Reconstructionist Judaism & Halakhah

Reconstructionists see halakhah as no longer viable, but still a resource to be taken seriously.

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The individual's choices, however, can and should not be made alone. Our ethical values and ritual propensities are shaped by the culture and community in which we live. Living a Jewish life, according to the Reconstructionist understanding, means belonging to the Jewish people as a whole and to a particular community of Jews, through which our views of life are shaped.

Thus, while Reconstructionist communities are neither authoritarian nor coercive, they aspire to influence the individual's ethical and ritual choices--through study of Jewish sources, through the sharing of values and experiences, and through the impact of the climate of communal opinion on the individual. Some groups even hold community kallot (study weekends) in which recommendations about ethical or ritual practice are developed for members.

Many members of Reconstructionist communities, for example, have not considered observance of Shabbat as a possibility before they joined; when they become acquainted with Jews for whom Shabbat is a key practice, they often decide to explore Shabbat observance for themselves. No one forces them. They are not judged negatively for what they do or don't observe. Nevertheless, their perceptions, and hence their choices, are affected by their participation in the community.

Reconstructionism as an Approach

The Reconstructionist movement strongly advocates that Reconstructionist groups consider collectively questions of ethical and ritual behavior, but Reconstructionism ultimately is an approach to Judaism. We learn and appreciate what the tradition has to say, we come to a spectrum of options that reflects that understanding, and the organizations of the movement may even issue a set of guidelines. But ultimately we believe that in all cases, be they questions of ritual or principle, individuals must decide for themselves about the proper Jewish way to proceed in a given situation.

While we may share certain values and life situations, no two sets of circumstances are identical. We hope that the Reconstructionist process works to help people find the right answers for themselves, but we can only assist in helping individuals to ask the right questions so that their choices are made in an informed way within a Jewish context.

To be true to ourselves we must understand the differences in perception between us and those who have gone before, while retaining a reverence for the traditions they fashioned. If we can juxtapose those things, we ensure that the past will have [in the phrase of Reconstructionism's founder, Mordecai Kaplan,] a vote, but not a veto.

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Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert

Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert is Co-Director of the Women's Studies Program and Assistant Professor of Religion and Women's Studies at Temple University.

Rabbi Jacob J. Staub

Rabbi Jacob J. Staub is Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Medieval Jewish Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.