Realism, Pluralism, and Salvation: Reading Mordecai Kaplan through John Hick

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy

The article surveys Kaplan’s ideas about God and salvation in the light of current debates on religious realism and pluralism. Using definitions formulated by John Hick, one of the prominent voices of religious realism and pluralism, the article’s central argument is that Kaplan was a religious realist who affirmed the ontological existence of God, even though his epistemology dictated the use of a nonrealistic and functionalistic religious language.

  • 4

    Allan Lazaroff“Kaplan and John Dewey,” in The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplaned. E.S. Goldsmith M. Scult and R.M. Seltzer (New York: New York University Press1990) 173–196.

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  • 8

    See for example David Brusin“The God of Mordecai Kaplan,” Judaism 29 no. 2 (1980): 210. See also Leora Batnizky’s analysis of Kaplan’s hermeneutic project “Mordecai Kaplan as Hermeneut: History Memory and His God-Idea” Jewish Social Studies: History Culture Society 12 no. 2 (2006): 88–98.

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  • 9

    See Noam Pianko“Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructing America: The Sources and Functions of Mordecai Kaplan’s ‘Civilization,’ ” Jewish Social Studies: History Culture Society 12 no. 2 (2006): 39.

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  • 11

    See for example Jacob B. Agus“God in Kaplan’s Philosophy,” Judaism 30 no. 1 (1981): 30–35; William E. Kaufman “Kaplan’s Approach to Metaphysics” in The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan ed. E.S. Goldsmith M. Scult and R.M. Seltzer (New York: New York University Press 1990) 271–282.

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  • 12

    Mordecai M. KaplanQuestions Jews Ask (New York: Thomas Yoseloff1957) 95.

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    Mordecai M. KaplanJudaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life (New York: Thomas Yoseloff1957) 316.

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    Mordecai M. KaplanThe Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (New York: The Reconstructionist Press1962) 32–33.

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    Mordecai M. KaplanJudaism without Supernaturalism: The Only Alternative to Orthodoxy and Secularism (New York: The Reconstructionist Press1958) 10. For more about Kaplan’s supernaturalism see Sheila Greeve Davaney “Beyond Supernaturalism: Mordecai Kaplan and the Turn to Religious Naturalism” Jewish Social Studies: History Culture Society 12 no. 2 (2006): 80–86.

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  • 16

    KaplanQuestions Jews Ask95.

  • 17

    KaplanJudaism without Supernaturalism112.

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    KaplanQuestions Jews Ask102.

  • 21

    Mordecai M. Kaplan“When is a Religion Authentic?,” The Reconstructionist 30 no. 11 (1964): 14.

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    Ibid.16–17. One of the origins of Kaplan’s correlative notion of God is his reading of Hermann Cohen’s work especially his Religion of Reason Out of the Sources of Judaism (first published in 1919). In The Purpose and Meaning of Jewish Existence in which Kaplan posits his conceptions of Judaism in direct comparison with other Jewish thinkers Kaplan defines Cohen’s correlative concept as a “seminal idea.” See Mordecai M. Kaplan The Purpose and Meaning of Jewish Existence: A People in the Image of God (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America 1971) 58. In his article “Hermann Cohen and Mordechai M. Kaplan” Kohanski criticizes Kaplan’s reading of Cohen. Addressing the way Kaplan presents Cohen’s notion that “God is the correlate of man” and that “Divinity is to be conceived as that aspect of nature which impels and helps man to transcend his animal nature” Kohanski claims that “both the phrasing of the meaning of correlation and its expansion into ‘other words’ are to be sure Kaplan’s views but not Cohen’s.” Alexander S. Kohanski “Hermann Cohen and Mordecai M. Kaplan” Jewish Social Studies 29 no. 3 (1967): 156. For more on Cohen’s idea of correlation and Kaplan’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of it see ibid. 162.

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    John HickProblems of Religious Pluralism (New York: St. Martin’s Press1985) 39.

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    Ibid.12–13.

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    HickDialogues in the Philosophy of Religion101–102.

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    Ibid.99–101.

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    KaplanThe Meaning of God53–54.

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    Jacob J. Staub“Kaplan and Process Theology,” in The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplaned. E.S. Goldsmith M. Scult and R.M. Seltzer (New York: New York University Press1990) 283–293. Note also Kaplan’s remark that “as far as Jewish religion with its teachings and rituals is concerned it matters very little how we conceive God as long as we so believe in God that belief in Him makes a tremendous difference in our lives.” Questions Jews Ask 87.

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  • 39

    KaplanThe Meaning of God20.

  • 40

    Kaplan“When Is a Religion Authentic?” 16.

  • 41

    Ibid. See also Kaufman“Kaplan’s Approach to Metaphysics” 276.

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    Kaplan“When Is a Religion Authentic?” 17. For more on the changing meanings of God see David Brusin “The God of Abraham Isaac Jacob and Mordecai M. Kaplan” The Reconstructionist 50 no. 6 (1985): 11–15 35.

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  • 43

    Paul R. Eddy“Religious Pluralism and the Divine: Another Look at John Hick’s Neo-Kantian Proposal,” Religious Studies 30 no. 4 (1994): 469.

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  • 44

    HickDisputed Questions7.

  • 45

    Eddy“Religious Pluralism” 39.

  • 47

    KaplanJudaism without Supernaturalism75. I have preserved the original italics.

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    KaplanJudaism as a Civilization330–331.

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