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Reconstructionist Judaism

Updated February 1, 2012

Overview

Reconstructionist Judaism sees Judaism as an evolving Jewish civilization, with religion as the centerpiece of that civilization. They reject the idea of Jews being the chosen people, and have created blessings and prayers that reflect their ideology. There are around 100 Reconstructionist synagogues in the United States, as well as a Reconstructionist summer camp and a rabbinical school. While Reconstructionists only make up an estimated 3% of the American Jewish population, they have had a large impact on the way Jews practice and think about their Judaism across the denominational spectrum.

A Reconstructionist synagogue celebrates Sukkot.

Practices and Beliefs

Central to Reconstructionist Judaism is the idea that "the past has a vote but not a veto." While taking into account traditional Jewish law, Reconstructionist Jews make their own decisions about their practice taking into account modern life. In addition, all Reconstructionist congregations are committed to egalitarianism, and their rabbinical seminary was the first to accept gays and lesbians from the time it opened. They focus on engaging with Judaism as a community as opposed to as individuals.

Intermarriage and Conversion

Like Reform and Renewal Judaism, Reconstructionist Jews follow patrilineal descent. They welcome families with non-Jewish family members into their congregations, while working to maintain the unique distinctiveness of the Jewish people. They allow people who are not Jewish to become members of their congregations, provided that they do not also practice another religion, and place various restrictions on what they can do both ritually and in terms of running the synagogue. Their major report on how to welcome non-Jewish family members into synagogues, "Boundaries and Opportunities," details the many ways that non-Jewish parents and spouses can be involved with naming ceremonies, bar and bat mitvahs, and weddings.

Reconstructionist congregations encourage conversion for people interested in practicing a Jewish way of life. The process involves learning about Judaism, going to the mikveh, having three witnesses (a beit din), and, for men, having a circumcision or ritual drawing of blood.

Rabbinic court involved in matters of Jewish law, including conversion and traditional divorce procedures. Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher.
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