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Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-71

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.

Dates

  • Undated, 1920, 1928-1983
  • Majority of material found within 1943 - 1976

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in English, with some material in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:

American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

email: reference@ajhs.org

Historical Note<extptr actuate="onload" altrender="JRF logo" href="http://digital.cjh.org/webclient/DeliveryManager?pid=2240704" show="embed" title="Logo of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation"/>

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.

References

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

Extent

40.75 Linear Feet (81 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 4 oversized folders)

Overview

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.

Arrangement

The collection is divided into twenty-nine series, as described below:
  1. Series I: Bylaws, Policy Statements, and Presidents' Letters and Reports, undated, 1944-1965, 1974
  2. Subseries A: Bylaws and Policy Statements, undated, 1944-1961, 1974
  3. Subseries B: Presidents' Letters and Reports, 1945-1947, 1958-1965
  4. Series II: Financial Reports, 1945-1968
  5. Series III: Federation and Welfare Fund Allocations, undated, 1946-1967
  6. Series IV: Board of Directors Minutes and Correspondence, undated, 1943-1976
  7. Series V: Committees, undated, 1944-1966
  8. Series VI: Annual Meetings, 1942-1948, 1957, 1963
  9. Series VII: Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Fellowships, 1956-1976, 1980
  10. Subseries A: Lists, 1960-1968
  11. Subseries B: Executive Committee and Board of Governors, 1960-1968
  12. Subseries C: Conferences, undated, 1956-1980
  13. Series VIII: Annual and Special Gifts Dinners, undated, 1951-1966
  14. Subseries A: Annual dinners, undated, 1956-1966
  15. Subseries B: Special gift and testimonial dinners, 1951-1961
  16. Series IX: Fundraising and Special Funds, undated, 1940-1968
  17. Subseries A: General fundraising, 1950-1966
  18. Subseries B: Allocations, 1960-1968
  19. Subseries C: Pledges, undated, 1940-1968
  20. Subseries D: Special Funds and Pledge Drives, undated, 1944-1945, 1954-1965
  21. Series X: Lists of Prospective Members and Donors and Membership Lists, 1944-1960, 1965
  22. Series XI: General Fellowship Materials, undated, 1944-1968
  23. Subseries A: Pre-Federation correspondence with potential and established study groups (not ordered by region), 1944-1968
  24. Subseries B: Materials sent by various study groups for inclusion in newsletter, 1961-1965
  25. Series XII: Fellowship and Study Groups, undated, 1943-1971
  26. Subseries A: New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, undated, 1945-1971
  27. Subseries B: New England, undated, 1948-1952, 1959-1964
  28. Subseries C: South, 1945-1967
  29. Subseries D: Midwest (excluding Illinois), 1943-1967
  30. Subseries E: Illinois, undated, 1944-1969
  31. Subseries F: California, undated, 1944-1969
  32. Subseries G: Western States, 1944-1968
  33. Subseries H: West Coast, undated, 1955-1967
  34. Subseries I: Other countries, undated, 1948-1952, 1957-1968
  35. Series XIII: Education, Retreats, and Projects, undated, 1938, 1944-1979
  36. Subseries A: Adult education, retreats and Cejwin Camps, undated, 1938, 1944-1951, 1958-1971
  37. Subseries B: Institute for Applied Research in Contemporary Judaism, 1963-1964
  38. Subseries C: Panels and Discussions, undated, 1948, 1958-1961
  39. Subseries D: Israel, undated, 1948-1967, 1974, 1979
  40. Subseries E: Other projects, undated, 1964-1978
  41. Series XIV: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Fellowship, undated, 1943-1968
  42. Subseries A: Lists, 1943-1944, 1956-1963
  43. Subseries B: Rabbinic Fellowship seminars and conferences, undated, 1946-1968
  44. Subseries C: News bulletins and correspondence, 1951-1957
  45. Series XV: Women's Organization, undated, 1958-1962, 1970-1974
  46. Series XVI: Youth and University Fellowships, undated, 1943-1970, 1976
  47. Subseries A: B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations, 1945-1968
  48. Subseries B: Youth Fellowship, undated, 1944-1956
  49. Subseries C: University Fellowship, undated, 1943-1949, 1959-1970, 1976
  50. Series XVII: Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1945-1967
  51. Subseries A: Correspondence, undated, 1945-1967
  52. Subseries B: Tributes and awards, undated, 1951, 1961, 1965
  53. Subseries C: Biography, notes, statements, and syllabi, undated, 1945-1965
  54. Series XVIII: Ira Eisenstein Correspondence, 1944-1968
  55. Series XIX: Staff Meetings, Staff and President's Correspondence, undated, 1945-1968
  56. Series XX: General Correspondence, undated, 1928, 1945-1969
  57. Subseries A: General and miscellaneous correspondence, undated, 1928, 1945-1969
  58. Subseries B: Foreign and military correspondence, 1945-1950
  59. Subseries C: Israel and Zionism related correspondence, undated, 1945-1946, 1964-1968
  60. Subseries D: Other correspondence, 1948-1957
  61. Series XXI: Editorial Board Minutes and Correspondence, undated, 1942-1973
  62. Series XXII: The Reconstructionist (magazine) - Correspondence and Manuscripts, undated, 1920, 1930-1936, 1943-1969
  63. Subseries A: Early formation, undated, 1934-1936
  64. Subseries B: Manuscripts, undated, 1930-1931, 1944-1948, 1954-1967
  65. Subseries C: Editorial and manuscript correspondence, undated, 1920, 1943-1969
  66. Subseries D: Correspondence with writers and contributors, undated, 1944-1969
  67. Subseries E: Book reviews, 1965-1969
  68. Subseries F: Symposiums, 1959-1962
  69. Subseries G: Regional and anniversary issues, 1955-1960
  70. Subseries H: Creative arts supplement, undated, 1960-1966
  71. Subseries I: Reprints and use in other publications, 1943-1967
  72. Subseries J: Statistics, 1943-1968
  73. Subseries K: Publicity and promotion, undated, 1959-1969
  74. Subseries L: Circulation and subscription, 1944, 1954-1969
  75. Subseries M: 30th Anniversary, undated, 1964-1965
  76. Subseries N: Orders for printers, 1963-1968
  77. Series XXIII: Publications - Books and Pamphlets Correspondence, undated, 1943-1963, 1975
  78. Subseries A: Religious books, undated, 1943-1953, 1961
  79. Subseries B: Publications by Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1944-1951, 1957
  80. Subseries C: Publications written by others, undated, 1946-1958
  81. Subseries D: Educational publications, undated, 1959
  82. Subseries E: Promotional material and general correspondence, undated, 1953-1963, 1975
  83. Subseries F: Publishing and copyright correspondence, undated, 1949-1958
  84. Subseries G: Statistics, 1945-1958
  85. Series XXIV: Cantatas, Interviews, Plays, and Prayer Pamphlets, undated, 1943-1967
  86. Subseries A: Cantatas, choral works, plays, and prayer pamphlets, undated, 1943-1967
  87. Subseries B: Mordecai M. Kaplan - interview, radio appearance, and record album, undated, 1952, 1958, 1965-1967
  88. Series XXV: Pamphlets and Reports, undated, 1941-1952, 1957-1970, 1976
  89. Subseries A: Mordecai M. Kaplan, undated, 1942-1949
  90. Subseries B: Ira Eisenstein, undated, 1951-1966
  91. Subseries C: JRF and Reconstructionist Press, undated, 1941-1951, 1961, 1968
  92. Subseries D: Other authors (alphabetically by last name), undated, 1945-1957
  93. Subseries E: Miscellaneous, undated, 1963-1970, 1976
  94. Series XXVI: Newsletters and press releases, undated, 1944-1968, 1976-1983
  95. Series XXVII: Clippings, undated, 1945-1970
  96. Series XXVIII: Photographs, undated, circa 1960, 1965
  97. Series XXIX: Microfilm, 1970
  98. Separated Oversized Material, undated, 1946-1968

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

The records of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation were donated in 1971.

Digitization Note

Box 72, Folders 8 and 9 have been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.

Related Material

AJHS holds many related archival collections, such as the Society for the Advancement of Judaism Records (I-70) and the Schoolman Family Papers (P-716).

Bibliography

The AJHS Library holds many of Kaplan's and Eisenstein's writings, as well as scholarly works about Reconstructionism. These may be found by searching the catalog of the Center for Jewish History. http://search.cjh.org
Title
Guide to the Records of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, undated, 1920, 1928-1983 I-71
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Adina Anflick and Marvin Rusinek.
Date
© 2009
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • 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.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States