Reconstructionist Judaism, the so-called fourth branch of Judaism, which historically has coped with an identity problem and smaller numbers of adherents than the three major denominations but whose innovations have helped define the faith, is rebranding itself.
Two leaders of the movement announced in a conference call this week that its central organization, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Jewish Reconstructionist Communities — the result of a 2012 merger of extant Reconstructionist organizations — will be known as Reconstructing Judaism.
“We are committed to ‘doing’ Jewish,” the rabbi said. “With our new name, we are defining ourselves by what we do, and not just what we believe or how we feel.”“The new name reflects our mission — a verb, not an adjective,” encouraging the 100 Reconstruction congregations, havurot and affiliated communities to examine their “evolving” relationship with Jewish tradition, said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the newly named Reconstructing Judaism. “The work we are doing is an active process. We want to open up options.
While the primary name change centers around the organization, people who identify themselves as members of the movement, which began as a stream within Conservative Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and seceded as a separate movement in 1955, will be free to call themselves members of Reconstructionist or Reconstructing Judaism congregations, Rabbi Waxman said. “We are not asking anyone to change their name.”
“We are committed to ‘doing’ Jewish. With our new name, we are defining ourselves by what we do, and not just what we believe or how we feel.”
Working with the Brooklyn-based Big Duck branding organization, Reconstructing Judaism also unveiled a new name for its rabbinical college near Philadelphia (College for Reconstructing Judaism), its logo (leaves sprouting from the ground and growing into the world), and slogan (“Deeply Rooted, Boldly Relevant”).
Seth Rosen, board chair of the organization, said the rebranding follows a year-long series of in-person and online meetings with “more than a thousand” members of the movement. “It is a great example of the Reconstructionist process.”
The philosophy of the movement, which describes Judaism as “an evolving religious civilization” and stresses “an emphasis on Godliness,” will not change as part of the rebranding, Rosen said.
He said the movement, which has a strong presence in the New York area, will this summer establish its first summer camp on the west coast, to be called Havaya Arts, and later this year embark on a two-year outreach to the Reconstructionist community in the United States and Canada.
The first major movement of Judaism to originate in North America, Reconstructionism was the first to offer the bat mitzvah option to girls, and to accept rabbinical students in interfaith relationships.