Democratizing Judaism

Democratizing Judaism


Jack J. Cohen

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781936235162 (hardcover)
Pages: 306 pp.
Publication Date: December 2010

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Democratizing Judaism is a two-part examination of the Reconstructionist philosophy of Mordecai M. Kaplan. Part I is largely devoted to a defense of Kaplan against several serious critics. It also provides new insight into Kaplan's theology through reference to as as-yet unknown passages in his Diaries. Part II provides a critical analysis of the contemporary Reconstructionist movement and explores how a Kaplan disciple treats problems of democracy in Israel and issues of ethical theological concern.

Rabbi Dr. Cohen had a long career as an educator, author and public servant. Before settling in Israel in 1961, he served as the Educational Director of Park Synagogue in Cleveland, Ohio, as the Director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, and as the Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. During the last six and a half years of his tenure in the States, he also taught courses in the philosophy of religion and education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.In Israel, Dr, Cohen served for 23 years as the Director of the Hillel Foundation at Hebrew University, taught an annual seminar for students of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and taught a course in Jewish thought at the David Yellin College of Education. Dr. Cohen was widely published in Jewish journals and was the author of a number of books, among them The Case For Religious Naturalism, Jewish Education in Democratic Society, The Reunion of Isaac and Ishmael, Guides for an Age of Confusion, and Major Philosophers of Jewish Prayer in the 20th Century. Dr. Cohen passed away in 2012 in Jerusalem.

In Democratizing Judaism, we are offered many rare glimpses into the evolution of Mordecai M. Kaplan’s thinking as Cohen connects Kaplan’s writing with his life experiences, his theology with his biography. . . . Cohen opens the volume with glowing words of praise; yet weaving its way through each chapter, and plainly visible by the end, master and disciple are speaking with one voice—a voice that still deserves to be heard; it is a voice that has much to reveal about the promise of Judaism and the state of modern Israel today.
— David Brusin, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, in the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, vol. 12, issue 3 (December 2013)
When it comes to Mordecai Kaplan, Jack Cohen is the teacher of us all. There is much misunderstanding of Kaplan, with people usually identifying him solely with the basic concepts of his system. Jack Cohen, Kaplan’s most knowledgeable disciple, goes beyond the basics and in this new work gives us a sense of Kaplan’s depth and uniqueness. He offers us the full range of Kaplan’s thought while concentrating on his theology, his Zionism and the similarities between his system and that of the great mystic Abraham Isaac Kook. Few people understand the Kook-Kaplan connection the way Jack Cohen does. Kaplan’s attitude toward Eretz Yisrael is provocatively idiosyncratic and still extremely valuable for anyone who thinks about Israel in all its complexity. There is no one who knows Kaplan’s Zionism better than Jack Cohen. The most valuable aspect of this work is that Cohen knew Kaplan first hand over a long period of time and gives us a vivid sense of Kaplan the man. For long-time Kaplan supporters and for neophytes, this book offers a wonderful in-depth summation of Kaplan’s ideology.
— Mel Scult, Professor Emeritus in Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College

Table of Contents

A Personal Introduction

Part I. Mordecai M. Kaplan Reexamined
Ch. 1 Theorist and Activist
Ch. 2 The Rational Mystic
Ch. 3 Toward a Theology of Experience
Ch. 4 Religious Education for Democracy
Ch. 5 On the Theology of Election
Ch. 6 Other Critics
Ch. 7 Naturalism and Supernaturalism
Ch. 8 Ethical Values in the Thought of Bertrand
Russell and Mordecai M. Kaplan
Part II. Reconstructionism Reexamined  and Applied
Ch. 9 Reconstructionism Revisited
Ch. 10 A State with a Jewish Majority
Ch. 11 The Concept of a Jewish State
Ch. 12 What Is a Zionist State?
Ch. 13 The Western Wall
Ch. 14 A Theology of Ethics
Ch. 15 “Is This the Meaning of My Life?”
Ch. 16 A Rational Approach to the Idea of God
Ch. 17 When a Judge Steps off the Bench