Atheism in Judaism
Mordecai Kaplan: Jewish atheist
Mordecai Menahem Kaplan was born in Lithuania [in 1881] and brought to the United States at the age of eight. He received his secular education at the College of the City of New York and Columbia University, and his rabbinic degree in 1902 from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Solomon Schechter invited him in 1909 to be principal of the Teachers' Institute of the Seminary; in the next year Kaplan was appointed professor of homiletics in its Rabbinical School, and since then he has held a variety of other post at that institution. Always active as a rabbi and community leader, Kaplan "invented" the idea of the synagogue-center in 1916, when he organized the Jewish Center in Manhattan. After a few years he broke with this group, which would not follow him as his religious views became more liberal, to found the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (in 1922). ...
... His approach, which he named Reconstructionism, was expounded in
Judaism as a Civilization , a book which caused a furor when it
appeared in 1934. These controversies grew more heated in the next ten years, as several Reconstructionist prayer books appeared, with important deletions from the traditional texts, and as he published a succession of other volumes in exposition of his views. ...
Kaplan's premises are essentially the same as Kallen's, though he is far more
involved in religion. For Kallen it is enough to define Judaism as one of many
parallel national civilizations; Kaplan regards religion as so characteristic of Jewish experience that he insists on a hyphenated adjective -- religio-national -- as the correct way to describe this particular civilization. Like any complex of rituals and values which make up a way of life, Judaism will survive only if it answers the real needs of men. Hence Kaplan follows Ahad Ha-Am in arguing that a homeland is necessary, where Judaism can become relevant to the modern age by refashioning itself in its own way. Many of the specific ideas which Kaplan upholds -- like his denial of the orthodox concepts of revelation and of the "chosen people," or his affirmation of a theology which is a Jewish version of the "social gospel" -- can be denied, without destroying his Zionist stance.
The Zionist idea: a historical analysis and reader ,
edited and with
an introduction by Arthur Hertzberg
(1959; Atheneum/Macmillan NY 1989) p 535-6
Mordecai Kaplan, Judaism as a civilization: toward a
reconstruction of American-Jewish life (Reconstructionist: NY
re. Jewish/Catholic/cultural/atheists, see Ahad Ha-Am,
Sherwin Wine,Graham Greene,
Charles Maurras, Miguel de Unamuno and Michael Harrington.
... the important story told of a certain disciple of a rabbi who boasted that he had converted an unbelieving Jew.
"How did you do this?" the rabbi asked. The disciple answered "A poor man knocked at my door and was hungry and asked for food. I welcomed him. Then I said to him 'First we must pray minchah, the afternoon prayers.' We prayed together. And after that I told him 'we pray maariv, the evening prayers.' Then we went to the table but first I told him that he had to wash his hands and recite the blessing, and then to recite the blessing over the bread.
"What happened?" asked the rabbi. "The man fainted and I revived him and we prayed." The rabbi thought and told him, "My son, you have done wrong." "But rabbi he blessed God. What did I do wrong?"
The rabbi said "You should have acted as if there were no God." "But rabbi, that is atheism." The rabbi answered "God created everything for a purpose, atheism is for a purpose. When a person comes to you in need you act as if there is no God in the world, no angel, no heavenly intervention. You act as if there is no one in the world but you yourself." The disciple asked him, "But what about the saving of his soul?" The rabbi answered "Save your soul and his body and not vice-versa."
"KERUV, CONVERSION AND THE UNCHURCHED"
- Outreach Lecture by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis