A Guide to Jewish Practice: Volume 1 - Everyday Living

RRC Press  2011


Reconstructionist Judaism, the movement founded in the mid-twentieth century by Mordecai Kaplan, has no obligatory statement of principles, but rather holds by a consensus of  beliefs. Reconstructionists reject the classical view of God, don’t believe in divine intervention, and believe that the Torah comes from the social and historical development of the Jewish people.  God is redefined as the sum of those powers or processes that allow mankind to gain self-fulfillment and moral improvement.  The movement is based on a democratic community where the laity, not just the rabbis, can make decisions.  The idea that God chose the Jewish people for any purpose, in any way, is "morally untenable," because anyone who has such beliefs "implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others.”

Halakha is not considered binding, but is to be taken seriously as a source and a resource. The movement emphasizes positive views toward modernism, and has an approach to Jewish custom which aims toward communal decision making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish and contemporary sources. Reconstructionist Judaism holds that contemporary Western secular morality should be considered seriously alongside Jewish law and theology.

With this background in mind, David Teutsch, a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, has set out to draft a multi-volume guide to Reconstructionist practice. The focus in Volume I is on conceptualizing the ethical and philosophical  dimensions of Judaism within an autonomous framework.  Intended for use by individuals, rabbis, and communities, it addresses such topics as daily religious practice, kashrut, tzedaka, bioethics, and general principles of business and of family and sexual ethics.  In Rabbi Teutsch’s words, this is “…the most comprehensive, non-halakhic guide to daily living ever published.”

The volume is designed to mimic traditional rabbinic texts. The top of the page contains the text, and along the bottom of the page are comments and observations by a host of  Reconstructionist rabbis. Many of these commentaries demonstrate considerable scholarship and are often more significant than the text itself, sometimes challenging mainstream Reconstructionist thinking and offering trenchant comments of their own. Every section contains an extensive reading list.

Near the end of the book, Rabbi Teutsch bemoans the fact that the Reconstructionist laity is woefully uneducated. Despite the centrality of Jewish education to the Jewish future, “it is a painful fact,” he notes,  “that most liberal, adult Jews have neither the level of Jewish education or of Jewish experience to make well-grounded decisions. What is more, some of those Jews are proud to make their decisions without such grounding.”   Perhaps his book will inspire readers to engage more deeply with Jewish culture--its texts, rituals, and values--so that Jewish tradition has, in Rabbi Kaplan’s words,  “a vote but not a veto” in a “post-halakhic world.”

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