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Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan

RRC Audio/Video Resources for Kaplan

See videotaped reflections on the contemporary legacy of Kaplan—the intellectual founder of Reconstructionist Judaism—from scholars, friends and family, filmed at RRC during a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his yahrtzeit.

Listen to audioclips of conversations between Kaplan and his biographer, Mel Scult, taped in June, 1972. They provide a rare and fascinating insight into the essence of Kaplan and the foundational roots of Reconstructionist Judaism. Visit the archives of the American Jewish Committee for additional audio recordings.

Note: View a searchable archive of Kaplan’s diaries from 1913–1972, collected by the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. (On the left side of the page, type in “Kaplan Diaries” in the search box.)  These offer a window into his thoughts on 20th century Judaism and the development of the Reconstructionist movement.

Biographical Background

Mordecai M. Kaplan (pictured at right, in Israel) was born in Lithuania in 1881, and in 1889 he immigrated along with his family to America. During his early childhood he received a traditional Jewish education in Vilna. After coming to America, however, he became increasingly disenchanted with orthodox theology and more interested in non-orthodox approaches to Judaism.

As a young man, Kaplan pursued Jewish studies and graduated from City College of New York. Later, he was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary (of the Conservative Movement), received a master's degree from Columbia University and went on to serve as associate rabbi of Kehillath Jeshurun, an Orthodox synagogue in New York.

Kaplan was profoundly influenced by the new field of sociology and its view of civilization as characterized not only by beliefs and practices, but also by language, culture, literature, ethics, art, history, social organization, symbols and customs.

In 1935, Kaplan wrote Judaism as a Civilization, a seminal work that became the foundation of the new Reconstructionist movement. Kaplan taught that Judaism must be reconstructed so that it remained ever-changing, evolving to meet the needs of Jews in the New World. He promoted democracy in the synagogue community and advocated voluntary membership, elected leadership and respect for the religious opinions of individuals.