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November 01, 1991 - Image 29

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

tionist rabbis lead sermon-
dialogues; they speak for a
few minutes on a topic, then
open the floor to discussion.
What really makes Recon-
► -
structionists different is not
what goes on in the syna-
gogue but the home rituals,
-p the extra rituals (like gittim
ceremonies and Tu B'Shevat
seders), the informality of
the services and the
decision-making process.

hen Kaplan talked
about Jewish com-
munities, he had in
mind the European shtetl,
in which all the aspects of
life overlapped,; ' Rabbi
Gluck says. "One might
walk into the butcher shop
and hear the butcher hum-
ming a tune from the
synagogue service. All the
aspects of life that go into
Judaism were present at the
same time.

"Kaplan wanted to

rebuild that kind of organic
Jewish lifestyle in which all
the threads of Jewish life
were intertwined, so that a
Jew would go to work and,

having learned in the
synagogue about Jewish
1•• business ethics, would think
in those terms in his or her
work life. Similarly, when
Jews went to synagogue,
they would bring with them
I. ►
all of their expertise, con-
I•• cerns and values from the
rest of their lives."
"That certainly worked at
the Society for the Advance-
ment of Judaism," Ms.

Musher says. "The con-
gregation was very much at
0 ■ . the center of my life. We did
community service together,
we put on plays in Hebrew,
went on retreats together —
everything was very
"The SAJ was much more
than a place to pray," she
says. "It was a place to be
part of a family."
Rabbi Kaplan spoke of
"living in two civilizations,"

by which he meant con-

gruence should exist bet-
ween what one affirms in
the synagogue and what he
believes in the rest of his
life. He firmly believed that
the process had to work in
both directions; consequent-


Photo by Dan Rose n

When Rabbi Kaplan felt girls
needed a ceremony similar
to the bar mitzvah,
he created one of his own.

Sharon Musher:
Reconstructionism as a
philosophy, not a fourth

ly, ideas about democracy,
women's rights and political
activism have been promi-
nent in Reconstructionism
from its inception.
"The questions that have
recently faced Reform and
Conservative Judaism
about women rabbis and the
role of women in religious
services were essentially a
closed book in 1922," Rabbi
Gluck says. "Kaplan opened
that book and created a
movement that was fully
egalitarian in every way."
For example, when Rabbi
Kaplan felt that girls
needed a ceremony similar
to the bar mitzvah, he
created one of his own. The
first bat mitzvah celebration
in the United States was for
Rabbi Kaplan's daughter,
Judith, in 1921. Today, this
practice has been adopted,
in some form or another, by
virtually every Jewish con-
gregation in the United
The last few years have
seen a growing emphasis on
the Jewish arts in the Re-
constructionist movement.
The last convention of the
Federation of Reconstruc-
tionist Congregations and
Havurot focused on the arts,
and a recent issue of the Re-
constructionist magazine
was devoted exclusively to
the topic. Rabbi Kaplan's
daughter, Judith Kaplan-
Eisenstein, has been a par-
ticularly vocal advocate for
more emphasis on arts and
Rabbi Kaplan's main goal
in establishing Reconstruc-
tionism was not to set forth
a new set of religious doc-
trines and beliefs, but
rather to reform the process

by which Judaism evolved.
"Judaism has always
changed. It is not true that
there is a static Judaism
that was handed down and
lived the same way all the
time in all places," Rabbi
Gluck says. "We are unique,
however, in making that
change a conscious process,
rather than an unconsious
"The traditional notion is
that Jewish law was or-
dained by God and that peo-
ple had to follow it because
it was supernaturally or-
dained. Kaplan recognized
that Jewish law and culture
were really maintained on-
ly because Jews as a com-
munity took it upon them-
selves. Well, that kind of
closely knit Jewish com-
munity has broken down in
our society, and Kaplan's
sense was that only by
rebuilding that community
could we regain a vibrant
future for Judaism?' Rabbi
Gluck says. "The aim in Re-
constructionism is to make
people feel that Judaism is
theirs, that they own their
Every Reconstructionist
congregation and havurah
must decide on its own
whether to maintain a
kosher kitchen and keep
kosher at congregational
"Most congregations end
up deciding to observe
kashrut for the very Recon-
structionist reason that
Jewish peoplehood is the
center of Judaism, and we
want all Jews to feel comfor-
table coming to our
synagogues," Rabbi Liebling
says. "The synagogue
should be places of inclu-
sion, and having a kosher
kitchen makes the syna-
gogue more inclusive?'
It is in the spirit of inclu-
sion that Reconstructionist
congregations make an ac-
tive effort to reach out to
people that have traditional-
ly been made to feel un-
welcome in the synagogue.
"Our goal is for our con-
gregations to reflect the true
diversity of the Jewish peo-
ple, which includes every
variety of family: heterosex-
uals, gay men and lesbians,

single parents, two-parent
families, white, Ethiopian,
Russian — that's the reali-
ty of Jewish demographics,
but that's not accurately
represented in synagogue
life," Rabbi Gluck says.
"We are a paradoxical
movement of seekers and
skeptics, often at the same
time," Rabbi Liebling says.
"Traditionally, Reconstruc-
tionists were people who,
like Kaplan, had strong
Jewish backgrounds, but
who were skeptical about
divine revelation, a super-
natural God, chosenness,
etc. Then we also have many
people who come from a
secular background and are
seeking God, or religion, or
community, and who ap-
preciate our open and in-

tellectually honest approach
to spirituality."
Ironically, the SAJ is no
longer affiliated with
Federation of Reconstruc-
tionist Congregations and
Havurot; under the leader-
ship of Rabbi Alan Miller,
the SAJ is now a part of the
Conservative movement's
United Synagogue of
America. And, in a further
bit of irony, Ms. Musher's
parents now belong to
Kehilath Jeshurun — the
Orthodox congregation
where Rabbi Kaplan served
1902 to 1910.
Ms. Musher remains com-
mitted to the movement
founded by her great-grand-
"I often get the sense that
people look at Judaism as

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling:
"We are a paradoxical
movement of seekers and



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