Courtesy of the Eisenstein Reconstructionist Archives

Mordecai Kaplan 1881-1983

Born in Lithuania, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, a movement that regards Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. Ordained in 1902 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, Kaplan joined the seminary's faculty in 1909 and was an influential voice there for more than half a century. Kaplan helped found the Modern Orthodox group called Young Israel, but his evolving views about Judaism eventually led to a major schism with the Orthodox movement. In 1917 Kaplan joined the first synagogue to incorporate a broad range of cultural and recre­ational activities into its program but left in 1922 to organize the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a synagogue in Manhattan that today is affiliated with both the Reconstructionist and Conservative Movements. That same year, Kaplan officiated over the Bat Mitzvah of his daughter Judith, the first in the United States. His 1934 book Judaism as a Civilization remains one of the most influential works by an American Jewish theologian.