The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan

The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan

Mel Scult
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/12/2013
Format: cloth 360 pages, 1 b&w illus.
6 x 9
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.


"All in all, an interesting, stimulating, and well-done analysis of Kaplan’s life and thought. All students of contemporary Jewish life will benefit from reading this excellent study." —Jewish Media Review

"I've read a lot of Kaplan. I even used to sneak peeks at his personal correspondences when I worked in his archive at RRC. This book by Mel Scult is by far the best on Kaplan's ideas. Heck, it is even better than Kaplan himself because Scult does an amazing job of tying together loose threads and making Kaplan more readable." —Rabbi Howard Cohen

"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

"[This book has] frequent quotations from Kaplan's writings . . . his diary underlines the deep attachement of Kaplan to the Jewish people, to the evolution and expansion of Judaism as a force for all humankind. . . [Mel Scult] agrees that Kaplan was . . . a heretic who reconstructed Judaism from its increasing loss of significance into a vital and meaningful force in contemporary life. . . The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan is true to its title, rigorously examining Kaplan's bold thinking and innovative contributions to Jewish life in America." —Jewish Book World

"I’m going to mark Mel Scult’s recent book . . . as one of the most important books in modern Jewish philosophy that I’ve read in a long time. In re-introducing us to Mordecai Kaplan, Mel opens out new directions for the field as a whole. Based on his lifelong study of the man and his work . . . Mel tells us is that we have all gotten Kaplan wrong for too many years. Mel wants us to know . . . is that Kaplan was much more and much deeper than a social thinker, that his thought is not simply humanist . . . that he was, in fact . . . a theologian." —

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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
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