From Ideology to Liturgy

From Ideology to Liturgy: Reconstructionist Worship and American Liberal Judaism

Eric Caplan
Volume: 26
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    From Ideology to Liturgy
    Book Description:

    In this first systematic and comprehensive analysis of its official prayer materials, Eric Caplan examines Reconstructionist Judaism’s interpretation and adaptation of the traditional Jewish liturgy and creation of new prayer texts to reflect its changing ideology. Liturgical creativity has been a hallmark of Reconstructionism since Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) first set forth its philosophy in the 1930s. The author begins by focusing on Kaplan’s life and thought, especially those facets of his ideology that are most relevant to understanding his priorities as editor-in-chief of the first Reconstructionist liturgies, published between 1941 and 1963. In a separate chapter, Caplan analyzes those early liturgies, highlighting their ideological uniqueness by comparing them to the contemporaneous liturgies of both Reform and Conservative Judaism. In his third chapter, Caplan summarizes institutional developments within Reconstructionism from 1934, when Kaplan published his seminal Judaism as a Civilization, until the present; then, in his fourth chapter, he delineates important ideological developments within the movement since 1968, the year of the founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. As Caplan points out, the inauguration of the RRC marked the transfer of movement leadership from Kaplan’s followers to a younger generation, born after World War II. It was this generational shift that necessitated and facilitated the creation of the new series of Reconstructionist prayerbooks, Kol Haneshamah, published between 1989 and 2001. Chapter five, the book’s most extensive, is devoted in its entirety to an in-depth examination of that liturgical series and the ideological considerations upon which it is based. Caplan analyzes all facets of these materials: the nusach ha-tefillah (order of prayer), translations, supplementary readings, commentaries, rubrics, and layout — making frequent reference to his personal correspondence and interviews with the main fashioners of these texts. In chapter six, he enlarges up on this analysis by comparing Kol Haneshamah’s ideological components with those in contemporaneous liturgies of Reform, Conservative, and Renewal Judaism. At the same time, he contrasts recent Reform and Conservative liturgies with their 1940s predecessors in order to trace general developments within American non-Orthodox Judaism. In a postscript, Caplan concludes this ambitious work by citing relevant insights from the general study of American religious life, thereby placing Reconstructionist liturgy in an even larger cultural context.

    eISBN: 978-0-87820-107-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-x)
    Eric Caplan
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Lawrence A. Hoffman has argued convincingly that liturgy is a primary vehicle for the articulation of a community’s sense of self.¹ A prayerbook is embraced if the ideological message contained within it mirrors people’s self-understanding and religious inclinations. To be adopted, it need not be a perfect reflection of group identity, but it must be perceived as the best translation currently available. Through repeated use, the book’s message acts as a socializing agent to heighten the ideal image it represents.² In this sense, prayerbooks are not merely reflections of current identity, but mechanisms for imparting ideas considered desirable.

    Since liturgy...

  5. 1 The Ideology of Mordecai M. Kaplan
    (pp. 9-45)

    Mordecai M. Kaplan was born in 1881 in the small Lithuanian town of Swentzian on the outskirts of Vilna. Although the ideals of the Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah) had begun to infiltrate the community, Jewish life in nineteenth-century Swentzian mostly followed traditional patterns set in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Poland. Mordecai’s father, Israel Kaplan, was learned in Torah and spent most of his time out of town, studying and teaching in various yeshivot. Kaplan’s mother, Anna, supported the family by running a small general store. Kaplan was sent to all-day Jewish school (ḥeder) at an early age and was raised in a...

  6. 2 Kaplan as Liturgist: Reconstructionist Liturgy, 1941–1963
    (pp. 46-124)

    Mordecai Kaplan’s public efforts in the creation and adaptation of the liturgy were motivated, in part, by his belief that the practice of worship was dying among the Jewish people. For him, the death of worship constituted a significant break with historical Judaism and was a further sign of the contemporary Jew’s alienation from his or her heritage. Kaplan, who devoted much of his life to the search for a program that would revitalize Jewish civilization, could not stay silent while witnessing the demise of a significant aspect of Jewish culture.

    Equally important, Kaplan felt that prayer was essential to...

  7. 3 An Institutional History of Reconstructionist Judaism
    (pp. 125-142)

    The publication ofJudaism as a Civilizationin 1934 was a turning point for the dissemination of Reconstructionist thought. Although many of its ideas had been aired previously in journal articles, the book presented the first complete exposition of its author’s views, and Jewish leaders who had an interest in Kaplan’s thought could now wrestle fully with the ramifications of his philosophy. Community centers and synagogues organized discussions of the book, and Kaplan received numerous requests to lecture on its contents. Unwilling to accept all of these invitations for fear that this would deter him from writing more, Kaplan asked...

  8. 4 The Ideology of Post-Kaplanian Reconstructionism
    (pp. 143-163)

    The establishment of the RRC in the 1970s led to the rethinking and evaluation of the Kaplan legacy, and graduates of the College moved quickly to assert their right to deviate from Kaplanian norms. Writing in 1976, Arnold Rachlis described Reconstructionism as “more of a methodology than a doctrine… Although we are indebted to Kaplan’s theories, Reconstructionism today is not orthodox Kaplanianism.”³ A similar view was voiced frequently by respondents to the 1982 symposium on the future of Reconstructionism, published jointly byThe Reconstructionist and Raayonot, the journal of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA).⁴ For them, the “method” of Reconstructionism...

  9. 5 Kol Haneshamah: The New Reconstructionist Prayerbook Series
    (pp. 164-294)

    Although the bulk of Mordecai Kaplan’s liturgies were created in the 1930s and 40s, he continued to address liturgical issues in the years that followed. Responding in the 1950s to a query concerning the revitalization of Jewish worship, Kaplan suggested that, even then, synagogue services needed to be completely re-envisioned. Contemporary understandings of the world’s functioning had diminished the power and significance of petitionary prayer. If Jewish liturgy was to yield a sense of communion with the divine, it would have to consist primarily of prayers of thanksgiving, which better served to sensitize people to the divine presence in their...

  10. 6 Kol Haneshamah and Other Contemporary Liberal Jewish Liturgies
    (pp. 295-366)

    In Chapter Two, our understanding of Mordecai Kaplan’s liturgies was enriched through comparisons to the prayerbooks of the other non-Orthodox, American Jewish denominations of the 1940s. Placing the new Reconstructionist liturgies in a wider context is similarly instructive. In analogous attempts to better reflect the sensitivities of contemporary Jews, both Reform and Conservative Judaism have replaced their liturgies of the 1940s. Our analysis of their new prayerbooks will seek to uncover whether the major methodological differences that separated the liturgies of the liberal movements in the past remain in force in the present and the extent to which sensitivities and...

  11. 7. Postscript: Contemporary Reconstructionism and American Spiritual Trends
    (pp. 367-372)

    A number of concerns and sensitivities apparent inKol Haneshamah, and to varying degrees in the other liturgies discussed above, echo those in American religious life generally. Researchers have noted a general surge of interest in mystical modes of thinking and methods of religious expression.¹ Insights and practices drawn from Buddhism and Hinduism were central to the youth counter-culture of the 1960s. Although a small proportion of Americans were involved in this phenomenon directly, it had a profound influence on society as a whole. As Robert Wuthnow has noted, these practices served to “redefine the outer limits of religious respectability....

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 373-398)
  13. Index of Persons Cited
    (pp. 399-402)
  14. Index of Prayers, Piyyutim, and Hymns Cited
    (pp. 403-406)
  15. Subject Index
    (pp. 407-418)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 419-420)