|May 4, 2012 / 12 Iyar, 5772
Looking into Kaplan's Diary
Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was ordained at JTS and served as a member of its faculty for over fifty years. All the major leaders of the Conservative movement were his students. His ideology eventually resulted in Reconstructionism.
Religion as Government
Kaplan is a rabbi and theologian of great standing but perhaps his greatest talent lies in the field of intellectual history and the sociology of religion. He is at his best when explaining to us how certain ideas and institutions functioned in the past. If we understand the function of these ideas we will appreciate them more in their original setting and we might be moved to try to capture the same function for ourselves.
In the passage below Kaplan talks of God and revelation and the way in which God's relation to Israel is similar to our sense of government. Government is supposed to be the collective expression of our values and of our desire to live together in mutual harmony, peace and justice. It doesn't always function that way but that is the ideal. In the same way, we need to think through the way in which our religion and our Torah can help us to live together and function in the best way possible. To do this would make God more present in our lives. It is fitting that we begin this series in this election year with a statement about government.
Sunday, October 11, 1936.
How did the belief that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai and that it was revealed from heaven come about? First of all, we must leave our thought world and try to penetrate the thought world of our forebears. There was a time when it was impossible to conceive of the existence of any nation without it having a god who was its father and patron, just as it is impossible for us to conceive of any nation without a government which unites it and makes it into a unit. Indeed, the concept "God" played the same role then as the concept "government" does in our time. This being so, the bond between the nation and its god existed from the time it became a nation. And because the Children of Israel believed that they had become a people before they entered the Land of Israel, they drew the conclusion that the bond existed in the wilderness where they wandered about before entering the land. Because the concept "God" filled the same function in the past as does the concept "government" for us, the result is that the basic bond between God and the nation is expressed through the statutes and laws by which it is governed. Therefore they had to attribute to God all the laws by which they lived.
In other words, where there is no information about the past based upon facts and experience, reason and imagination attempt to describe it, and that is what happened to our ancestors when they sought to shed light on the darkness of their past. This aspiration in itself has great value and does honor to our forebears. But those who are stubborn in their faith that it is impossible to conceive of the past in any way other than the imaginings of our ancestors block the path of our people's spiritual development.
Do you find the comparison of religion to government helpful? Does it undermine or strengthen your faith in the belief that the Torah is divine? In what way?
Our government is set up by our constitution. Would it be helpful to see the Torah as the constitution of the Jewish people? Would this conflict with our loyalty as American citizens?
This week's special commentary was written by Mel Scult, professor emeritus of Jewish thought at Brooklyn College, who received his M.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. He has taught at Brandeis, Vassar College and the New School for Social Research. Scult is the author of a biography of Mordecai Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, and has co-edited, with Emmanuel Goldsmith, Dynamic Judaism: The Essential Writings of Mordecai Kaplan and The American Judaism of Mordecai Kaplan. Scult is also the author of "Schechter’s Seminary," an essay which appears in Tradition Renewed: A History of JTS. He published Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, 1913–1934 (2001).
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Leadership - Innovation - Community
|Understanding the Haftarot:|
An Everyperson's Guide
In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
You can purchase it a number of ways:
|It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!
The "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life.
Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin.
A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice.
Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes.
Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression.
Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event.
The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin.
The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.
World Wide Wrap is Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Bar Mitzvah Wrap!
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