n Missionalia : Southern African Journal of Mission Studies - Faith in the face of secularism : reconstructionist Judaism : a radical response to modernity

Volume 40, Issue 1_2
  • ISSN : 0256-9507



Jewish emancipation in late 18th century Europe had a profound impact upon Jewish society, prompting reform of religious practice and the emergence of three denominations: Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. Many Jews found the rationalist universalism and secularism of European intellectual life irresistible. A significant number of Jews abandoned traditional religion.

This paper examines a small but influential Jewish ''response to modernity'', Reconstructionism, which emerged in America in the twentieth century. Reconstructionism is a uniquely American Jewish sectarian movement which bases its ideology upon the writings of Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983). Regarded by some as atheistic, Reconstructionism is nuanced and some of its ideas have precedent in Jewish philosophy. Reconstructionism embraces a theology described as naturalist (or ''transnaturalist''). Supernaturalism - a transcendent being ('God') - has been discarded as a relic of pre-modern thought.
This paper questions whether the appeal of Reconstructionism is its theology, since its appeal may depend upon factors common to all liberal Judaisms, e.g. ethics and social justice, and egalitarianism. With regard to theology, the paper scrutinizes Reconstructionism in the light of philosophical criticisms of theism. Does Reconstructionist theology represents a contemporary form of deism and to what extent does the influence of the Holocaust impact on Reconstructionist theodicy?

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