Reconstructionism, Jewish Renewal, and Secular Humanism
Today, the move away from strict observance of Jewish law has resulted in a panoply of Jewish groups. Unlike the various groups of Torah-observant Jews who offer different means to the same end, each of these groups offers a different vision of how the ideal Jew should respond to Torah and Jewish law.
The Reconstructionist movement was founded by Conservative Rabbi and philosopher Mordecai Kaplan. His beliefs could be summarized by one of his favorite aphorisms: tradition has “a vote, but not a veto.” Reconstructionism emphasizes “Judaism as a civilization,” defined as “the integration of selected Jewish beliefs with the Jewish people's culture and folkways.”
The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) was founded in 1955, followed by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in 1968, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) in 1974. Reconstructionists reject the authority of Jewish law, but “where Reform Judaism emphasizes individual autonomy, Reconstructionism emphasizes the importance of religious community in shaping individual patterns of observance.” Today, there are over 100 Reconstructionist congregations and havurot (prayer groups) in North America.
Jewish Renewal was inspired by the havurot, prayer groups that arose as part of the cultural rebellion of the late 1960s. Some groups, such as the Boston-area Havurat Shalom, functioned as Jewish rural communes, while others formed havurot within Jewish communities, operating outside the institutionalized models of Judaism.
The Jewish Renewal movement emphasizes meditation, dance, chant, and mysticism, borrowing from Buddhism, Sufism, Native American religion, and other faiths. One division emphasizes healing the earth and “eco-Kosher” practices, sponsoring activities such as a Tu B'Shvat, Seder in the Redwood Forest (Tu B'Shvat, the fifteenth of Shvat, is the new year for trees), and Sukkot on the banks of the Hudson River.
The Society for Humanistic Judaism was founded by Reform Rabbi Sherwin Wine, in 1969. Humanistic Judaism is entirely secular, denying the existence of God, and values the power of human reason as well as the creation of “a meaningful Jewish lifestyle free from supernatural authority.” It celebrates Jewish holidays merely as “cultural expressions” of the natural cycle of the calendar.