Spirituality: The Jewish Renewal Movement

The Jewish counterculture of the 1960s, a movement of religious revival, was characterized by two main themes. The first was a rejection of the conventional synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... and a commitment to a less formal and more intimate Jewish community that came to be known as the havurahA havurah is a Jewish community in which roles, leadership, and responsibility for worship and study are shared among members as opposed to hiring a rabbi, hazzan, or other trained leaders.. The second was the critique of American JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol... for being devoid of meaning and authentic religious experience. The Jewish counterculture aimed to rediscover Jewish learning and piety in general, and to revive an interest in Jewish mysticism and spirituality in particular. In the past decade, this rediscovery of Jewish spirituality has become a new force in American Jewish life—the “Jewish Renewal” movement.

Jewish RenewalJewish Renewal refers to a wide variety of contemporary Jewish movements that emphasize Jewish mystical spirituality, Jewish visionary reform, Jewish social conscience, and Jewish participation in tikkun olam, the “repair of the world.” has deeper roots in the eighteenth century Jewish pietist movement of Hasidism. Like Jewish Renewal today, Hasidism posed a social and religious challenge to the rabbinicRabbinic Judaism is the Judaism descended from the rabbis, the teachers, who compiled the Mishnah and the Talmud between the second and fifth centuries CE, and all the tradition and learning of Judaism that has issued from them. establishment of the time, and it was a reemergence of the age-old tradition of Jewish mysticism. In late twentieth- century America, perhaps the two main inspirations for the Jewish Renewal movement were rabbisRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... AbrahamAbraham is the patriarch, acknowledged as the father of the lineage of faith by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. He is presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE. He is the father of Isaac by Sarah (Genesis 12.25), and the "... JoshuaJoshua was the leader Moses appointed to succeed him after his death, laying his hands upon Joshua and committing to him the leadership of the people of Israel. According to biblical history, Joshua led the Israelites, who had been tested for forty years ... Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach, figures of very different temperament and style but both of HasidicHasidic literally means the “pious one,” and Hasidim (pl.) are those who have developed extraordinary devotion to the spirituality of Jewish life. Originally, Hasidism referred to the movement founded in Poland in the mid-18th century by Israel Baal S... background, both modern day mystics, and both teachers of immense erudition.

Under the leadership of a new generation of rabbisRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. such as Zalman Schachter and Jonathan Omer-man, Jewish Renewal is a kind of neo-Hasidism. RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... Schachter, in particular, has served as the rebbeRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion., the Hasidic leader, for a number of havurah groups originally called B’nai Or, later changed to P’nai Or, and now organized as the Aleph Network.

Another aspect of the movement is its openness to other religious traditions and forms of spirituality. Hence the P’nai Or havurot are also inspired by New AgeNew Age refers to a wide variety of late twentieth century religious movements. Many of these movements are based on a holistic cosmology which does not see the world as the scene of dualistic conflict between good and evil, sin and salvation, but rather ... spirituality and the twelve-step healing movement. RabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. Schachter frequently collaborates with other New Age leaders such as Ram Dass, and currently is on the faculty of the Naropa Institute, a center of American BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther.... Similarly, Elat Hayim is a Jewish retreat center modeled on the ashramIn the religious traditions of India, an ashram is a retreat center, where the cultivation of religious life takes place under the guidance of a teacher or guru. in Western Massachusetts called Kripalu. It combines programs of meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo..., yogaYoga is a Sanskrit word, deriving from a verb meaning “to yoke” or “to join.” Body and consciousness are joined together in the discipline of yoga. Yoga practice involves ethical restraints, the mastery of bodily postures (called asanas), the cont..., and holistic health with Jewish study, festival observance, and community building. Its workshops include topics like “Entering the Gates of Jewish Spirituality” and “Jewish Mysticism for Daily Living.”

By maintaining such an eclecticEclectic Pagans bring aspects of many spiritual paths together. Some Pagans pride themselves on the high degree of authority granted to each person to develop his or her own spiritual path. Hence, many practitioners adapt practices from a variety of Pagan... sensibility, the Jewish Renewal movement serves as a bridge back into Judaism for many Jews who might otherwise have found their spiritual path elsewhere. Some Jewish Renewal leaders have noted the potential of this population by pointing to the phenomenon of Jewish-born Buddhist meditation practitioners and teachers. The disproportionate number of born Jews who have chosen a Buddhist spiritual path has been investigated by Roger Kamenetz in his book, The Jew in the Lotus.
 
In the 1990s, the revivalistThe Jamaican Revivalist movement, called Pukumina, is a form of Christian revivalism strongly influenced by African ritual idioms of drumming, dancing, and trance, or spirit possession. tenor of Jewish Renewal has begun to influence mainstream Judaism. This is witnessed, for example, by the spectacular success of the “post-denominational” congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Inspired by a charismatic “rebbe” named Marshall Meyer, the communal worship of B’nai Jeshurun is informed by the affective spirituality and sensual musicality of Hasidism. The community combines the dual emphasis on personal and social transformation that is evident in Michael Lerner’s magazine Tikkun, taking its title from the Jewish ethical vision of tikkun olamTikkun olam means to heal or repair the world, interpreted in Judaism as the responsibility to take action to make the world a better place., repairing the world. Lerner’s book, Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, details both an ethical and spiritual vision.

In a more general sense, it might be said that every movement of American Judaism today has shown signs of renewal. Under the guidance of Rabbi Arthur Green, a leader of the early havurah movement and scholar of Hasidism, the formerly rationalist ReconstructionistThe Reconstructionist movement is a recent development in American Judaism, beginning with Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881 - 1982) who understood Judaism to be a civilization and culture, kept vibrant by constantly changing and adapting to new situations. The ce... movement has rediscovered spirituality. Under the influence of professor of liturgy Lawrence Hoffman and liturgical composer Debbie Friedman, the Reform movement too has begun to experiment with greater aesthetic affect in its worship. Even the more conservative movements of Conservativism and OrthodoxyIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. have become more conscious of the importance of music, spirituality, and communality. Yet despite its apparent influence, it remains to be seen whether Jewish Renewal will continue as a loosely organized trend on the margins or evolve into a fully institutionalized presence on the American Jewish religious landscape.


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