Reuben, Rabbi Steven Carr. “A Year with Mordecai Kaplan: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion”, Jewish Publication Society, 2019.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben invites us to spend a year with the inspirational words, ideas, and counsel of the great twentieth-century thinker Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan by reading his meditations on the fifty-four weekly Torah portions and eleven Jewish holidays. When it comes to Toah I have always thought of Rabbi Kaplan as a dynamo even though I had never read any of this Torah commentaries— it was just kind of understood. Now I indeed understand why.
Kaplan was a pioneer of ideas and action—teaching that “Judaism is a civilization” encompassing Jewish culture, art, and peoplehood; demonstrating how synagogues can be full centers for Jewish living (building one of the first “shuls with a pool”); and creating the first-ever bat mitzvah ceremony (for his daughter Judith). Kaplan transformed the landscape of American Jewry and it is a bit strange that his rich treasury of ethical and spiritual thought is largely unknown. That is, until now.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben studied closely with Kaplan and now offers unique insights into Kaplan’s teachings about ethical relationships and spiritual fulfillment, including how to embrace and maintain godliness in everyday experience. We look at our mandate to become agents of justice in this world, and the human ability to evolve personally and collectively. We see reflective Torah commentary that integrates Kaplan’s understanding of the Torah text, and an intimate story about his family or community’s struggles and triumphs. We gain ideas of how to live reflectively and purposefully every day. I found this to be very special in that it gave me another level of both commentary and understanding of our holy texts. Kaplan was known for taking us through an appreciation of Judaism in the modern age.
Mordecai Kaplan’s illuminating commentary based on Jewish tradition and his own life experiences give us new wisdom. Rabbi Reuben explores Kaplan’s wide-ranging thought, Jewish religious experience, and human experience in a way that is clear and emotionally sensitive.
I am including the table of contents to give you an idea of what to expect.
Table of Contents
Foreword, by Rabbi David A. Teutsch
1. Genesis (Bere’shit)
Noaḥ: Good Enough
Lekh Lekha: Purpose
Ḥayyei Sarah: Lovingkindness
2. Exodus (Shemot)
Bo’: Hardened Heart
Mishpatim: Human Dignity
Ki Tissa’: Giving
3. Leviticus (Va-yikra’)
’Aḥarei Mot: Scapegoat
Be-ḥukkotai: Free Will
4. Numbers (Be-midbar)
5. Deuteronomy (Devarim)
Ki Tetse’: Indifference
Ki Tavo’: Experiencing God
Ve-zo’t ha-berakhah: Divine Kiss
Rosh Hashanah: Sovereignty of God
Yom Kippur: Transformation
Shemini Atzeret: Sharing the Divine Presence
Simḥat Torah: Celebration
Yom ha-Shoah: Living in the Shadow
Yom ha-Atzmaut: Building a Just Nation
Epigraph Source Acknowledgments