Jewish Renewal is a “movement” in the sense of a wave in motion, a grassroots effort to discover the modern meaning of Judaism as a spiritual practice. Jewish Renewalists see “renewal” as a process reaching beyond denominational boundaries and institutional structures, similar to the multi-centered civil- rights or women’s movements rather than to contemporary denominations. This renewal process is happening in Jewish music, liturgy, midrash, education, politics, etc., in synagogues as well as havurot, and even in “secular” settings.
Jewish Renewal is pan- or trans-denominational, transcending the boundaries of the various denominations. Its membership includes people who are active in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox worlds as well as many others whose only religious/spiritual affiliation is Renewal. Jewish Renewal resembles Reform Judaism in some ways, Reconstructionism in other ways, and even Orthodoxy — especially Hasidism — in some important ways. But unlike formal denominations, Renewal’s structure is not static or hierarchical. It is the ongoing creative project of Jews who are seeking to renew Judaism and bring its spiritual and ethical vitality into our lives and communities. At the same time, Renewal embrace a global vision of the role all human beings and spiritual paths play in the transformation of life on this precious planet.
Jewish Renewal is dedicated to nurturing the spiritual life of Jews, drawing significant spiritual inspiration from the legacy of Jewish mystical and Hasidic traditions, which is expressed in the cultivation of traditional practices such as meditation, chanting, prayer, and study to enhance both individual and communal practice. Through these practices, Jewish Renewal seeks to transform and renew the kavanah (spiritual intention) with which Jews of all kinds practice Judaism.
In a deep way, Jewish Renewal is built on the idea that we live in a transformative moment in time, in which a new paradigm for spiritual life is being developed. Jewish Renewal draws heavily on the thought of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l, which is a loving critique of the limitations of traditional Rabbinic Judaism and a call to continue the ongoing renewal of Jewish life in our time, as the Talmudic rabbis did in theirs.
Jewish Renewal actively seeks a relationship with God as the immanent reality that suffuses all creation. This changes how we view the earth, the human race, the Jewish people, the relationship of human beings to the rest of creation — everything.
Jewish Renewal is neither “halakhic” nor “anti-halakhic” but “neo-halakhic.” Just as Rabbinic Judaism involved transcending the halakhah of Temple sacrifice, so Jewish Renewal seeks to go beyond the limitations of traditional Rabbinic Judaism to forge a new halakhah in which Judaism is conscious of its place in an interconnected world. This new halakhah, for instance, includes expansion of the practice of kashrut to include ecological and ethical criteria, a new exploration of the concept of work as it applies to both the personal and societal Shabbat, and re-examination of intimacy and intimate relationships.
Jewish Renewal has long been committed to a fully egalitarian approach to Jewish life and welcomes the public and creative input of those who were traditionally excluded from the process of forming the Jewish tradition.
In communities that embrace Jewish Renewal:
- women and men are fully equal and participatory in shaping the future of Judaism;
- those who have often been marginalized in Jewish life are welcomed and honored;
- there is respect for and often learning from other spiritual paths (e.g., Buddhism, Sufi, etc.),
- people engage in healing the earth and society by actively seeking peace, justice, and ecological wholeness;
- chant, meditation, dance, and drama are encouraged as ways of connecting with God and Torah;
- people desire to embody wisdom rather than etherealize or intellectualize it;
- people strive to personally sense God as suffusing the world with Divinity.
Jewish Renewal is “maximalist” about Judaism – that is, Jewish spiritual practice is undertaken joyously and Jewish values are applied in many down-to-earth life dimensions (food, money, sex, health, politics, etc.) rather than restricted to prayer, holidays, or Torah study.
Much of the explanation above is drawn from the words of Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean of the ALEPH Rabbinic Program, in response to the question, “What is Jewish Renewal?”
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Zichrono Livracha –His Memory IS a Blessing
In nearly 90 years, Reb Zalman (the less formal title he preferred) lived many lifetimes and birthed the Renewal movement from which our Little Minyan draws so much inspiration and nourishment. More information about the extraordinary life he lived and his enormous contribution to 20th and 21st century Judaism, all Jewish denominations and to our brothers and sisters in all of the world’s religions can be found on the ALEPH website. A particularly accurate and well-crafted appreciation of his life by Natanel Miles-Yepez (who “watched Reb Zalman tie his shoes” for many recent years) appeared on Huff Post. May we continue to renew Judaism through our individual and communal work and through our stewardship of the earth which he cherished so deeply and for which he also feared in his final years as he observed the effects of climate change and human misuse of our planet.