Evolving Religious Civilization

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Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, Reconstructionism’s founding thinker, described Judaism at “the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.” This conceptualization continues to guide us.

What we mean by “civilization”

The religion of Judaism is centrally important, and it is not the entirety of the Jewish experience. As any “cultural Jew” can attest, their attachment to Judaism may include language, literature, art, music, movies, food, history, land and ethics, and may not be oriented toward or limited to rituals and beliefs.

Our understanding of Reconstructionism as a “civilization” gives legitimacy and standing to many different ways of being Jewish—cultural and political as well as religious. It invites people into the experience of expansive community we call “peoplehood.”

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, Reconstructionism’s founding thinker

What we mean by “evolving”

The Judaism that we live and practice today is the result of millennia of constant evolution. The religion of the Bible is not the same as Moses Maimonides’ Judaism or Golda Meir’s.

Some changes, like the destruction of the Temple in the first century C.E., were forced on us, while some emerged from internal creativity. From generation to generation and country to country, rabbis, teachers, individual Jews and entire communities have created ever new, different and more personally relevant and contemporary ways of acknowledging their identities and celebrating the values, customs and authentic beliefs of Jewish life.

Reconstructionism teaches that while our ancestors made changes unselfconsciously and attributed them to God’s will, we acknowledge that people were and are the agents of change.  We embrace the opportunity and obligation to “reconstruct” —to implement change to renew Judaism’s relevance, ensure continuity, and align Jewish practice with our highest values.

Learn more about Evolve, our online platform with conversation-sparking essays from thought-provoking rabbis, leaders and creators

Rabbi Jacob Staub at Reconstructionist Convention 2022

What we mean by “religious” 

Over millennia, religion has been the major preoccupation of the Jewish people and a central expression of Jewish civilization. Today we draw on the wisdom and tradition of our ancestors—as well as our rabbis, teachers, and community members—as we seek our own answers to why we are here and what we are called to do.

Meaning and Connection through Jewish Practice

Reconstructionism teaches that a primary path to discovering life’s meaning is through the rituals, customs, holidays, prayers and moments of everyday holiness that we can experience through Jewish practice.

Learn more about Ritualwell, a resource or rituals, ceremonies, prayers and poems to mark sacred moments in Jewish life.

God as Experienced and Made Manifest

For Reconstructionists, God is understood, not as something (or someone) to be “believed in,” but rather to be experienced in the everyday blessings of our lives and to be made manifest through our own loving and righteous actions.

God is that power that animates life, that we discover in the daily expressions of creation that surround us, in the faces of our families and friends, and in the highest strivings of the human spirit. God is not an external being that acts upon us, but a power that works through us.

The Reconstructionist Network