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Humanistic and reconstructionist judaism

21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Judaism is one of the earliest ancient religions on Earth.

As well as all belief systems, it is divided into various movements and branches. This article describes two Judaism movements – humanistic and reconstructionist.

Humanistic Judaism is a movement founded in the 1960s among a group of Jews who denied theism. Its followers think of Judaism as a cultural and historical experience of the whole Jewish nation.

Reconstructionist Judaism is a movement founded by rabbis Mordecai Kaplan and Ira Eisenstein. They considered Judaism to be not just a religion, but a separate civilisation.

Humanistic judaism

Humanistic judaism

In 1963, Rabbi Sherwin Wine founded modern Humanistic Judaism. He was a reformist rabbi from a small non-theistic congregation in Michigan. Wine developed a worship service based upon Jewish philosophy, culture, and history, having removed all information about God and prayers. His congregation became the Birmingham Temple (Farmington Hills, Michigan) which was soon joined by a congregation from Illinois and a group from Westport.

In 1969, followers of Wine’s teaching created a union under the guidance of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

In 1986, the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism was founded and became its centre. At present, there are two active centres. These are in Jerusalem and Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Humanistic judaism philosophy

The philosophical basis of Humanistic Judaism is based on the following ideas:

  • A Jewish person is one who considers him/herself to be connected to the history, culture, and the future of the Jewish people.
  • Judaism is the historical culture of the Jews, and religion is a part of it, not vice versa.
  • Freedom and pluralism contribute to the maintenance of Judaic consciousness.
  • A human’s life depends on his/her own actions, not on God’s.
  • Ethics and morality are required to serve people. When making a choice, people should be guided by the understanding of consequences, not by observing commandments and rules.
  • The whole of human history, including, in particular Jewish history, emphasises the importance of man’s strength and responsibility. Holy scriptures are merely a result of human activity, and science will help explain such developments.
  • The Jewish people have the same freedoms and dignity as all other peoples.

Reconstructivist judaism

The most important events in the movement’s history include:

  • The date of its inception — January 1922.
  • In 1935, the Reconstructionist journal was published under Kaplan’s control.
  • In 1941, reconstructivists published The New Haggadah and A Guide to Jewish Practice. These scripts stated that religious rituals are a personal choice made based on one’s interests or the interests of a congregation. It is not a law, but a way of life, the pursuit of which will enable the Jewish nation to continue to exist and develop spiritually.
  • In 1945, The Sabbath Prayer Book was published, from which the concept of a God-chosen Jewish people, of the Tora and the Messiah had been deleted. The American Union of Orthodox Rabbis anathematized this book.
  • In 2006, the World Jewish Congress was held in Jerusalem, and was attended for the first time by a representative of reconstructivists.
Reconstructivist judaism philosophy

Reconstructivist judaism philosophy

Followers of this religious movement think that Judaism is a developing  civilization, which, in addition to religion, has a distinct heritage, language, community, system of ethics, and rules of conduct. Kaplan thinks that Judaism has to stop worrying about life after death but to help the Jewish people who need help today.

Reconstructivist Judaism has influenced people from the USA, and in this country about two and a half thousand families have joined the federation of Reconstructivist congregations and associations. However, despite a relatively small number of followers, reconstructivist ideas have become more widely spread beyond these congregations.

Reconstructivist judaism in israel

In 1963, Mevakshei Derech, a reconstructivist community, was established in Jerusalem. This group  is aggressively working to spread Kaplan’s principles and ideas in the life of Israeli Jews.

The community consists of about 300 families who emigrated from the former USSR.

Humanistic and Reconstructivist Judaism have similar goals, which are to help the Jewish people overcome a spiritual and moral crisis and to help consolidate them in their community.

Unlike Reconstructivist Judaism, Humanistic Judaism is on course to oversee more radical changes in the Orthodox religion. Kaplan has changed the notion of God and other religious terms so that they correspond to the materialistic world outlook, whereas Wine has rejected such a way.