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A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community Hardcover – September 15, 1998

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


This fine biography focuses not only on the emergence of Kaplan's unique thought and approach to Judaism but on the larger thought-world of American orthodoxy from which his thinking emerged and with which it stood in continuing debate. The resultant study not only lays bare Kaplan's mind and personality but, equally important, reveals much about the nature of American Orthodoxy.


As important thinkers in the Orthodox world [the authors] help us to see Kaplan from the vantage point of the world that raised him, New York's Orthodox community. In exploring how its different elements responded to Kaplan, they give us a richer understanding of Orthodoxy.

(Jewish Book World)

From the Back Cover

Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement, was the most influential and controversial radical Jewish thinker in the twentieth century. A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community follows Kaplan from his earliest days as a member in good standing in the Orthodox community, through his period of private estrangement, into his public divorce from Orthodoxy, and ultimately through his many decades as Reconstructionism's leader. Jeffrey S. Gurock and Jacob J. Schacter examine the intellectual influences that moved Kaplan from Orthodoxy and analyze the combination of personal, strategic, and career reasons that kept Kaplan close to Orthodox Jews. More than a biography, A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community is also a social history of American Orthodoxy and of American Judaism over the last century. Demonstrating how Orthodoxy in America was not a monolithic entity but rather allowed for a wide range of beliefs and practices, the book makes a distinct contribution to the fabric of American social history, Judaism, and the history of religion in the United States.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (September 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231106262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231106269
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,782,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is a very well written eye-opening book about Mordechai Kaplan. It sets forth very clearly how he became a heretic, but it does more. It also spells out equally clearly how he was a HYPOCRITICAL heretic for many years, serving as the rabbi of two of the most prominent Orthodox synagogues in New York, and therefore in the world, through 1922, while openly espousing anti-Orthodox "heretical" views. The authors of this book make it clear that Kaplan was such an impressive and persuasive speaker that he could pull off what would seem like such a fraud openly and still get away with it for so long. It is hard to imagine how a person could be so impressive and persuasive a speaker as to be able to accomplish this feat, although it is possible that the lack of sophistication of many of his listeners may have contributed to Kaplan's success, coupled with the inability of many immigrants to fully understand at least some of the nuances in his often carefully disguised presentations. The authors describe Kaplan's "nemesis," Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, as the only person of note to publicly and repeatedly attempt to call the attention of the public to the significance of Kaplan's views from the perspective of Orthodox Judaism, even to the point of engaging Kaplan in a public debate in the pulpit Kaplan had occupied and in which Goldstein had succeeded him. I had the privilege to write a whole book about Rabbi Goldstein, The Maverick Rabbi, which is cited in A Modern Heretic, and which provides further evidence in support of some of their theses. Since this mini-review is about the book about Kaplan and not about Goldstein, I wish to highlight here the context presented by the authors of A Modern Heretic for a famous quote by Kaplan about Goldstein.Read more ›
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I'm one of those people who much prefer reading primary sources rather than secondary. I have not found many books on Kaplan to be nearly as illuminating as Kaplan himself. But this book blew me away. This is an extraordinarily well written, concise, well-researched, funny, and thoughtful book on Kaplan's life as an Orthodox rabbi at the same time as he was the gadfly of the Jewish Theological Seminary. If one wants to understand someone's philosophy, watch how they live, and in this, Kaplan's philosophy is shed in a very different light than the prescriptions found in his books.

Highly recommended. Great read for anyone interested in American Judaism, American Orthodoxy, Mordecai Kaplan, or even just the relationship between thinkers and their lives. A great tale.
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