The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) was founded in 1968 in Philadelphia to carry on the ideals of the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Rabbi Mordecai *Kaplan. The decision to open the school was made by the lay-led organization of the movement, the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (today the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) meeting in Montreal in June 1967. Kaplan previously had resisted establishing a seminary that would mark Reconstructionism as a denomination rather than a school of thought. He maintained a life-long allegiance to the Jewish Theological Seminary where he taught for decades. However Reconstructionist congregations, insufficiently served by Reform and Conservative rabbis, pushed Rabbi Ira Eisenstein and lay leaders to make this decision.
Eisenstein became the RRC's first president. The college included two unique features. Reflecting Kaplan's vision of living in two civilizations, students were to pursue doctoral studies in religion simultaneously at a secular university. (However this dual-studies program would later be dropped.) Second, the curriculum would be based on Kaplan's concept of Judaism as an evolving Jewish civilization, studying each period sequentially and integrating history and literature from each time period. The five-year rabbinic curriculum devotes a year each to the biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern, and contemporary periods. Open to both men and women, from the beginning RRC included faculty from diverse Jewish backgrounds.
The college opened in September 1968 in Philadelphia near Temple University, as the college was to collaborate with the Temple religion department and provide access to other graduate programs. Given the existence of only a handful of Reconstructionist congregations, for many students their first exposure to the movement in practice came as students. In 1974, the second graduating class included Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the second woman rabbi in the United States.
In 1984 the college moved from its inner-city location to its current home in a former mansion in suburban Wyncote. Around that time, the college leadership wanted to enrich the curriculum and increase the Hebrew level of students. The number of RRC courses increased, including courses by visiting non-Jewish scholars. In 1983 RRC became the first rabbinical seminary to officially admit openly gay students. A mekhinah (preparatory) year for some students was also added. The college continued to expand in the late 1980s as faculty and student enrollment significantly increased, and the Israel study program expanded. The college received full academic accreditation in 1990.
In the 1990s and early 2000s the college strengthened its financial base and expanded its programs, publications, and facilities. Cantorial studies and a masters program in Jewish studies were added. Three academic centers were established to support research, publications, and education in the wider community: Jewish ethics; Kolot, a center on Jewish women's and gender studies; and Hiddur, a center on aging.
By 2005, RRC had graduated 283 rabbis and two cantors. Of these, 153 were male and 132 were female. Enrollment in 2005 was 76 rabbinical students, two cantorial students, and two masters' candidates. RRC publishes the Reconstructionist journal (1935– ).
M. Kaplan, "Why a Reconstructionist Rabbinical College?" in: Reconstructionist, 35:14 (Jan. 2, 1970); R. Alpert, "The Making of American Rabbis: Reconstructionist Rabbis," in: EJ Yearbook 1983–85; D. Teutsch, "Rabbis for the 21st Century," in: Sh'ma (January 2003).