Reading Mordecai Kaplan Journals (1913-1934)


Truth be told, the study of Mordecai Kaplan will depend upon the indefatigable efforts of Mel Scult, who has edited for us Communings of the Spirit, The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan volume I 1913-1934. As Mel gently reminds us, Kaplan has been a badly neglected figure. But he’s a figure coming very much into his own these days. Kaplan is going to be indispensable as Jewish philosophy looks to regroup, to stake out new horizons, especially in America, i.e. as an American Jewish Philosophy. At least, that’s what I think. I’ll confess that it’s been a long time since I’ve read Kaplan seriously, which means, in a way, that I do so now with new eyes. Off to a conference later this semester, I’m starting with the first volume of Journals. They clarify things about Kaplan as a thinker, about Kaplan and his conceptual world that the published writings alone leave more obscure. I’m going to stay with Kaplan here at JPP for a week or two, maybe more, with the journals and then on to the Religion of Ethical Nationhood.

The first thing I’ll say is that I have not for a long time had this kind of an “experience” reading a book. Sitting in the car, waiting for the street cleaners to sweep the street, I picked up the journals, a little bored, not knowing really where to start. The first entry didn’t seem so promising, and I didn’t have it in me to plow through the long page by page slog of a 500 page book. So I began to flip and then I began to race around here and there. Hooked, I spent another two hours in the car in the cold. I couldn’t get out. Maybe that’s a result of the journal form, which like a blog allows or encourages one to read discontinuously, which in turn allows one to accelerate the pace of the reading experience. Maybe too I was caught by the presiding “genius” of the place, reading Kaplan in New York outside on the streets, in Morningside Heights, itself a kind of historical district, just one hundred years old,  across Amsterdam Avenue up the street a bit from the Jewish Theological Seminary. There is so much that is bitter and new in these pages.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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