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Redefining Judaism

posted 10 Dec 2010, 09:25 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 10 Dec 2010, 09:26 ]

Of all the Jewish thinkers that were active in the twentieth
century, none stands out as revolutionary and as
controversial as Mordecai Kaplan.  Kaplan was paradoxical.
He maintained high levels of religious observance in his
daily life and in addition to his studies at the Jewish
Theological Seminary in American he also studied for
Orthodox ordination. He served as an Orthodox rabbi for a
short period of time and was also participated in the
founding of the Young Israel movement.

For Kaplan Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative versions of
Judaism and additional subsections not mentioned are based
upon the view that the key differences between Jews and
non-Jews lie solely or primarily in the area of religious
thought. For Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaisms ,
the challenge of Jewish life in light of modernity is the
appropriate adaption of Jewish beliefs and practices -even
as was noted in the case of Neo-Orthodoxy.

For Kaplan the challenge of Jewish life in the twentieth
century was based on far more than the issue of Jewish
religion. Jewish faith is only one element in the life of a
Jew that is challenged by modernity. Yet despite his
commitment to Jewish life as recognizable to traditionally
oriented Jews, his theological predilections were such that
the fundamental nature of Jewish theological identity was
transformed in his reconstruction of Judaism. His work
"Judaism as as Civilization and The Meaning of God in Modern
Jewish Religion" and the philosophy behind them highlight
very different notions of God,  Torah, and Israel when
compared to classical Jewish perspectives. Yet while Kaplan
was vilified by many Orthodox and finally excommunicated by
the rabbis of Agudath Israel, not all his right of center
critics were ready to completely dismiss if not the
motivation behind Kaplan's restructuring or reconstruction
of Judaism, the very issues he addressed

In his quest to define what Judaism is, Kaplan took issue
with all the movements existent in his day. While
acknowledging the "success" of the Reform movement if in
nothing else, preventing the flow of thousands of Jews in
Western Europe and in the United States from abandoning
Jewish identity, Kaplan saw Reform Judaism as espousing a
religious philosophy devoid of the meaning of the Jewish
people and its distinctive culture. Kaplan argued that
Judaism reflected  "Jewish consciousness"; Judaism was the
"heart of the Jewish people."

For Kaplan then, a Judaism based solely on the idea of
ethical monotheism was unsustainable. Reform Judaism was in
essence asking Jews to be the "apostles" of what was for all
practical matters a religious philosophy. Furthermore the
great thinkers of Reform Judaism assumed that Jews had
always embraced theological ideas that were  advanced beyond
that of other nations. Having rejected a supernatural
revelation as the source of this claim, Kaplan saw inherent
weakness in any attempt to appeal to history as the arbiter
of such a view.

About the Author:

Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler and an enthusiast for
foreign languages, history, and foreign cultures. He
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