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Dr. Kaplan Suggests New Name for ‘conservative’ Wing in American Jewry

December 4, 1927
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

‘Reconstructionists’ Preferred for Groups Which Must Make Stand Clear, He Says

The suggestion that the modern synagogues, designated in the vernacular as Conservative, be henceforth called Reconstructionists is made by Dr. Mordecai M. Kaplan, Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, writing editorially in the “S.A.J. Review” of the Society.

The group designated up to now as Conservative is being forced, by the aggressiveness of Jewish fundamentalists, to make its position clear, Dr. Kaplan argues.

“Thanks to the aggressiveness of Jewish fundamentalists, those who belong to the large body of adjectiveless Jews are beginning to realize their mistake in permitting themselves to pass off as spiritual ‘mugwumps’,” Dr. Kaplan writes. “They are being forced to make their position clear. They must take a definite stand with regard to the traditional attitude toward the Torah. They must fomulate the principle or principles they intend to follow in the changes which they want to introduce into their ceremonial practices as Jews. The bootlegging of innovations will have to be stopped. In other words, they will have to accept the logical and moral consequences that follow from being a distinct party in Judaism.

“Groups that are the product of insurgency against the status quo are, as a rule, too shame-faced at first to admit their identity. Whatever name they come to bear is usually the one forced on them by their opponents. This is happening at the present time with synagogue Jews of the non-conformist type, to which class we of the Society for the Advancement fo Judaism belong. Both the Orthodox and the Reformists are gradually forcing us to assume the name Conservative. If possible, we should like to forestall such an eventuality because we consider the epithet Conservative a rather unfortunate one. It is a characterization hardly calculated to inspire interest or enthusiasm. It was perhaps a fitting epithet for the men of a generation or two ago, who were little more than slow-footed Reformists, men like the late Jastrow whose prayer book is still used by old-time Conservative congregations. In common with the Reformists, they repudiated the hope for the restoration of Palestine, and differ from them only in sentimental attachment to traditional forms. Old-time Conservative Judaism has developed no philosophy of its own. For that very reason, its very existence is almost unknown to those who have come to this country since the nineties.

“Those of us who are the butt of attack by the Orthodox at the present time are not Conservatives but Reconstructionists. What we want is that Jewish life should become as many sided and as contentful as it is possible to make it in the Diaspora, with Palestine as our cultural and spiritual center. Our interest is centered in the reinterpretation and reconstruction of traditional ideas that are at the basis of our theology, natonalism, and Jewish law. Hence, we should be known as the Reconstructionist Party in Judaism,” he concludes.

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