Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

24
RECONSTRUCTIONISM IN AMERICAN JEWISH LIFE

CHARLES S. LIEBMAN

Certainly in the description of American Judaism, Reconstructionism takes a place far out of proportion to its small numbers. For it is the only expression of Judaism produced wholly within America, in response to the social and intellectual circumstances of American Judaism. Even though its synagogues and fellowships are few in number, its affiliated rabbis only a handful, and its seminary small and undeveloped, Reconstructionism has exerted influence far beyond its limited circle. That is what Professor Liebman explains for us here.

The view of Reconstructionism is that religion is a social phenomenon and Judaism is a 'civilization.' What links the diversities of "Judaism" is the "continuous life of the Jewish people," which, Reconstructionism holds, is a single and unitary social group, now and throughout the past. Professor Liebman's description of Reconstructionist theology and program, a useful supplement to what we have learned from Rabbi Agus, stresses the Americanness of the movement. Then he asks why it is that a movement so much in accord with American realities should have enjoyed so negligible a response among American Jews.

His answer depends upon the distinction, introduced in his earlier papers, between the religious elite and the folk. The elite takes theology seriously. Reconstruction is a movement influential in the first place among rabbis. The intellectual stratum of American Judaism is too thin to provide much of a mass base in the "Jewish People" for Reconstructionism. For the masses, "Judaism is a religion," and Reconstructionism accommodates the ideological needs of an ethnic group, rather than a religious community.


THE NATURE OF RECONSTRUCTIONISM

Ideology, Beliefs, and Definitions

Among themselves, Reconstructionists are not in complete agreement on matters of ideology and belief. All do agree that Mordecai

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