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Reconstructionist Jews: Is this correct (see below)?

"They do not believe in a personified deity that is active in history, and they do not believe that G-d chose the Jewish people." ( )

"Reconstructionist Judaism teaches that the mitzvot are our own invention. Mitzvot are our particularly Jewish ways of responding to the universal God." ( )

"We believe “the past does not have a veto.” Therefore we struggle to hear our own voices as distinct from theirs. What might this custom or that idea mean to us today? what might we borrow from this custom to create a new tradition that is more significant for us today. When a particular Jewish value or custom is found wanting, it is our obligation as Jews to find a means to reconstruct it - to find new meanings in old forms or to develop more meaningful, innovative practices." ( )

"Reconstructionism, which proposes a religious humanist theology, sees God as a Power or Process working through nature and human beings." ( )

"The words of the Torah, and consequently the mitzvot (including those about prayer) were not literally spoken and commanded by God at Sinai" ( )

"Reconstructionist Jew, who does not believe that God hears our prayers or answers our petitions," (ibid)

"Reconstructionism views Judaism as the product of the collective experience of the Jewish people, not as something that God handed down to us in finished form. God, it teaches, should be conceived of as the Creative Goodness in us and around us and not as a person in heaven. Some people are turned off by this idea because they want a God who is responsible for evil as well as good. Kaplan considered the exploration of where evil comes from to be a serious sin. We ought to be so involved in coping with evil and ridding the world of it that we have no time to worry about where it comes from! It certainly doesn’t come from a God who deserves our love and worship.

Reconstructionist Judaism teaches that God is a Process, a Power and a Value in the universe. God is the Zest, the Thrust, the Impetus that goads us to be all that we can be and do all that we can do to make ourselves better than we are and the world better than it is. In short, God is the Wellspring of Goodness in nature and in us (for we, too, are part of nature). God is the Energy enabling us to conquer fear and despair, alienation and loneliness. God is what infuses our lives with confidence, courage and meaningfulness. God is life with a capital “L” and goodness with a capital “G.” " ( )


All of the above quotes were from the official Reconstructionist webpages (aside from the first one) that explain the tenets and beliefs of Reconstrutionists. My Question is: Based on all of the above diversions from the basic, fundamental, core principles of Judaism, how does Reconstructionist still consider itself to be Judaism?

It appears to me to be more of a "worship of ones-self" as opposed to a religion that worships God. Of course, this is compounded by the fact that Reconstructionists don't exactly believe in God, at least not the God of the Jews.

(I know this has an antagonistic tone to it, please ignore the tone and just answer the question.)


@ Trish - Agreed.

But you sorta dodged the question.

Update 2:

@ The Angels, plushy: Thank for your answers, but it appears that you guys don't really subscribe to the official Reconstructionist theology, at least as stated on their website.

Thanks anyways.

Update 3:

@ Cher - If those views don't reflect the consensus opinion of Reconstructionist Rabbis, what are they doing on the official Reconstructionist website?

Update 4:

@ dowhanawi : That's not what I said at all. In no way was that an ad hominum attack on Reconstrucitonist Jews, it was an inquiry into then nature of Reconstrucitonist Judaism.

5 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    I think your reading differently than the context & meaning they are trying to inpart? Also those statements don't reflect reality of Reconstructionist Rabbinal views.

    1. The purpose of such vague statements that remove a traditional formal personal God concept that answers to your requests... is to make the movement more open to all those who don't view that way. The wordings if you read cautiously, don't exclude one believing the traditional way. They INclude a more expansive option. It's tricky to see, & it's almost political in it's intent. The reason for such extreme statements is because the traditional is such an obvious fixed point, that they are only wording the Additional option & trying to make room for it's members with it.

    I think it's not said very well, but it's also based in the movements origins from Conservative a while a go. So, at that time there wouldn't be any need to state the traditional... it'd be the obvious inclusion point for many members.

    2. I've attended around 3 reconstructionist synaguoges enought to think I know what their beliefs are. I have yet to see one express itself with such a vague image of God. Certainly Kaplan's view of not looking at evil is completely not used too. The Rabbis all see a real concept of God, though probably with less personalization than Orthodox but not a complete lack of at all by any stretch.

    I'm taking about things said during High Holiday lectures, weekly services, study classes... The week I spent on an Israel tour was with a Reconstructionist Rabbi. I was nervous he'd been very left wing & I'd spend the time wincing. Instead he pairs with an educational israeli tour, which is right wing based & just this side of Orthodox (not completely observant but teffilin came out for prayers 3xs a day & everything was scattered with discussions from Torah to give it meaning for us.)

    3. The idea of self absorption I can see how you read it in there. However, I think it's just saying the energy based classic to look inward, to focus on our own actions to make things better. That that is how to have God inside you. It's not saying we are God (even though they practically say that.) It's not at all what Reconstructionist means or is implemented as. I would guess that at one point this was what it was supposed to mean. However, in practice -- nope -- not a congregation I've seen that thinks being moral is "God." (Otherwise what would be the point of praying?) It's that connecting with moral connects you with God type energy & being connected with God aspects connects you back with being motivated to be moral.

    Where I've seen that idea is in the Humanistic movement. That one is a far stretch & is first figuring out what it is. So even if designers of reconstructionist meant it this way, obviously it's not what it is, because another group is filling in that spot... and they wouldn't be doing it if reconstructionist already was.

    Moving on from your quotes...

    4. Reconstructionist members are widely varied. Within a congregation the collective presented beliefs will be consistent. But the membership with include Reform that wanted more spiritual feeling (though Reform is finally moving back that way). AND it will include nuts, earthy crunchies, new agers... in various mixes. Some congregations not so much, others have every last one there every was. The Rabbis typically are not that way...but they want to bring into the Judaism those that wandered away & with spirituality in how they present, they keep the door open for everyone. (I may have seen an excess of the earthy crunchy because of where one of the synagogues was located...the whole town, Jewish & non-Jewish is granola generation.) However, some of the kooky wordings you see are from granola generation type wordings. You have to learn how to "hear" them to figure out what they mean & why they are picking these words instead of straighter ones. This stuff was written in the 60's, 70's into 80's.

    5. Typically the pull I see of Reconstructionist is... the Rabbis bring more efforts of spirituality into the services. This is similar to what Hassidic brought with their movement. It works, the services & feeling can be more connected, more sense of Judaism than the drier versions that had been in Reform & Conservative for a good while.

    Second, there is more effort to practice more mitzvot but with making them more meaningful. What they have said in the quotes is a true view, that they try to reinterpret them into modern world. It seems good phrasing to say the past Talmudic interpretations & everything since, don't allow the level of assumed veto that's been held for a long time. So they don't dismiss mitvot, but update the process. To some extent it works & to sometimes it doesn't. However, it gets people connected & involved & self-committed to Judaism & mitzvot.

    I'm going to try to answer one more thing you said...

    None of it is self-worship. It taking about self-responsibliity as needed & focusing on that. Rather than on focusing on God as the way to get to that. It's just want's more meaningful to talk about. In practice, God is present there. This wording is focused on self-responsiblity because this generation couldn't stand the focus on God that removed their personal sense of connection to the WHOLE process, that includes their role. It had started to look like rituals done for rituals sake. So they needed to bring themselves back into things, into the connection. Hence talking about themselves & what they need to do. Yet in services & in private chat groups, God is important often in a somewhat typical way & for some at least as a creative ongoing energy force with interact with. Much said (in my times there) wouldn't make sense if people weren't starting with that idea.

    This is how fuzzy it can get. I was planning my Rosh Hashanah services this morning since I can't get back to family till Yom Kippur. So I am going to services I originally thought were Conservative because they used a lot of Hebrew, & that style prayer book & were very traditional in sequence through the prayers. I love these services (and was disappointed they aren't weekly.) This is a rare time that I stil through long ones & am sad when they end -- so there's something spiritual connecting for me. Last year I realized they didn't have the 2nd day (I go elsewhere anyway). So they must be Reform. Today, I'm looking at the Rabbi's bio online - she & the Cantor are Reconstructionist ordained. Still I'm excited to be going.


    To answer

    Part of it is that you aren't reading them as they were meant. Your interpretation wasn't accurate & they aren't that clearly written. I've described this above.


    Your experience applies to many situations. Reconstructionist are a branch of Judaism & officially recognized & it's members are Jews (Natives). This question was an internal debate on Judaism. The asker was questioning their interpretations vs. his (& his communities).

    ...Just when you thought you had a handle on how confusing us Jews can be :) Though I really appreciate your speaking up & your answer is often the case especially in YA.

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  • 1 decade ago

    If these people were born or converted to Judaism, and choose to worship/observe this way, then that is their privilege; it's not for me to decide how THEY should relate to God, or if indeed they should relate to God at all. If this form of Judaism helps them to live a good life and to stay in touch with other Jews when they might otherwise lose all contact with Judaism, isn't that what it's all about?

    Certainly I can identify with the idea that Judaism is NOT set in concrete - it's NOT in "finished form." We do not live the way our ancestors lived, and yet we are still Jews. The Torah is a foundation and a framework, and Judaism is the structure built around that framework; to assume that structure is complete simply because it's a certain way today does not seem reasonable or logical to me. The world changes, and Judaism cannot stay static and survive, so I applaud their choices, even while I may not fully agree with them.

    When all is said and done, we are all still Jews, and that is ultimately what DOES matter.

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  • My experience wasn't that 'Reconstructionist Judaism teaches' but more of being challenged to think through everything, listening to others, studying, asking difficult questions and using all possible resources -- ourselves included -- to try explore possible answers.

    There was a lot of respect for those who were more observant, ecouragement for those who were finding their way there and acceptance of those who chose to do less. That choice is important, what we do, we choose to do and commit to fully. What I saw and experienced myself, was that as people learned more, they added more observances.

    It wasn't anything like 'worship of ones-self'. In my experience, a lot of Reconstructionist Jews tend towards some aspect of pantheism or more often panentheism, with a great deal of focus on the community.

    Personally, I cannot honestly affirm a personal G-d. I feel that Judaism demands that degree of internal honesty from us; if I fudge it for myself than I am violating at least three laws by lying, taking HaShem's name in vain and making an idol of the Name. But I can say with complete and utter truthfulness and commitment that I believe in Torah, our complicated, argumentative, frustrating, reassuring, contradictory set of texts, and the four millenia of debate, discussion and quest that have come out of it.

    The Reconstructionist movement allows people like me space to grow in our Judaism at our own pace.

    Source(s): Written in the past tense because I've since moved. The shul here has to serve Orthodox men, so there must be the separations. I've found that it's harder than I would have thought to be excluded from Torah because of a simple uncontrollable fact of my birth. And it hurts every Yom Kippur morning when we're waiting 10 minutes, 20 minutes just in case another man walks in -- when there are so many knowledgeable women sitting there, when in fact we have a quorum of adult women present and could proceed as a women's minyan.... ---------------- Reconstructionism is far from uniform. Cher's given you a brilliant analysis.
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  • 1 decade ago

    I don't see Recon as a worship of 'ones-self', but rather a more questioning attitude of what goes on around. In fact, as I participated in a number of chaverot, I felt even closer to G-d; it became a more personal journey.

    I see Recon as a movement that encompasses more social activism than the others; that's why Recon resonates more with me. I also see Torah as more metaphoric rather than literal, but then again, so does Reform (and to a lesser degree, Conservative). It's a way to become as good a human as I possibly can be.

    One poster told me that if I wanted to label myself Recon, why not just become a Unitarian! I, quite frankly, wanted to tell her off, but realized that her view was limited and she doesn't know me. That (she doesn't know me) is what I actually told her and for her to disregard my personal relationship with G-d was insulting. The Sh'ma has as much meaning for me as it does with her and I didn't need anyone telling me that my relationship with G-d was any less than hers.

    Not sure if this totally answers your question, but I'm answering it on a personal note. I will say that I identify as a Jew and have received a lot of cr@p in various parts of the country because if it (anti-Semitism). I will identify and fight, if need be, because I am proud to be Jewish. Personally, it's that simple.

    Source(s): Reconstructionist Jew - raised Conservative
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  • 1 decade ago

    First to be clear, I am not Jewish, I am Lakota. But this struck me as familiar. Our people have a problem with people we call wannabes (and a long list of other names). They take our beliefs and twist them and make things up and then present it to the world as "Native". This gives the world a very distorted and incorrect view of who we are. I am sure Jewish people must feel the same (some have told me they do).

    How do such people consider themselves Jewish? Same way the wannabes consider themselves lying to themselves and others. They will defend their lies by attacking those who speak the truth, those people whose identity they are stealing. Sometimes they do this with one of our own...that just makes the insult worse, as I am sure some Jewish people know all to well.

    Source(s): Lakota, an outside view to a parallel situation.
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