Dorshei Tzedek is a Jewish Reconstructionist community. Reconstructionism is the newest branch of North American Judaism. It was founded by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, one of the most important American Jewish thinkers and teachers of the 20th century. A teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York for over 40 years, Kaplan influenced generations of rabbis and educators in the Conservative movement by seeking to create a meaningful Judaism for the modern era. Kaplan understood Judaism as an “evolving religious civilization” encompassing history, communal organizations, literature, art, music, prayer, and politics. In 1968, with the opening of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, Reconstructionism was formally launched as the fourth American Jewish denomination alongside the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements. Today there are approximately 100 Reconstructionist congregations in the U.S. and Canada, and a Reconstructionist presence is beginning in Israel.
Reconstructionists strive to make ancient teachings and practices meaningful for modern life by honoring both tradition and creativity. For example, Reconstructionism has proudly supported both the full participation of women in religious life and the inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews. We participate in an on-going evolution of Judaism, learning from and building on the past, while also making changes when traditional practices conflict with our commitment to democracy, pluralism, and equality.
Reconstructionism emphasizes the importance of community in our lives as Jews. We believe that a Jewish life can be fully lived only in the context of the community in which we pray, study, celebrate and mourn. Our welcoming, democratic congregations encourage members not only to participate but to lead. Reconstructionist rabbis are partners with lay leaders, acting as spiritual guides, facilitators, and teachers.
In contrast to the traditional understanding of the Torah as a text written and revealed by God to the Jewish people, Reconstructionists understand the Torah as a sacred yet humanly created document, our ancestors’ record of their encounter with the divine. We understand God not as a person but as a Power that connects all of us to one another and to the world, working within and through us to repair the damages of injustice and oppression. As in all Jewish denominations, there is a diversity of beliefs within Reconstructionist communities, but as a movement we value intellectual and spiritual integrity. We intend to believe what we pray and to bring both our heads and our hearts into our sanctuaries.
Just as Torah is not the literal word of God in the Reconstructionist understanding, neither is halacha, the rabbinic system of Jewish law, binding in a legal sense. However, Reconstructionists value many aspects of traditional Jewish practice as spiritual and ethical disciplines, and we encourage one another to explore these practices individually and communally. We affirm ethical mitzvot as obligations binding upon us as Jews and as human beings to create caring communities, to seek justice for the poor and powerless in our society, and to protect our natural environment.