The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan

The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan

Mel Scult
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/29/2013
Format: Hardback 1 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01075-9
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Mordecai M. Kaplan, founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, is the only rabbi to have been excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in America. Kaplan was indeed a radical, rejecting such fundamental Jewish beliefs as the concept of the chosen people and a supernatural God. Although he valued the Jewish community and was a committed Zionist, his primary concern was the spiritual fulfillment of the individual. Drawing on Kaplan's 27-volume diary, Mel Scult describes the development of Kaplan's radical theology in dialogue with the thinkers and writers who mattered to him most, from Spinoza to Emerson and from Ahad Ha-Am and Matthew Arnold to Felix Adler, John Dewey, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. This gracefully argued book, with its sensitive insights into the beliefs of a revolutionary Jewish thinker, makes a powerful contribution to modern Judaism and to contemporary American religious thought.

Author Bio

Mel Scult is Professor Emeritus of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and a member of the history faculty at the CUNY Graduate School. He is author of Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan and editor of Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, Volume 1: 1913-1934.


“An important and powerful work that speaks to Mordecai M. Kaplan's position as perhaps the most significant Jewish thinker of the twentieth century. . . . Scult shows Kaplan's theology to be imbued with American values of democracy and individualism.”
 — Deborah Dash Moore, coeditor of Gender and Jewish History

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Table of Contents


1. Excommunications: Kaplan and Spinoza
2. Self-Reliance: Kaplan and Emerson
3. Nationalism and Righteousness: Ahad Ha-Am and Matthew Arnold
4. Universalism and Pragmatism: Felix Adler, William James, and John Dewey
5. Kaplan and Peoplehood: Judaism as a Civilization and Zionism
6. Kaplan and His God: An Ambivalent Relationship
7. Kaplan's Theology: Beyond Supernaturalism
8. Salvation: The Goal of Religion
9. Salvation Embodied: The Vehicle of Mitzvot
10. Mordecai the Pious: Kaplan and Heschel
11. The Law: Halakhah and Ethics
12. Kaplan and the Problem of Evil: Cutting the Gordian Knot

Appendix: "Thirteen Wants" of Mordecai Kaplan Reconstructed
Selected Bibliography and Note on Sources