The Reconstructionist movement in Judaism is gradually entering the mainstream after 47 years of existing on the edge of Jewish life.
The Jewish Week (Jan. 18) reports that new leadership and maturity is bringing? greater stability and acceptance, if not sharp growth, to the smallest and youngest Jewish branch in the U.S.. Reconstructionist Judaism, founded by Modecai Kaplan, views Judaism as a civilization more than a religion, and rejects such traditional Jewish concepts as a personal messiah, resurrection of the dead, and the concept of Jews as a chosen people.
Writer Deborah Nussbaum Cohen notes that the self-image of the 50,000-member denomination (with 100 congregations) is strengthened by a thriving seminary with an enrollment of 90 students — up 50 percent from 1993.
The movement is starting its first summer camp (a staple of Jewish youth ministry) this year. The new acceptance and recognition of the movement in the larger Jewish community is evidenced by the use of the word “Reconstructionist” in print far more frequently than was the case five years ago.
Part of the move toward the mainstream may have been helped by Reconstructionist leaders’ attempt to distance themselves from Renewal Judaism — a mystical and social activist movement started in the 1960s that has strong, if indirect, influence on many Jewish institutions. Steven Bayme of the American Jewish Committee says that the Reconstructionist movement may not grow very large, but does attract unaffiliated Jews open to seeing Judaism as a “culture of ideas.”
Others point to the movement’s openness to other religions and liturgical creativity as creating a distinct niche for the denomination.