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What is Reconstructionist Judaism? | Tzedek v'Shalom

What is Reconstructionist Judaism?

Tzedek v’Shalom is proud to be affiliated with the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, which serves its affiliates by working with them to build Jewish communities that are democratic, egalitarian, spiritually and intellectually vibrant, and committed to Jewish learning, ethics, and social justice.

Reconstructionist Judaism is a liberal Jewish American denomination based on the ideas of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881 – 1983). The movement, which originated in America, views Judaism as a progressively evolving religious civilization. The movement emphasizes positive views towards modernity while still respecting traditional Judaism.

To learn more, view or download our document, Reconstructionism A to Z, which summarizes key points about Reconstructionist principles.

From the JRF website:

“To be a Jew means first belonging to the group…” – Mordecai Kaplan

Belonging to a contemporary Jewish community

Members of Reconstructionist congregations are not mere observers, but active participants at the very center of Jewish communal life. The essence of Reconstructionist Judaism is community building through learning, revitalization of prayer and mutual help.

Reconstructionist communities welcome members from a variety of life situations, backgrounds, political and religious perspectives. Each person brings to the community unique talents and needs. Individuals choose levels of involvement comfortable for themselves.

Members’ resourcefulness and talents extend from teaching a song in the nursery school to leading a Shabbat Torah discussion; from designing and making torah covers to lecturing on ethical issues; from delivering a hot meal to building a sukkah; from teaching Israeli dancing to leading a poetry reading group.

Members of Reconstructionist communities actively help each other in practical ways during times of personal crisis. Some communities have organized transportation networks for members who require regular hospital visits or housekeeping help for members who are bedridden. Congregations also arrange shiva minyanim, services in the home of bereaved family during the days after a funeral.

Community involvement will vary from congregation to congregation, but Reconstructionists have successfully organized everything from daycare networks to a home oil buying co-op to a hevra kadisha (burial committee) in a town where Jewish funeral services were not available.

Inclusiveness is another important aspect of a Reconstructionist community. The realities of contemporary life require new efforts to welcome Jews from a variety of lifestyles. For today a thriving Jewish community must extend beyond the reach of traditional families to include singles, single-parent families, the intermarried and those living in non-traditional families. Reconstructionist communities recognize that all Jews need the kind of extended family support which can be found in a Jewish community.

Learning and leading: Jewish life with integrity

Members of Reconstructionist congregations are not mere observers, but active participants at the very center of Jewish communal life. The essence of Reconstructionist Judaism is community building through learning, revitalization of prayer and mutual help.

Reconstructionist communities welcome members from a variety of life situations, backgrounds, political and religious perspectives. Each person brings to the community unique talents and needs. Individuals choose levels of involvement comfortable for themselves.

Members’ resourcefulness and talents extend from teaching a song in the nursery school to leading a Shabbat Torah discussion; from designing and making torah covers to lecturing on ethical issues; from delivering a hot meal to building a sukkah; from teaching Israeli dancing to leading a poetry reading group.

Praying in a community: celebrating the sacred with a blend of the traditional and the contemporary

Communal prayer is a central activity of Reconstructionist congregations. Through prayer Reconstructionists forge a connection with the past and with other Jews. They become aware of the spiritual dimension in their lives, and discover that the perspectives of our ancestors can enhance the quality of contemporary life. Our liturgies draw deeply from tradition, enriching it with contemporary poetry, music, art and personally written prayers.

In some Reconstructionist communities, members are encouraged to write and deliver their own commentaries on the Torah, or lead worship. They also create and lead ceremonies for special occasions like retirement, baby namings, or the dedication of a new home.

Tikkun Olam: Translating Jewish ideals into programs of social action

Social action based on Jewish ethics is a central part of Reconstructionist community activity. Poverty, racial discrimination, political injustice, war and environmental deterioration are concerns of Jews everywhere.

Reconstructionist congregations support “soup kitchens” to feed the needy, and lobby within the Federal government for funds to support housing for the homeless. Reconstructionists as a movement have committed themselves to reclamation and preservation of the environment.  Longtime progressive Zionists, Reconstructionist Jews support a broad variety of humanitarian, cultural and political organizations in Israel.