Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions

About Reconstructionism

Since our founding in 1983, Or Hadash has been an affiliate of Reconstructing Judaism.

The principles of Reconstructionism were formulated by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, z"l, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in the early part of the 20th century. He urged that modern American Jews try to understand and keep key elements of traditional Judaism, while also incorporating the best of modern democracy. Many innovations in the larger Jewish world, for example, Bat Mitzvah, had their origin in Reconstructionism.

The major principles of Reconstructionism include:

Judaism is an evolving religious civilization.   Born in America as a response to the challenge of modern life, Reconstructionism understands that we live in two civilizations, Jewish and North American. We strive to take the highest values from each and bring them to bear on one another. Each generation has the responsibility to study its heritage and to reevaluate, refocus, and reformulate tradition to enhance Jewish life in the present and for the future.

Halachah (Jewish Law) have a vote, not a veto. Reconstructionists do not take Halachah literally, but we do take it seriously. While we do not consider Halachah binding, it remains an important starting point for discussion and decision making as we struggle to make our tradition relevant to our lives. Reconstructionism is both respectful of traditional Jewish practice and open to new interpretations and forms of religious expression.

God is the Power that gives meaning to our lives and helps us live life to the fullest. Kaplan wrote of God as the "force that makes for salvation"  Each of us, as Jews, as humans, as living beings on this earth, constantly wrestle with their own definitions of and relationships with God. Our diverse views of God share an emphasis on godliness, rather than on the supernatural. Like Kaplan, we believe that God is a source of meaning in our lives, and that Judaism is our path for that discovering that meaning and finding fulfillment.

Reconstructionists recognize ambilineal descent.  A person is born Jewish if any of their parents, regardless of sex and gender, is Jewish, and if they have been raised with Jewish traditions and ritual.

Reconstructionists are egalitarian. As professionals and congregants, in ritual and secular realms, people of all genders are equal.  Our siddur (prayerbook) reflects this principle in the liturgy including the use of and gender-expansive and inlusive God language.

Hebrew is a living language. Hebrew is our universal language of prayer and the spoken language of the State of Israel. We believe it is important to use it and pass it on from generation to generation. Our prayer books contain prayers in Hebrew, English transliteration, and English.

Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  Reconstructionist Judaism has long viewed Israel as an essential element of Jewish peoplehood. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), the founder of Reconstructionism, supported a Zionism grounded in three core values: Jewish survival, Jewish cultural and religious renaissance, and Jewish ethical nationhood. He promoted a vision in which two vibrant centers of Jewish life — Israel and the Diaspora — would support, shape, and when needed, give feedback and critique to each other. 

The origins and principles of the Reconstructionist Movement are based on a democratic model. At Or Hadash, this means that congregants and our rabbinic leadership are involved in a dynamic democratic partnership in which decisions are arrived at jointly, with the Rabbi serving as teacher, facilitator and partner. We recognize that participation produces growth – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  Members at every level of Jewish knowledge and observance are encouraged to participate fully in all aspects of congregational life.