What Was He Thinking: The Diaries of Mordecai M. Kaplan

Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement, had an extraordinary influence on Judaism in the 20th century. He was a teacher, innovator, founder, theologian and Jewish community advocate. Throughout his long career as a teacher of homiletics and theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he influenced generations of Conservative rabbis. Many of his ideas and innovations startled and upset the Jewish world: the first Reconstructionist Siddur was publicly burned in New York and Kaplan was excommunicated. His daughter, Judith, was the first girl to become Bat Mitzvah. Kaplan published The New Haggadah, among the first to celebrate Passover as a holiday of freedom. The Reconstructionist movement has grown to be a significant source of innovation and change in the Jewish community.

Kaplan kept a diary most of his adult life, by far the largest ever produced in English. This talk draws from the first two edited volumes of the diaries. They detail Kaplan’s thinking about his emerging concepts of God and Judaism, his conflicts and agreements with other prominent Jewish teachers and thinkers, including some of the faculty at JTS, and also deal with family and personal matters. This talk introduces this exceptional document by exploring some of its major themes.



Mitchell Rothman