Page 123 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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SCULT / MORDECAI KAPLAN AT
100
1 1 3
response to new political and social conditions; thus the need to
reconstruct and to evolve was ever present.
In
Judaism As A Civilization,
Kaplan advocated tha t all Jewish
laws were in reality the customs o f the Jewish community tha t had
endu ring value. By viewing the mitzvot as customs ra th e r than as
laws, people were given more flexibility in the ir observance. Kap­
lan wanted his congregants to do as much as they could in terms of
religious ritual, ra the r than feeling tha t they were dealing with a
set o f laws which were either kept or broken. As
The Guide toJewish
Ritual
published by the Reconstructionist Movement pu t it, “The
circumstances o f life are so d ifferen t for d ifferen t Jews, the ir
economic needs and opportunities, the ir cultural background,
their acquired skills and inherited capacities are so varied tha t it is
unreasonable to expect all of them to evaluate the same rituals in
the same way.”12
Kaplan’s flexible approach to ritual led to many innovations.
He attempted to renew, not by restricting ritual to a more limited
sphere but by creative and judicious substitutions. Thus, for
example, in 1925 Kaplan substituted Psalm 130 for the text o f the
Kol Nidre prayer while retaining the traditional melody. Many
years later he advocated that a Sabbath Seder be instituted as he
saw the decrease in synagogue attendance. He also believed in an
adult initiation into the Jewish community at the age o f eighteen
to supplement the Bar Mitzvah. The adult initiate would be called
a Ben To rah or a Bat Torah .
Kaplan was an early advocate o f equal rights for women in
Jewish ritual. T he first Bat Mitzvah on record was perfo rm ed at
the S.A.J. in 1922 with his daugh ter Jud ith as the Bat Mitzvah.
Kaplan said many times that he had four good reasons for sup ­
porting the institution o f Bat Mitzvah — his four daughters.
Kaplan’s ritual innovativeness led to the publication in 1941 of
his
New Haggadah.13
With the rash o f experimental haggadahs we
now have it is difficult to realize the violent commotion created by
Kaplan. His haggadah included a liturgical text which left out
time-honored tradition (the Ten Plagues are not mentioned) and
changed the Hebrew o f prayers (the Kiddush omits any reference
12
A Guide to Jewish Ritual,
(New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1962), p. 6.
13 Mordecai M. Kaplan, Eugene Kohn, Ira Eisenstein, eds.,
TheNewHaggadah For
the Pesach Seder,
(New York: Behrman House, 1941).