Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

Basic HTML Version

A Tribute to Mordecai Kaplan at 100
M o r d e c a i K a p l a n
would fascinate us even had he done no th ing
significant within the Jewish community. T he mere length o f his
life overwhelms the imagination. Kaplan was in Paris at the age o f
seven, when the Eiffel Tower was being completed. He finished
his studies at City College in 1900 and gradua ted the Jewish
Theological Seminary the same year tha t Solomon Schechter
assumed the presidency. Kaplan had been asked to de fe r receiv­
ing his rabbinical degree until 1903 so tha t the first class u n d e r
Schechter would be larger. Kaplan refused . He was already
p rom inen t in the Jewish community before World War I and
worked closely with Ju d ah Magnes and Samson Benderly in the
New York Kahillah. We would do well to rem ember tha t when
Kaplan published his magnum opus in 1934 he was fifty-three
years old. T he last work which he wrote himself,
The Religion of
Ethical Nationhood,
was published by Macmillan (the same com­
pany that published
Judaism As A Civilization)
in 1970 when he was
Kaplan’s association with the Seminary almost matches the
history of the institution itself. He came as a studen t in 1893 and
did not retire from the faculty until seventy years later. In 1909 he
was asked by Schechter to become principal (notice the English
title — the title Dean came later) o f the newly organized Teachers
Institute. Practically every significant figure in the Conservative
movement has studied with Kaplan. His earliest students are now
well into the ir eighties and many are no longer alive. Louis Fin-
kelstein, Max Kadushin, Solomon Grayzel, Simon G reenberg —
the elder statesmen o f the Conservative movement were all stu­
dents of Kaplan’s.
A lexander Dushkin, the well known Jewish educator and one
o f Kaplan’s early students described him in the period before
World War I as the “Ma’ayan Ha-M itgaber,” an ever on ru sh ing
stream both “destructive and reconstructive.” Dushkin goes on to
note tha t Kaplan taugh t “his tru th with missionary zeal, sweeping
1 0 6