by Rabbi Zalman Shacter-Shalomi - Click Here |
do not believe that anyone has the exclusive franchise on
the truth. What we Jews have is a good approximation, for
Jews, of how to get there. Ultimately, each person creates
a way that fits his own situation. While there are differences
between Jewish and non-Jewish approaches to mysticism in specific
methods, observances, and rituals, there are no differences
in the impact of the experiences themselves. When it comes
to what I call the heart stuff, all approaches
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi about the path he has taken
through seventy-seven years of a complex, active life, and
he will stop you and change the verb: No, the path I
was led on. At one level, the phrase expresses the deep
piety of a rabbi who seeks God within a great mystical stream,
a rabbi trained in the exacting traditions of the Brooklyn-based
Lubavitcher Hasidim. It also expresses the courage and broad-mindedness
of a religious leader who has opened himself again and again
to other classical spiritual traditions from Catholicism to
Buddhism, and to psychology; bodywork, feminism, environmentalism,
and much else in the great mix of social, personal, and planetary
change that came out of the 1960s.
has become the great sage of a worldwide movement of Jewish
renewal by virtue of his keen understanding of where his own
tradition can connect with the psycho-eco-spiritual revolutions
of our millennial age. As the founder of the Pnai Or
(Children of Light) religious fellowship and the rabbinic
chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Schachter-Shalomi
has inspired and guided a movement for an observant, deeply
traditional Judaism that is at the same time warm, experientially
based, gender-equal, environmentally aware (thanks to the
Schachter-Shalomi-coined concept of eco-kosher),
nonhierarchical, and grounded in renewed liturgy.
what the path I was led on means to Reb Zalman
himself is more personal. It begins with getting out of Europe
just before the Holocaust. Born Zalman Schachter in 1924 in
Poland, the rabbi-to-be soon moved with his family to Vienna,
where he attended both a traditional yeshiva and a socialist-Zionist
high school. When the Nazis threatened, the Schachters went
to Antwerp; when Belgium came under German attack, the family
began an odyssey. Detained in a camp in Vichy France, they
escaped to Africa, then to the West Indies, and finally to
NewYork in 1941.
been saved from the Holocaust. . . I felt something was needed
from me to give back, he recalled. I saw what
was happening to our tradition, that it was being diminished.
That the best and most advanced of our people had been decimated.
So I was moved to think about creating a Noahs Ark for
our tradition. In other words, he was looking for forces
within Judaism that would re-energize it and make it self-confident
again. Having been excited by the intense mystical piety of
the Lubavitcher movement, Schachter (he would add Shalomi
to his name in the 1970s) attended the central Lubavitcher
yeshiva in Brooklyn, where he took rabbinic ordination in
1947. Stints of teaching and serving as a congregational rabbi
at Lubavitch synagogues in Connecticut and Massachusetts followed.
Schachter was showing signs of an iconoclastic temperament.
In his congregations, he allowed women to take part more fully
in worship and introduced guitars into the liturgy. He also
entered a graduate program in the psychology of religion at
Boston University, where he enrolled in a class in spiritual
disciplines and resources taught by the great African American
theologian and social activist Howard Thurman. Uncertain how
he would fit into a Methodist-run university and a class taught
by a Protestant pastor, the rabbi expressed his anxieties
put his coffee mug on his desk and began to look at his hands,
Schachter-Shalomi recalls. Suddenly he spoke. Dont
you trust the Ruach-ha-Kodesh? Not only did Thurman
invoke the Spirit of Holiness in good biblical Hebrew, but
he went to his phonograph and put on a recording of Max Bruchs
setting of the ancient Kol Nidre prayer, sung on Yom Kippur.
Soon I began saying to myself; Zalman, relax!
course was another revelation. The students experimented with
various kinds of spiritual exercises, which frequently
took the form of guided meditations, Schachter-Shalomi
recalls. In one kind of exercise, we were instructed
to translate an experience from one sense to anotherwe
would read a psalm several times, then listen to a piece by
Bach, to hear the meaning of the psalm in the
sounds of the music. . . . In this way our senses were released
from their usual narrow constraints and freed to tune in to
the cosmos, to touch God.
he joined the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department of
the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1956, Schachter
was still looking for ways to restore Jewish traditions, not
change or renew them. The Jewish Essene monastic tradition
revealed by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the vigorous spirituality
of the Hasidim, and the treasures of Kabbalistic mysticism
were pre-Holocaust resources that could give Jews hope and
energy after the great European disaster.
a sabbatical in 1968, Reb Zalman took part in the founding
of a chavurah a small Jewish study groupin Boston.
We did remarkable things with liturgy; he says.
Having seen how people sat and meditated on cushions,
we did it too. We used a lot of body movements and dance in
what we were doing, and that was part of the delight. And
gradually I was moved from restoration to a whole other idea
that had to do with renewal.
were among the first stirrings of the Jewish Renewal movement,
an effort to re-energize Jewish piety by making it more emotionally
satisfying, inclusive, experimental, experiential, and compelling.
For Jews who were alienated from the sometimes tepid rationalism
of the Reform movement and the stern ritualism of the more
traditional denominations, the brilliant neo-Hasidic writings
of Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel were a call to
embrace the living fire of a slightly different traditionalismthe
great tradition of ecstatic union with God carried by the
Hasidic mystics. At the same time it was a call to link themselves
to the world of the moment, its pains, possibilities, and
lessons, its psychospiritual breakthroughs and political changes.
teaching begins with an emphasis on experience over doctrine,
the felt yearning for God over abstract ideas about the Deity.
Theres also a powerful orientation toward the future
in his idea of faith. Faith is tossing out into the
future an anticipation for which I dont have proof,
he says. But I feel attracted in a direction and when
I follow this direction it is faith that pulls me there.
He sees God not as a stern old man living up there,
but as a force both outside and inside us that draws us to
Himself (or Herself).
by Rabbi Zalman Shacter-Shalomi - Click Here |