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. Kaplan, ed. E.S. Goldsmith, M. Scult, and R.M. Seltzer (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 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. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1957), 95.

  • 13

    Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1957), 316.

  • 14

    Mordecai M. Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (New York: The Reconstructionist Press, 1962), 32–33.

  • 15

    Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism without Supernaturalism: The Only Alternative to Orthodoxy and Secularism (New York: The Reconstructionist Press, 1958), 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

    Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask, 95.

  • 17

    Kaplan, Judaism without Supernaturalism, 112.

  • 18

    Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask, 102.

  • 21

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

  • 22

    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.

  • 23

    John Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 39.

  • 24

    Ibid., 12–13.

  • 26

    Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion, 101–102.

  • 27

    Ibid., 99–101.

  • 29

    Kaplan, The Meaning of God, 53–54.

  • 37

    Jacob J. Staub, “Kaplan and Process Theology,” 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), 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

    Kaplan, The Meaning of God, 20.

  • 40

    Kaplan, “When Is a Religion Authentic?,” 16.

  • 41

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

  • 42

    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.

  • 44

    Hick, Disputed Questions, 7.

  • 45

    Eddy, “Religious Pluralism,” 39.

  • 47

    Kaplan, Judaism without Supernaturalism, 75. I have preserved the original italics.

  • 49

    Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization, 330–331.

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