Mordecai Kaplan’s Understanding of Holiness

Waldemar Szczerbiński

Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań , Poland


The Reconstructionist category of holiness, reflecting the essence of God in traditional Juda­ism, is a challenge both to contemporary Jewish thought and to theological thought in general. This paper attempts to explain why and how Mordecai Kaplan - the forerunner of the most liberal trend in Judaism - embarked on a reconstruction of the biblical concept of holiness and demonstrated the con­sequences of his transformations. First, Kaplan’s concept of holiness is discussed, followed by his de­scription of the notion of “sancta” as advanced by the Reconstructionists. Next, Kaplan’s understanding of holiness, which denotes the fullness of humanity rather than the essence of the personal God, as in traditional Judaism, has been presented. Thus, according to Kaplan, holiness is an anthropological and not a theological category because he understood it as a “transcendental validity” on the path to attain human self-fulfillment in this world. From the perspective of tradition, the Reconstructionist concept of holiness results in Judaism’s desacralization, which can primarily be seen in the desacralization of God, the Torah, the Chosen People, and the Sabbath. Even allowing for Judaism’s diversity of views and posi­tions, Kaplan’s concept of holiness is truly revolutionary in modern Jewish thought.


Holiness, God, human life, Judaism, Mordecai M. Kaplan, Jewish Reconstructionist

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Szczerbiński, W. (2022). Mordecai Kaplan’s Understanding of Holiness. Verbum Vitae, 40(2), 387–401.

Waldemar Szczerbiński
Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań

Rev. Waldemar Szczerbiński, a priest of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, Associate Professor of the Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań, Institute of European Culture. The scope of his courses includes the history of philosophy, the philosophy of God, metaphysics, Jewish studies, Judaism and Christian-Jewish dialogue. In 1999–2006, he was a secretary of the Council of the Polish Episcopate Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and the Commission for Dialogue with Judaism. Author of A.J. Heschel’s Philosophy of Man (2000, in Polish); The Postulate of the Non-Personal God. Reconstructionism as a Challenge to Jewish Theism (2007, in Polish) and Reconstructionist Desacralization of Judaism (2021, in Polish).


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