – a community rooted in tradition and committed to egalitarianism and inclusion. Our new structure coincides with a total rethinking of how we train rabbis, a process we call Re-Imagining Rabbinic Education (RRE).
Training Rabbis: 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 graduate brings the community a unique vision that integrates Jewish knowledge with dedication to the Jewish people, spiritual maturity, interpersonal skills and integrity.Our curriculum is grounded in lively seminar-style courses and hevrutah (partnered) study. We offer a unique specialization in social justice organizing and a pioneering Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives. And our students’ extensive field work reflects the wide variety of roles that Reconstructionist rabbis play in congregations within and beyond the movement, as well as Hillels, schools, social-justice organizations, hospitals and interfaith organizations.Thanks to the RRE project, our students will be equipped to develop new expressions of contemporary Jewish life. The first two years of the new curriculum provide the foundation, emphasizing tradition and core knowledge. The next three-to-five years allow students to take a more active role in shaping their own education; they can opt to specialize, and they hone their skills in pastoral counseling, life-cycle officiation, and service leading.
Serving the Reconstructionist community: Members of Reconstructionist communities help create the Judaism they want to live. Today, with more than 100 affiliated congregations and havurot, the movement continues to grow and evolve.We work with affiliated congregations to build Jewish communities that are spiritually and intellectually vibrant and committed to Jewish learning, ethics and social justice. The movement provides publications, consulting services and resources on topics such as education, tikkun olam, fundraising, and spiritual community building. We also promote Reconstructionist values among our youth through No’ar Hadash – the Reconstructionist youth movement – and Camp JRF.