Page 121 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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SCULT / MORDECAI KAPLAN AT
100
111
Semitism.7Kaplan on the o the r hand in a speech to the Seminary
alumnae, later published in
Students Annual, Jewish Theological
Seminary of America
(New York, 1914), emphasized the point tha t
the significance o f the To rah was not determ ined by its origin but
by the function tha t it has perfo rm ed in Jewish life th roughou t
the millennia. W ithout taking a stand on all the specific issues,
Kaplan attempted to move the locus o f the discussion by pointing
out that no m a tter what the critics might say about the origins o f
the Torah , it had and would reign supreme in the life o f the
Jewish people as the fundamental and primary expression of
the ir world view.8
In the early years o f the twentieth century, the social sciences
were ju s t beginning to en ter the college curriculum. Kaplan
studied at Columbia with Professor Franklin Giddings, the first
appointee in sociology at the university. As an underg radua te ,
Kaplan had steeped himself in the writings of the impo rtan t
philosophers (Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer are all
discussed in his early journals.) As time went on he became more
and more attracted to the pragmatic philosophy of William James
and to the sociological investigations o f Weber and Durkheim.
During this early period , religion was a primary concern o f all the
leading sociologists. Kaplan had a natura l affinity for sociological
analysis and easily saw many ways in which the historical de­
velopment o f Juda ism might be understood sociologically.9 His
own writings aided those young men and women who in studying
the new social sciences felt increasingly alienated from the ir Jew ­
ish heritage. Kaplan was unique among all colleagues at the
Seminary. They were all willing to approach Judaism with the
historical methods adop ted by the “Wissenschaft” scholars o f the
nineteenth century, bu t Kaplan alone was willing to subject Ju d a ­
ism to a new kind o f scientific analysis.10
7 Solomon Schechter, “Higher Criticism — Higher anti-Semitism,” in
Seminary
Addresses
(Cincinnati: Ark Publishing Co., 1915). p. 37.
8 See Mel Scult, “Mordecai Kaplan’s Reinterpretation of the Torah,”
Conservative
Judaism,
vol. XXXIII, no. 1, (Fall, 1979), pp. 63-68.
9 See for example his series in the Menorah Journal beginning with the following,
“What Judaism is Not,”
The Menorah Journal,
vol. I, no. 4 (October, 1915), pp.
208-216.
10 For a general outline o f that analysis see Mel Scult, “The Sociologist as Theolo­
gian: The Fundamental Assumptions of Mordecai Kaplan’s Thought,
"Juda­
ism,
vol. 25, no. 3, (Summer, 1976), pp. 345-352.