LOL @ no one reading my last post. You guys are bad Catholics.
Here is an interview with Rabbi David Katz of our Recon synagogue here in Williamsburg. He didn’t want me to publish it in the school paper, because he thought he sounded bad, but I think it sounds perfectly fine. This is verbatim, by the way. I think it gives it a spontaneous air.
What is Reconstructionism?
There are two answers. Answer one: It’s somewhere between Reform and Conservative. Answer #2 is generally speaking it’s where practice level is closer to Conservative but social-political attitudes are generally more Reform and progressive. It’s generally sociopolitically progressive. Usually progressive people who are interested in holding on to practice and finding ways to revalue traditional Jewish practice. Instead of saying, “These things are alien to me as an American, so let’s just not do these things,” so that makes services shorter, because too much is too much. Right, instead it’s prioritizing particularism as something that makes you unique. “Let’s do all this stuff because it’s neat and it’s part of our heritage.” And the things that bother us or we have a conflict with, let’s see if we can understand it. And if we can’t, let’s see if we can change it.
Originally Mordechai Kaplan was working for a lot of people for whom intellectual integrity was something they needed. They didn’t want to say “King of the universe” if that wasn’t a concept that worked for them spiritually. It’s something about the divine presence, I’m not looking for monarchy. That would have been more relevant language 200 years ago.
Would you say change is an internal demand or something external like “This isn’t convenient”?
It depends. I don’t know if I would have accepted that answer 20 years ago. Part of me would have said, “How come there can’t be absolutes?” What are the limits? The truth is, you kind of know them more as you get older. You can sense this is too far or this is too much. But that’s hard to structure communally. In the original Reconstructionism High Holy Days prayer book, he got rid of Kol Nidre, and it didn’t stick, people didn’t like it, so he put it back in. It’s a balance of intellectual integrity and tradition.
One of the things Kaplan said, ultimately, “Judaism is what Jews do.” And this is truth; this is what happens whether it’s something that is good, bad, or indifferent; and that’s why Judaism has survived this long. It’s why a relative minority continues to thrive and exist, where other cultures haven’t. Judaism isn’t inherently inflexible. It isn’t inherently monolithic.
There have always been different movements and different ways of experiencing it. So this has always been done. So it ends up being a balance of internal and external. One of the things Reconstructionism also does is emphasize community, and it emphasizes working together with community. It de-emphasizes some of the autonomy, like Reform does, like “Eh, do what you want.” The Reconstructionist practical reality is “You do what you want, but I’m assuming you’ll have a reason and you thought it through.” I eat poultry and dairy together, and I can tell you why, and it’s really simple. I have my own version of kashrut and I can explain why I do it that way; and all of that together makes my life better, and other stuff didn’t.
Kaplan had this thing about behaving, believing, and belonging. This was kind of a sociological analysis of religion. These are the different ways you can connect with religion. Behaving is what Conservative Judaism emphasizes. The meaning comes from having a boundary like that that you’re strict about, 6:23 [candle-lighting] you know, hechsher or no hechsher. Intellectually, I understand the value of the boundaried life, it doesn’t work for me. Reform in its purest form emphasizes believing. Ethical monotheism, you know, the world should be a better place. It emphasizes the prophets; be better, do better. Reconstructionism emphasizes belonging. Here’s the community, you’re drawn to Judaism, and ultimately it’s so much about community.
Judaism doesn’t sustain itself at the very least. Trying to live a Jewish life alone doesn’t work. At some point you give up., because it’s about community. So belonging comes first in the Reconstructionist vision. And you give of yourself into the community. You’re gonna give your idea and your vision, and your expertise and your interest. This is where you get communities where some people are into tzedaka or social action, and some people are into prayer and some are into study, because human nature actually is that we express spirituality in a number of ways. If ‘King of the world’ turns you off, you might want something else.