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November 01, 1991 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-01

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lE 11:wr

of the Sabbath Prayer Book.
Relationships between Or-
thodox and Reconstruc-
tionist Judaism have been
shaky ever since.
Perhaps the most wide-
spread misconception about
Reconstructionism is that
Reconstructionists don't be-
lieve in God.
"Frankly, I'm always a lit-
tle baffled when I hear
that;' says Rabbi Mordechai
Liebling, FRCH executive
director. "We're extremely
invested in ritual; worship is
the central part of most
synagogue life. I mean, God
appears on every other page
of every thing we've ever
What confuses many is
that Rabbi Kaplan believed
in a naturalist or trans-
natural God rather than a
supernatural one. He believ-
ed God was not an indepen-
dent, conscious being able to
reverse the course of nature
at will; instead, he thought
of God as an impersonal
force that existed in and
through nature and
mankind. He described God
as a process, or as a source
of inspiration, rather than
as an anthropomorphic
"Reconstructionists main-
tain a piece of that," Rabbi
Gluck explains. "Few Recon-
structionists believe in a
supernatural deity who can
alter the course of nature at
will. But in the last 20 years
there's been a new under-
standing of religious sym-
bolism and imagery.
"Many Reconstructionists,
while not believing in a per-
sonal God, are nevertheless
more comfortable with
traditional God-language.
We can talk about God in
personal, almost super-
natural-sounding terms, not
meaning that there is some-
one sitting on a throne in
Heaven, but thinking of all
those prayers and phrases as
religious metaphors, as the
traditions 1 Jewish way of ex-
pressing the inexpressible?'
According to a new bro-
chure produced by the move-
ment, Reconstructionists
"believe in a God who in-
habits this world and
especially the human heart.


God is the source of our
generosity, sensitivity, and
concern for the world
around us . . . the power
within us that urges us
toward self-fulfillment and
ethical behavior."
Sharon Musher is a
19-year-old Reconstruc-
tionist from Manhattan,
currently studying at the
University of Michigan. She
is also the great-grand-
daughter of Mordecai
Kaplan, whom she remem-
bers as "great-grandpa
Mark?' Like most Recon-
structionists, Ms. Musher
frequently struggles with
her ideas about God.
"Great-grandpa Mark
talked about prayer as a way
of drawing on a spirit within
you," she says. "I have some
trouble with that; I'm un-
comfortable with the idea of
praying to something inside
"My brother Abe prefers

to think of God as a higher
concept, like truth or justice,
and in praying to God we
discover something of it in
ourselves. I find myself
much more comfortable
with that interpretation of
Rabbi Kaplan himself was
as uncomfortable with
Reform Judaism's tendency
to abandon tradition as he
was with Orthodoxy's in-
sistence on blind obedience
to it. His goal, and the goal
of the Reconstructionist
movement, was to balance
tradition and innovation
and to actively involve the
Jewish community in
creating new meanings for
old rituals — "putting new
wine in old bottles?'


Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan:
A kind of "dual citizenship."

Because of his half-
century association with the
JTS, and because of the
Movement's 30-year history
of anti-denominationalism,
for many years Reconstruc-
tionism was viewed as simp-
ly a liberal tendency within
the Conservative move-
ment. Today clear dif-
ferences exist between the
official positions of the two
The main difference bet-
ween Reconstructionist and
Conservative Jews is in
their approach to Halachah
(Jewish law). Conservative
Judaism considers Hala-
chah a binding code of law
and makes changes only if
there is a solid halachic
justification. Reconstruc-
tionists do not consider
Halachah binding. As Rab-
bi Kaplan put it, "the past
has a vote, not a veto?'
"Unlike Conservativism,
we are a post-halachic move-

ment, and consequently we
place the locus of authority
not in a small group of rab-
bis in the seminary but
within each community;'
Rabbi Liebling says.
understand that every
generation of Jews needs to
take responsibility for their
Judaism," he says. "We need
to study the past, and know
our traditions, and make the
necessary adaptations for
the present. Halachah is an
important part of those deci-
sions, but it is not the sole
criterion. Contemporary
ethics, the teachings of
democracy, and science all
inform our decisions."
Consider, for example, the
way the Conservative,
Reform and Reconstruc-
tionist movements deal with
divorces. The Conservative
movement still uses the
traditional male-initiated
get (legal annulment).
Reform Judaism, for the
most part, has abandoned
the use of gittim and simply
accepts a civil ceremony as
Reconstructionism has in-
stituted the use of an
egalitarian get that can be
initiated by either men or
women. In addition, the
movement is in the process
of developing
ceremonies, so that the
divorce itself becomes a
more personally meaningful
"We have ceremonies for
birth, bar and bat mitzvah,
weddings, and death.
Divorce should be added to
that list;' Rabbi Liebling
says. "Ritual has very im-
portant teachings, and we
need to take those teach-
ings, evolve them, recon-
struct them and tailor them
to our contemporary needs
and sensibilities?'
Most Reconstructionist
synagogue practices are not
that different from Conser-
vative or Reform congrega-
tions, but the differences
that do exist are significant.
Reconstructionists are more
likely to sit in a circle, and
Reconstructionist rabbis are
less likely to stand in a
pulpit. Instead of delivering
a sermon, most Reconstruc-

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