Jewish Identity without Judaism in the Thought of Ahad Ha-am and Mordecai Kaplan


Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2013 (5-6) 


Can a person who has divorced himself from Jewish culture still be considered a member of the Jewish national collective? Does Jewish nationalism allow for multiple positions regarding the very connection of Jews with Judaism?


This article examines the responses of Ahad Ha-am and Mordecai Kaplan to these questions, juxtaposing their positions with those of three rival exponents of Jewish nationalism: Theodore Herzl, Yosef Hayim Brenner, and the hypothetical case of a Jew who adopted Christianity as his religion. An additional case for comparison is Ahad Ha’am and Mordecai Kaplan’s differing reactions towards the Reform formula of attachment to the Jewish religion, rather than to Jewish nationality.


The point of this discussion is to focus upon the suggestion to integrate an inclusive approach to the identity of any person who wishes to belong to a collective with an exclusive approach that stipulates a bottom line requirement with regard to the type of culture that is worthy of being considered the national Jewish culture.


This will lead us to contrast the exclusivist approach of Ahad Ha-am – who is at times even prepared to declare the Jewish identity of anyone totally divorced from his Judaism as null and void, with the inclusive approach of Kaplan, who exhibits a flexibility and pluralistic openness not only with regard to questions of national identity and belonging, but also with regard to the precise form that Jewish national culture should assume.

Updated: Mar. 26, 2014