Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life (Classic Reprint)

  • Publish Date: 2015-06-04
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Mordecai M. Kaplan
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Excerpt from Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life

Judaism' and 'Jewish religion' arc not synonymous terms. 'Judaism' is more comprehensive than 'Jewish religion,' for 'Jewish religion' is only a part of 'Judaism.' Judaism is the composite of the collected thoughts, sentiments and efforts of the Jewish people. In other words, Judaism is the sum total of all the manifestations of the distinctively Jewish national spirit.

The Jewish religion is, then, only a part of Judaism, though by far its most important part. Among no other people on earth has religion occupied so large, so significant a place in their spiritual life as it has among the Jews. But besides religion there were, and still are, other elements in Judaism.

(Bernard Felsenthal, in Teacher in Israel, by Emma Felsenthal, New York, 1924, p. 212.)

It was a fatal mistake of the period of emancipation, a mistake which is the real source of all the subsequent disasters in modern Jewish life, that, in order to facilitate the fight for political equality, Judaism was put forward not as a culture, as the full expression of the inner life of the Jewish people, but as a creed, as the summary of a few abstract articles of faith, similar in character to the religion of the surrounding nations.

(Israel Friedlaender, in Past and Present, Ark Pub. Co., Cincinnati, 1919, p. 267.)

Is the trend toward placing less emphasis on Judaism as a cult and more emphasis on Judaism as a civilization, i.e., identifying it with all the activities and relations of life?

(From a questionnaire submitted in 1925 to members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.)


North South West Total
Cult 3 8 4 15
Civilization 20 12 18 50
(Yearbook, C. C. A. R., 1926, p. 320.)

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