The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
RECONSTRUCTION -- A PROGRAM

1
THE NEED OF RECONSTRUCTION

When we accepted the citizenship of the countries in which we Jews live, we covenanted ourselves to become an integral part of the general population, and to assume the same civic responsibilities as our nonJewish fellow citizens. Culturally and spiritually as well as politically, our aim is to be part and parcel of the non-Jewish life about us. We no longer have our own vernacular; we are no longer governed by Jewish law in secular matters; we are no longer educated in exclusively Jewish schools. Yet we need not give up either our continuity with the Jewish past or our unity with the rest of contemporary Israel. We can maintain both, provided we can devise a method of integrating them into our effort to live up to the highest ideals of citizenship.

Most of the methods that have been proposed consist of attempts to fit Judaism into the religious denominational pattern. A religious denomination is a group united by a common world-outlook and by a way of life which it regards as the most effective, if not the only, means to salvation, and which differentiates that group from all others. Since religion was the most conspicuous and significant element in the life of our people throughout the past, it is assumed to be the one element through which our twofold need for continuity and unity can best be satisfied. Since religious differences are tolerated in the modern state, it is believed that Jews can manage to survive as a religious denomination, even if, in other respects, they are no different from non-Jews.

But what exactly is the Jewish religion?

According to the original version of Reform Judaism, the Jewish religion consists of universal and eternal truths to be derived from our sacred writings. Those truths are not in the category of Jewish laws and distinctive cultural forms, which are purely national in character and, therefore, obsolete, now that Jews are either willing or expected to renounce their nationhood. Neo-Orthodoxy has reacted against Reform's abandonment of all that was distinctively Jewish. It has sought to conserve intact, under the aegis of religion, all of the traditional institutions, the customs, the rituals and the moral legislation of Judaism. But, in order to do so, it has had to adopt a religious dogmatism

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