fbpx The Quiet Themes Come to Life | Page 3 | Reconstructing Judaism

The Quiet Themes Come to Life

Article

We’ve just finished the High Holidays. For many of us, this was a time to reflect once again upon the themes of remembrance, renewal and the awesome transcendence of the universe. It was also the time when we encountered, once again, the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, along with the greatest hits, once again, of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy.

That’s a great deal of “again.” Jewish observance is robustly and relentlessly cyclical. The holidays and the Torah portions come round every year at their appointed times. For those of us who live with and think with these holidays and texts, their cyclical rhythm can be a life-giving blessing.

By noticing how the holiday liturgies, customs, and textual refrains “land” for us each year, we see where and who we are now. Our reactions to the holiday refrains serve as trusted signs, and we use these signs to measure where and who we are now, in relation to where and who we were a year ago. The holiday and Torah cycles keep key ideas, texts and experiences on our life radars. Our ritual and reading cycles make sure that none of these refrains stay dormant for too long. I might go for months without contemplating the awesome transcendence of creation but once Rosh Hashanah comes around, I am sure to return to it.

Other foundational Jewish ideas are not so lucky. Without fixed dates on the calendar or fixed columns in the scroll, these ideas remain quiet, as if waiting for us to actively decide to raise them up and engage. This year at RRC, we are revisiting themes that have since the beginning been at the core of Reconstructionist “Torah.” The first is peoplehood. This April, RRC will sponsor a Shabbaton and Conference called Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood. We’re preparing the event with three partners: the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, in Evanston, Illinois; Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History; and McGill University’s Department of Jewish Studies. These gatherings will explore what the idea of peoplehood has meant in the past and what its 21st century function might be. We have lined up a seriously reflective group of thinkers and practitioners, all of them uniquely situated to address ideas around peoplehood, and we look forward to learning with and from them. Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood will be open to the public. [Ed.: This event has passed.]

The second all-too-quiet theme is community. Community has always been a watchword of Reconstructionism and Reconstructionist Judaism, and perhaps, one of our signature features. Still, it has been a long time since we have raised up the idea of community as an object of reflection and communal conversation within RRC. I am eager to explore what our ideas, expectations and hopes for community are now. I am also excited to learn from our students what new forms of community have arisen in their lives, and to think with them about how rabbis can build, sustain and serve vibrant and nourishing 21st century Jewish communities, whatever form they may take.

May 5776 be a year of health, joy, learning and growth for us all.

Associate Professor of Bible, RRC

Related Resources

"Where Was God?" - Lesson Plan On Natural Disasters and Parashat Noah

During disasters and their aftermaths, many people wonder about God’s role in their suffering. This lesson seeks to explore God’s role in tragedy from a Jewish Reconstructionist perspective. This lesson is intended for children ages 8-12.

Document

How Can Reconstructionists Pray?

How does a non-supernatural notion of God fit together with the practice of prayer? Rabbi Jacob Staub explores their intersection. 

Article
News and Blogs

Nothing Neutral About It: Inspired by Reconstructionist Judaism in Switzerland

Paul Piwnicki, a Polish-born, German-raised scientist and Jew-by-choice, credits Reconstructionist thought with helping him develop a personal theology and practice. Piwnicki’s story highlights the influence of Reconstructionist ideas and thinkers, even in countries lacking Reconstructionist congregations.

News

If God Is Good, Why Do Pain and Suffering Exist?

The question is an old and venerable one: If God is good, and God is all-knowing, and God is all-powerful, then why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Rabbi Jacob Staub explores this longstanding question. 

Article
News and Blogs

Light Through The Cracks

Rabbi Deborah Waxman reflects on finding spiritual equilibrium in a time of shifting sands.

News

Liturgy and Prayer Leadership: Distance Learning Session

This distance learning conference call explores the dynamics of worship and the human impulse to pray, some of the deep structures of Jewish prayer services, and specifically Reconstructionist liturgy.

Spoken Audio

Kaplan and the Meaning of Ritual: Reconciling the Mind and the Heart

The author reflects on the way Mordecai Kaplan's philosophy  helped him see Jewish ritual as spiritually meaningful and, at the same time, intellectually honest.

Article

Author Interview: Guide to Jewish Practice

Interview with Rabbi David Teutsch, Ph.D., about the issues addressed in the new Guide to Jewish Practice

Article

Reconstructionism Explained

What is Reconstructionist Judaism? Its essence is contained in the phrase, “Judaism is the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.” Unpacking this phrase, we find five simple keys to understanding the philosophy and beliefs of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Article

A Hasidic Lens on Parashat Bo

In this short talk, Rabbi Lester Bronstein brings 18th and 19th-century Hasidic thought into dialogue with contemporary Reconstructionist theology.

Spoken Audio

A New Approach to the Rules Shaping Shabbat Practice

Congregation B’nai Israel in Willimantic, Connecticut underwent a long communal Reconstructionist process to decide on congregational rules for Shabbat practice. This is the result.

Document

Yigdal: A Reconstructionist Examination

Yigdal, one of the most beloved of the medieval piyyutim (liturgical poems) summarizes the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith as formulated by Moses Maimonides (RaMBaM; late 12th century C.E.). Reconstructionists often proudly assert that when we pray with a Reconstructionist siddur, we feel that we can 'say what we mean and mean what we say,' because our liturgical language reflects Reconstructionist theology. How might a Reconstructionist interpret the words of Yigdal in this way?

Document

Exploration of God Beliefs: A Teen Program

This pilot program for Jewish teen education provides several activities for exploring and sharing beliefs about God. 

Document

A Child's Biography of Mordecai Kaplan

This short biography of Mordecai Kaplan is written for children from 5th to 9th grade.

Document

For The Sake Of The World

Rabbi Toba Spitzer grapples wtih the traditional notion of Jewish chosenness, arguing that our Torah is integral to the maintenance and perfection of this world—even as we acknowledge that other people’s teachings, other people’s truths, are also a path to redemption. It matters that  Judaism survives—not just for our own sake, but because it’s good for the world, and because we have unique work to do.

Sermon