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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

Part VII
SECTORS OF AMERICAN JUDAISM (3) Conservatism and Reconstructionism

FOREWORD

Conservative Judaism is the largest religious movement in American Judaism, Reconstructionist the newest. They belong together for two reasons.

First, for many years, Reconstructionism did not take institutional form, but was a viewpoint represented at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the philosopher of Reconstructionism and founder of its organizations. Therefore, until the last decade, Reconstructionism was a mode of Conservative Judaism, of importance primarily in matters of theology.

Second, both Conservatism and Reconstructionism lay great stress upon the folk and upon the importance of the beliefs and behavior of the people. Indeed, as we read Rabbi Agus's description of the main ideas of the two movements, we shall observe how the thought of Kaplan flows naturally from the emphases of Schechter, and how, in larger terms, the concerns of the major thinkers of Conservatism and Reconstructionism appear to be quite congruent to one another. Indeed, as Professor Liebman argues, it may turn out that in separating from Conservatism, Reconstructionism lost its capacity to influence large numbers of people outside its limited organizational framework and has therefore turned itself from a philosophy into a sect.

Yet Reconstructionists may well argue that they abandoned a sinking ship. Whether or not that is so, there can be no doubt of the sense of crisis, whether chronic or acute, within the mainstream of Conservative Judaism. It is, however, a crisis rather different from that affecting Reform Judaism. The latter seems to be felt in the far reaches of the Reform movement, by rabbis as well as by lay people, in the temples and not only in the national offices. By contrast, the issues felt to be ur-

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