Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation Records
Scope and Content Note
This collection documents the founding and expansion of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, an organization that was established in 1940 with the intent to publish materials to promote the Reconstructionist program. The collection also chronicles the founding of related programs, organizations, and institutions including the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Fellowship, the Women's Organization, the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Fellowships and its predecessor, the Reconstructionist Fellowship of Congregations, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and various youth and university fellowships. Of primary importance in the collection are materials that shed light on the historical background and ideological foundations of Reconstructionist Judaism and the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. Material in the collection that provides this illumination include the administrative records of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation such as the minutes of the Board of Directors, bylaws, correspondence, policy statements, syllabi, and letters and reports of the Foundation's presidents, as well as the extensive publications produced by the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation including the magazine, The Reconstructionist, prayer books, newsletters, and pamphlets.
The collection also documents key people who played significant roles in establishing the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation and creating the Reconstructionist ideology including Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation and the originator of the theories behind Reconstructionist Judaism, and Rabbi Ira Eisenstein who served as president of the Foundation and served as editor of the Foundation's main publication, The Reconstructionist, for many years beginning in 1959. The collection includes correspondence, biographical material, tributes and awards, writings, photographs, and clippings pertaining to both Kaplan and Eisenstein, with majority of such material highlighting the activities of Kaplan. Another strength of the collection is material about the publication of The Reconstructionist, as there are extensive manuscript submissions and correspondence pertaining to the publication of the magazine.
- Undated, 1920, 1928-1983
- Majority of material found within 1943 - 1976
- Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation (Organization)
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation was formed in 1940 for the purpose of publishing materials to promote the Reconstructionist program, an ideology and movement founded by Rabbi Mordecai Menahem Kaplan and later formalized under the leadership of Rabbi Ira Eisenstein. Reconstructionist ideology had a significant impact on American Judaism. Kaplan's early Reconstructionist theories were influenced by the assimilation of Jews in America following the great waves of immigration in the early 1900s; he observed that Jews found it difficult to maintain their Jewish identities in their new country. Key ideas associated with Reconstructionism include interpreting Judaism as a civilization (as well as a religion and nationality), supporting a more inclusive role for women in synagogue and in communal life, expanding the role of the synagogue from merely a place of worship to a community center, and the rejection of supernaturalism.
Following its founding in 1940, the main activity of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation was publishing material that promoted Reconstructionist ideology. Beginning in 1941, the Foundation published a series of Reconstructionist prayer books including The New Haggadah (1941), The Sabbath Prayer Book (1945), and the High Holidays Prayer Book (1948). Concurrently, the Foundation published the highly influential magazine, The Reconstructionist. In 1954, four synagogues united to form the Reconstructionist Federation of Congregations (renamed the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation). In 1955, the Fellowship of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot was founded. As havurot (small groups who met for Shabbat, prayer, and community events) grew into congregations, Reconstructionist Judaism became a more formalized movement. In 1968, Ira Eisenstein founded the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College to ordain rabbis to lead in the synagogues of the Reconstructionist movement and to serve the greater Jewish community in other settings (as campus rabbis, chaplains, academics, educators, and professionals in Jewish communal organizations). In 1974, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association was founded by Reconstructionist Rabbinical College alumni. By 1990, over 100 synagogues and havurot were affiliated with the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. In 2012, the plenum of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation voted in favor of restructuring. As of 2014, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities jointly serve as the primary organization of the Reconstructionist movement.
Mordecai Menahem Kaplan (1881-1983) was an American rabbi, theologian, philosopher, essayist, and Jewish educator, who founded the Reconstructionist ideology and co-founded the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. Kaplan, born in Svencian, Lithuania, was the son of Israel Kaplan, a Talmudic scholar, and Anna Kaplan. Mordecai Kaplan immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister in 1889, a year after his father had immigrated. In the United States, he was educated in the Orthodox tradition. He attended City College of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, from which he was ordained. Kaplan also earned both a Master's and Doctorate degree from Columbia University where he studied philosophy, sociology, and education. In 1908, Kaplan married Lena Rubin (d. 1958). Also in 1908, while serving as minister and superintendent of education at Kehilath Jeshurun, an Orthodox Synagogue in New York City, Kaplan was granted traditional ordination. As Kaplan developed his interest in variant theological interpretations and beliefs, he began to move away from Orthodox theology and he decided to leave his position at Kehilath Jeshurun. In 1909, he accepted a position at the Teachers Institute at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he would remain on staff in various capacities until 1963. Kaplan served as the first rabbi at the Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue founded in 1917. He resigned from that position and founded the first Reconstructionist synagogue in 1922, called the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, located in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. Kaplan supported a more inclusive role for women in synagogue and in communal life. Kaplan introduced the first bat mitzvah in 1922, when his daughter Judith read from the Torah.
In 1925, Kaplan was sent to Jerusalem by the American Zionist Organization where he met Chaim Weizmann, Louis Brandeis, David Ben-Gurion, and others. In 1935, Kaplan served as editor of the newly founded magazine, The Reconstructionist, and then cofounded the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation in 1940. Kaplan continued to teach, write, and publish. His books include Judaism as a Civilization (1934), Judaism in Transition (1936), The Future of the American Jew (1948), Questions Jews Ask (1956), The New Zionism (1959), and The Religion of Ethical Nationhood (1970). Kaplan also coedited a series of Reconstructionist prayer books (published 1941-1948) and wrote extensive diaries (27 volumes) which were later published. After the death of his wife, Lena, in 1958, Kaplan married Rivka Rieger, an Israeli artist. He retired from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1963. Following the founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1968, Kaplan taught at the College for one year. Kaplan died in New York City in November 8, 1983.
Ira Eisenstein (1906-2001) was an American rabbi, writer, editor, and one of the key thinkers and leaders of Reconstructionist Judaism. Eisenstein was born in New York City and was the grandson of Judah David Eisenstein (1854-1956), a Polish-born scholar, encyclopedist, anthologist, and writer who immigrated to the United States in 1872. Ira Eisenstein received a Bachelor's degree and Doctorate of Philosophy from Columbia University. At Columbia, he met, and later married, Judith Kaplan, an ethnomusicologist and daughter of Mordecai Kaplan. In 1931, Eisenstein was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. From 1931 to 1954, he served as associate rabbi, and then as rabbi, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the Reconstructionist synagogue founded by Mordecai Kaplan. Eisenstein was also the associate chairman and later the editor of The Reconstructionist from 1935 to 1982. After moving to Chicago in 1954 to serve as rabbi at Anshe Emet, he returned to New York City in 1959 to become the president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. In 1968, Eisenstein founded the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia (now located in Wyncote, Pennsylvania), and served as president of the college from 1968 to 1981. Some of Eisenstein's seminal publications include Creative Judaism (1936), What We Mean By Religion (1938), The New Haggadah (coeditor; 1941), and Mordecai M. Kaplan: An Evaluation (coeditor, 1952). Eisenstein died in Silver Springs, Maryland in 2001.
Hirsch, Richard. "Reconstructionism." Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, Volume 17: 146-149.
Cohen, Jack, Mel Scult, and Raphael Jospe. "Kaplan, Mordecai Menahem (1881-1983)." Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, Volume 11: 776-779.
Reimer, Jack and Richard Hirsch. "Eisenstein, Ira (1906-2001)." Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, Volume 6: 273.
"Movement Restructuring FAQs." Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.rrc.edu/About/Movement%20Restructuring
40.75 Linear Feet (81 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 4 oversized folders)
Language of Materials
The records chronicle the ideology behind the Reconstructionist movement, the founding and activities of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, and its growth and transformation from an ideology and movement into an established American Jewish denomination, Reconstructionist Judaism. The records also document two seminal figures in Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordecai Menahem Kaplan and Ira Eisenstein. Included in the collection are the administrative records of the Foundation (minutes, financial records, bylaws), publications produced by the Foundation including manuscript submissions for the influential publication The Reconstructionist, correspondence, sermons, prayer books produced by the Foundation, syllabi, sheet music, photographs, and speeches, among other material. In the correspondence are letters from Martin Buber, J. Edgar Hoover, and Albert Schweitzer.
The collection is divided into twenty-nine series, as described below:
- Series I: Bylaws, Policy Statements, and Presidents' Letters and Reports, undated, 1944-1965, 1974
- Subseries A: Bylaws and Policy Statements, undated, 1944-1961, 1974
- Subseries B: Presidents' Letters and Reports, 1945-1947, 1958-1965
- Series II: Financial Reports, 1945-1968
- Series III: Federation and Welfare Fund Allocations, undated, 1946-1967
- Series IV: Board of Directors Minutes and Correspondence, undated, 1943-1976
- Series V: Committees, undated, 1944-1966
- Series VI: Annual Meetings, 1942-1948, 1957, 1963
- Series VII: Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Fellowships, 1956-1976, 1980
- Subseries A: Lists, 1960-1968
- Subseries B: Executive Committee and Board of Governors, 1960-1968
- Subseries C: Conferences, undated, 1956-1980
- Series VIII: Annual and Special Gifts Dinners, undated, 1951-1966
- Subseries A: Annual dinners, undated, 1956-1966
- Subseries B: Special gift and testimonial dinners, 1951-1961
- Series IX: Fundraising and Special Funds, undated, 1940-1968
- Subseries A: General fundraising, 1950-1966
- Subseries B: Allocations, 1960-1968
- Subseries C: Pledges, undated, 1940-1968
- Subseries D: Special Funds and Pledge Drives, undated, 1944-1945, 1954-1965
- Series X: Lists of Prospective Members and Donors and Membership Lists, 1944-1960, 1965
- Series XI: General Fellowship Materials, undated, 1944-1968
- Subseries A: Pre-Federation correspondence with potential and established study groups (not ordered by region), 1944-1968
- Subseries B: Materials sent by various study groups for inclusion in newsletter, 1961-1965
- Series XII: Fellowship and Study Groups, undated, 1943-1971
- Subseries A: New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, undated, 1945-1971
- Subseries B: New England, undated, 1948-1952, 1959-1964
- Subseries C: South, 1945-1967
- Subseries D: Midwest (excluding Illinois), 1943-1967
- Subseries E: Illinois, undated, 1944-1969
- Subseries F: California, undated, 1944-1969
- Subseries G: Western States, 1944-1968
- Subseries H: West Coast, undated, 1955-1967
- Subseries I: Other countries, undated, 1948-1952, 1957-1968
- Series XIII: Education, Retreats, and Projects, undated, 1938, 1944-1979
- Subseries A: Adult education, retreats and Cejwin Camps, undated, 1938, 1944-1951, 1958-1971
- Subseries B: Institute for Applied Research in Contemporary Judaism, 1963-1964
- Subseries C: Panels and Discussions, undated, 1948, 1958-1961
- Subseries D: Israel, undated, 1948-1967, 1974, 1979
- Subseries E: Other projects, undated, 1964-1978
- Series XIV: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Fellowship, undated, 1943-1968
- Subseries A: Lists, 1943-1944, 1956-1963
- Subseries B: Rabbinic Fellowship seminars and conferences, undated, 1946-1968
- Subseries C: News bulletins and correspondence, 1951-1957
- Series XV: Women's Organization, undated, 1958-1962, 1970-1974
- Series XVI: Youth and University Fellowships, undated, 1943-1970, 1976
- Subseries A: B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations, 1945-1968
- Subseries B: Youth Fellowship, undated, 1944-1956
- Subseries C: University Fellowship, undated, 1943-1949, 1959-1970, 1976
- Series XVII: Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1945-1967
- Subseries A: Correspondence, undated, 1945-1967
- Subseries B: Tributes and awards, undated, 1951, 1961, 1965
- Subseries C: Biography, notes, statements, and syllabi, undated, 1945-1965
- Series XVIII: Ira Eisenstein Correspondence, 1944-1968
- Series XIX: Staff Meetings, Staff and President's Correspondence, undated, 1945-1968
- Series XX: General Correspondence, undated, 1928, 1945-1969
- Subseries A: General and miscellaneous correspondence, undated, 1928, 1945-1969
- Subseries B: Foreign and military correspondence, 1945-1950
- Subseries C: Israel and Zionism related correspondence, undated, 1945-1946, 1964-1968
- Subseries D: Other correspondence, 1948-1957
- Series XXI: Editorial Board Minutes and Correspondence, undated, 1942-1973
- Series XXII: The Reconstructionist (magazine) - Correspondence and Manuscripts, undated, 1920, 1930-1936, 1943-1969
- Subseries A: Early formation, undated, 1934-1936
- Subseries B: Manuscripts, undated, 1930-1931, 1944-1948, 1954-1967
- Subseries C: Editorial and manuscript correspondence, undated, 1920, 1943-1969
- Subseries D: Correspondence with writers and contributors, undated, 1944-1969
- Subseries E: Book reviews, 1965-1969
- Subseries F: Symposiums, 1959-1962
- Subseries G: Regional and anniversary issues, 1955-1960
- Subseries H: Creative arts supplement, undated, 1960-1966
- Subseries I: Reprints and use in other publications, 1943-1967
- Subseries J: Statistics, 1943-1968
- Subseries K: Publicity and promotion, undated, 1959-1969
- Subseries L: Circulation and subscription, 1944, 1954-1969
- Subseries M: 30th Anniversary, undated, 1964-1965
- Subseries N: Orders for printers, 1963-1968
- Series XXIII: Publications - Books and Pamphlets Correspondence, undated, 1943-1963, 1975
- Subseries A: Religious books, undated, 1943-1953, 1961
- Subseries B: Publications by Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1944-1951, 1957
- Subseries C: Publications written by others, undated, 1946-1958
- Subseries D: Educational publications, undated, 1959
- Subseries E: Promotional material and general correspondence, undated, 1953-1963, 1975
- Subseries F: Publishing and copyright correspondence, undated, 1949-1958
- Subseries G: Statistics, 1945-1958
- Series XXIV: Cantatas, Interviews, Plays, and Prayer Pamphlets, undated, 1943-1967
- Subseries A: Cantatas, choral works, plays, and prayer pamphlets, undated, 1943-1967
- Subseries B: Mordecai M. Kaplan - interview, radio appearance, and record album, undated, 1952, 1958, 1965-1967
- Series XXV: Pamphlets and Reports, undated, 1941-1952, 1957-1970, 1976
- Subseries A: Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1942-1949
- Subseries B: Ira Eisenstein, undated, 1951-1966
- Subseries C: JRF and Reconstructionist Press, undated, 1941-1951, 1961, 1968
- Subseries D: Other authors (alphabetically by last name), undated, 1945-1957
- Subseries E: Miscellaneous, undated, 1963-1970, 1976
- Series XXVI: Newsletters and press releases, undated, 1944-1968, 1976-1983
- Series XXVII: Clippings, undated, 1945-1970
- Series XXVIII: Photographs, undated, circa 1960, 1965
- Series XXIX: Microfilm, 1970
- Separated Oversized Material, undated, 1946-1968
Located in AJHS New York, NY
The records of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation were donated in 1971.
Box 72, Folders 8 and 9 have been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.
- Bylaws (administrative records)
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Eisenstein, Ira, 1906-1991
- Financial records
- Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation
- Judaism -- United States
- Kaplan, Mordecai Menahem, 1881-1983
- Mailing Lists
- Manuscripts (documents)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- New York (N.Y.)
- Prayer books
- Press releases
- Programs (documents)
- Publications (documents)
- Reconstructionist Federation of Congregations and Fellowships
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Sheet music
- Speeches (documents)
- Guide to the Records of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, undated, 1920, 1928-1983
- Processed by Adina Anflick and Marvin Rusinek.
- © 2009
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- August 2014.: Historical note and collection-level scope and content note were added and revision of dates and minor edits were made to the finding aid by Patricia Glowinski.
- December 2014.: An addition of one reel of microfilm from the AJHS Microfilm Collection was incorporated into the collection (comprising Series XXIX: Microfilm) by Patricia Glowinski.
- January 2021: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.