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Reconstructionist Judaism ("Hebrew: יהדות רקונסטרוקציוניסטית, yahadút rekonstruktsyonistit, or יהדות מתחדשת, yahadút mitkhadéshet) is a modern "Jewish movement that views Judaism as a progressively evolving "civilization and is based on the conceptions developed by "Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). The movement originated as a semi-organized stream within "Conservative Judaism and developed from the late 1920s to 1940s, before it seceded in 1955 and established a "rabbinical college in 1967.
There is substantial theological diversity within the movement. "Halakha, the collective body of Jewish Law, is not considered binding, but is treated as a valuable cultural remnant that should be upheld unless there is reason for the contrary. The movement also emphasizes positive views toward "modernity, and has an approach to Jewish custom which aims toward communal decision-making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish sources.
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Reconstructionism was developed by "Rabbi "Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983) and his son-in-law, Rabbi "Ira Eisenstein (1906–2001), over a period of time spanning from the late 1920s to the 1940s. After being ridiculed by Orthodox rabbis for his focus on issues in the community and the sociopolitical environment, Kaplan and a group of followers founded the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ) in 1922. Its goal was to give rabbis the opportunity to form new outlooks on Judaism in a more progressive manner. Kaplan was the leader of the SAJ until 1945, when Eisenstein took over. In 1935, Kaplan published his book, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life. It was this book that Kaplan claimed was the beginning of the Reconstructionist movement. Judaism as a Civilization suggested that historical Judaism be given a "revaluation...in terms of present-day thought." Reconstructionism was able to spread with several other forms of literature, most notably the New Haggadah (1941) which for the first time blended Kaplan's ideologies in Jewish ceremonial literature.
Kaplan did not want for Reconstructionism to branch into another Jewish denomination. However, it was on the inevitable track of becoming one. At the Montreal conference in 1967, Reconstructionist leaders called for a rabbinical school in which rabbis could be ordained under the Reconstructionist ideology and lead Reconstructionist congregations. By the fall of 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was opened in Philadelphia. Along with the establishment of the college, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association formed, which gave rabbis a strong network in the religious leadership of Reconstructionism. The founding of these institutions were great strides in becoming the fourth movement in North American "Judaism ("Orthodox, "Conservative and "Reform being the other three).
"Kaplan believed that, in light of advances in "philosophy, "science and "history, it would be impossible for modern Jews to continue to adhere to many of Judaism's traditional theological claims. In agreement with Orthodox theology (articulated by prominent medieval Jewish thinkers including "Maimonides), Kaplan affirmed that God is not "anthropomorphic in any way. As such, all anthropomorphic descriptions of God are used metaphorically. Kaplan's theology went beyond this to claim that God is not "personal, in that God is not a conscious being nor can God in any way relate to or communicate with humanity. Furthermore, Kaplan's theology defines God as the sum of all natural processes that allow people to become self-fulfilled.
To believe in God means to accept life on the assumption that it harbors conditions in the outer world and drives in the human spirit which together impel man to transcend himself. To believe in God means to take for granted that it is man's destiny to rise above the brute and to eliminate all forms of violence and exploitation from human society. In brief, God is the Power in the cosmos that gives human life the direction that enables the human being to reflect the image of God.
Most "classical" Reconstructionist Jews (those agreeing with Kaplan) reject traditional forms of theism, though this is by no means universal. Many are "deists, and a small number accept "Kabbalistic views of God or the concept of a personal God.["citation needed]
Kaplan's theology, as he explicitly stated, does not represent the only Reconstructionist understanding of theology and theology is not the cornerstone of the Reconstructionist movement. Much more central is the idea that Judaism is a "civilization, and that the Jewish people must take an active role in ensuring its future by participating in its ongoing evolution.
Consequently, a strain of Reconstructionism exists which is distinctly non-Kaplanian. In this view, Kaplan's assertions concerning belief and practice are largely rejected, while the tenets of an "evolving religious civilization" are supported. The basis for this approach is that Kaplan spoke for his generation; he also wrote that every generation would need to define itself and its civilization for itself. In the thinking of these Reconstructionists, what Kaplan said concerning belief and practice is not applicable today. This approach may include a belief in a personal God, acceptance of the concept of ""chosenness", a belief in some form of "resurrection or continued existence of the dead, and the existence of an obligatory form of "halakha. In the latter, in particular, there has developed a broader concept of halakhah wherein concepts such as ""Eco-Kashrut" are incorporated.["citation needed]
Reconstructionist Judaism holds that contemporary Western secular morality has precedence over Jewish law and theology. It does not ask that its adherents hold to any particular beliefs, nor does it ask that "halakha be accepted as normative. Unlike classical "Reform Judaism, Reconstructionism holds that a person's default position should be to incorporate Jewish laws and tradition into their lives, unless they have a specific reason to do otherwise. The most important distinction between Reconstructionist Judaism and traditional Judaism is that Reconstructionism concludes that all halakha should be categorized as ""folkways" and not as "religious law.
Reconstructionism promotes many traditional Jewish practices. Thus, the "commandments have been replaced with "folkways", non-binding customs that can be democratically accepted or rejected by the congregations. Folkways that are promoted include keeping "Hebrew in the "prayer service, studying "Torah, daily prayer, wearing "kippot (yarmulkes), "tallitot and "tefillin during prayer, and observance of the "Jewish holidays.
In practice, Kaplan's books, especially The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion and "Judaism as a Civilization are de facto statements of principles. In 1986, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) and the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (FRCH) passed the official "Platform on Reconstructionism". It is not a mandatory statement of principles, but rather a consensus of current beliefs. Major points of the platform state that:
Judaism is the result of natural human development. There is no such thing as divine intervention; Judaism is an evolving religious civilization; "Zionism and "aliyah (immigration to Israel) are encouraged; Reconstructionist Judaism is based on a democratic community where the laity can make decisions, not just rabbis; The Torah was not inspired by God; it only comes from the social and historical development of Jewish people; The classical view of God is rejected. God is redefined as the sum of natural powers or processes that allows mankind to gain self-fulfillment and moral improvement; The idea that God chose the Jewish people for any purpose, in any way, is "morally untenable", because anyone who has such beliefs "implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others."
Most Reconstructionists do not believe in "revelation (the idea that God reveals his will to human beings). This is dismissed as "supernaturalism. Kaplan posits that revelation "consists in disengaging from the traditional context those elements in it which answer permanent postulates of human nature, and in integrating them into our own ideology…the rest may be relegated to archaeology".
Many writers have criticized the movement's most widely held theology, "religious naturalism. "David Ray Griffin and "Louis Jacobs have objected to the redefinitions of the terms "revelation" and "God" as being intellectually dishonest, and as being a form of "conversion by definition"; in their critique, these redefinitions take "non-theistic beliefs and attach "theistic terms to them. Similar critiques have been put forth by Rabbis "Neil Gillman, "Milton Steinberg, and Michael Samuels.
Reconstructionist Judaism allows its rabbis to determine their own policy regarding officiating at "intermarriages. Some congregations accept "patrilineal as well as "matrilineal descent, and children of one Jewish parent, of either sex, are considered Jewish if raised as Jews. This is less restrictive than the traditional standard that only considers children with Jewish mothers to be Jewish, regardless of how they were raised.
The role of non-Jews in Reconstructionist congregations is a matter of ongoing debate. Practices vary between synagogues. Most congregations strive to strike a balance between inclusivity and integrity of boundaries. The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) has issued a non-binding statement attempting to delineate the process by which congregations set policy on these issues, and sets forth sample recommendations. These issues are ultimately decided by local lay leadership. Mixed Jewish/Non-Jewish couples, however, are welcome in Reconstructionist congregations.
In 2015 the "Reconstructionist Rabbinical College voted to accept rabbinical students in interfaith relationships, making Reconstructionist Judaism the first type of Judaism to officially allow rabbis in relationships with non-Jewish partners. In making the decision, the movement considered that “many younger progressive Jews, including many rabbis and rabbinical students, now perceive restrictions placed on those who are intermarried as reinforcing a tribalism that feels personally alienating and morally troubling in the 21st century.” In April 2016 nineteen Reconstructionist rabbis announced they will form an offshoot group in part to protest the decision to allow rabbis to have non-Jewish partners.
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Over 100 synagogues and "havurot, mostly in the United States and Canada, were affiliated with the "Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. As of June 3, 2012 the Reconstructionist movement has been restructured. The "Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is now the primary organization of the movement. The movement's new designation is simply the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. Rabbi "Deborah Waxman was inaugurated as the president of the "Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities on October 26, 2014. As the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, she is believed to be the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary. Waxman is a 1999 graduate of RRC. 
Originally an offshoot of "Conservative Judaism, Reconstructionism retains warm relations with Reform Judaism. "Orthodox Judaism, however, considers Reconstructionism to be in violation of proper observance of interpretation of Jewish law. The "Jewish Reconstructionist Federation is a member of the "World Union for Progressive Judaism, in which it gained an observer status in 1990.