(JTA) — Rabbi Arthur Greengave the original addresslast week at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the top Conservative college where he was ordained 56 years ago.
His speech was largely a response to the political unrest in Israel, but he also called on the graduates to become pioneers of a "new Judaism."
"I had the good fortune, as a young seeker, to stumble upon the Jewish mystical tradition, particularly the writings of the early Hasidic masters," said Green, who has taught Jewish mysticism and Hasidic theology at Brandeis, the University of Pennsylvania and Hebrew College. . . “I have been working for half a century to articulate what might simply be called Judaism for adults living in freedom. I am now approaching the end of my creative career. But you are young only at the beginning of your life. We must involve you - as you can - in the work of generations, in the work of re-creating Judaism."
It is the language of Jewish renewal, with which Green, 82, deeply identifies. Restoration is not really a denomination, but a movement that arose out of and reflects the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Baby Boomer Jews, disillusioned with the large suburban synagogues they found lifeless, embraced a Jewish practice that was spiritual, egalitarian, environmentally conscious and largely folk.
Baby Boomer Jews, disenchanted with the large suburban synagogues they saw as lifeless, embraced a Jewish practice that was spiritual, egalitarian, environmentally conscious, and largely lay. An important institution of the Restoration was the havurah — intimate prayer, study, and social gatherings. Its soundtrack was liturgical tunes composed by a hippie, "neo-Hasidic" Orthodox rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach. And his rebbe - to the extent that the equality movement had a central figure - was Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924-2014), a refugee from Hitler's Europe and a former Lubavicher Hasid whose Judaism channeled the spiritual "New Age" in the 1970s. - them.
These ideas and approaches may be familiar to you even if you've never heard of "rehab." There is a rare synagogue that does not strive to provide a more intimate spiritual experience for its worshipers, to reduce the distance between the pulpit and the pew, to incorporate new Jewish music, and, in non-Orthodox and in some Modern Orthodox synagogues, to increase attendance of women in prayer and study.
Those rainbow-striped prayer shawls? That's itSchachter-Shalomi innovation.
How the counterculture movement was absorbed into the mainstream is the subject of work in the new collection, "The Future of American Judaism”, edited by Jerome Chanes and Mark Silk. Chanes co-authored, with Shaul Magid, a chapter on the "Revival," which he argues is one of the most influential, if not defining, Jewish movements of the past 50 years.
"Although Jewish Renewal never boasted a large membership, its influence on the larger American Jewish community was significant, in terms of its functional experimentation, ritual revision, and overall metaphysics," they write. "She also served as a permanent transmission of information and inspiration from her own past—the shack movement, radical politics, feminism—to the next generation."
I came to the paper after giving a lecture at my own synagogue on the subject of "Crisis of the American Synagogue." I talked about reducing participation rates,increase enrollment in secondary schools, the declining number of non-Orthodox synagogues. Most of my adult life was spent in synagogues, havurot and institutions under the strong influence of Renewal. If the Jewish renewal movement revitalized synagogue life in the last century, can it also be blamed for its struggles in this century?
Magid, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, and Chanes, an assistant professor of Jewish studies at Baruch College, presented their chapter at a book conference Tuesday and Wednesday at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Magid claimed—considered bold in this small gathering of Jewish historians—that “the three most important Jewish figures in 20th-century American Judaism” were Mordecai Kaplan, Menachem Mendel Schnerson, and Schachter-Shalomi.
Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, downplayed the supernatural element of Judaism and instead called it a "culture" defined by its people and culture. Schneerson, a Lubavitcher rebbe, turned the island's Orthodox sect into an outreach movement promoting the ritual practice among secular Jews.
Rabbi Arthur Green delivers a keynote address at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, May 18, 2023. (Courtesy of JTS)
Schachter-Shalomi combined their visions and envisioned a Judaism, Magid said, that "is no longer used as a tool for Jewish survival, but rather as a project for Jews to become part of the world community, to contribute to the world community." . Ecological consciousness became a feature of the Restoration, as well as absorbing the influence of other religions, especially Eastern religions. "He really took Schneerson's teaching about bringing Judaism to the streets and expanded it further to bring Judaism to the mosque, to bring Judaism to the monastery, to create another way of being Jewish that is not afraid of the world."
In an interview with Magid before the conference, I asked if he and Chanes might be overstating Renewal's influence.
"I'm sure there will be people looking for this case, but I don't think so, no," he said. Magid admits that few people consider themselves direct disciples of Schachter-Shalomi, but still, like Kaplan, his influence is felt everywhere. "Each of them had a futuristic vision," he said. "They were able to cultivate a way of thinking about Judaism that was ahead of its time and that ended up being created in many ways."
One of those who question Schachter-Shalomi's influence is Jonathan Sarna, professor of Jewish history at Brandeis, who gave the keynote address at the conference. In his response to the Renewal panel, Sarna doubted that Schachter-Shalomi had the same influence as Carlebach, conservative theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, or modern Orthodox philosopher Joseph Soloveitchik. "I don't think we should kid ourselves and think that every innovator is a new Moses," Sarna said.
Benjamin Steiner, visiting assistant professor of religion at Trinity, also questioned whether the Renewal had spread "throughout the country or just to large urban areas with a critical mass of educated Jewish students."
Listening to Magid's response to such warnings, I thought of a quote often attributed to music producer Brian Eno: "The Velvet Underground's first album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." Renewal's influence extended beyond its founding core, as many of its directors went on to important positions in academia and Jewish organizations, including Green,Rabbi Everett Gendler,Sharon Strassfeld,John RuskayI am mocking Arthur Waskow.
Small but influential Gen X and Millennial institutions also bear Renewal's imprints:"Jewish Emerging Network" of independent churches; Romemu and B'nai Jeshurun synagogues in New York. traditional-style egalitarian yeshiva like Hadar.Bayit, with a number of leaders associated with ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, is an online art collective and publisher of Jewish books, includingforthcoming Shabbat prayer book.
One of the contributors, ALEPH-ordained Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, claims that the influence of Renewal is felt even within Orthodoxy. "If you look at the Open Orthodoxy movement, if you look at the ordination of women to 'maharat' [by Yeshivat Maharat, a women's seminary], the future of women as rabbinical leaders in Orthodoxy is already here," he said.episode of the "Judaism Unbound" podcast.. "It's not everywhere, but one day it will be."
Magid and Chanes similarly argue that a number of leading Jewish feminists are products of Renewal—Paula Hyman, Eva Fogelman, and Judith Plaskow are mentioned—though some in the audience at Trinity insisted that Renewal gave too much credit to women's movement.In this essay in the book Silk/Chanes, Sylvia Barack Fishman ofBrandeis University offers a contrasting narrative of Jewish innovation over the past 50 years. In her chapter, she credits women's “active collaboration” in revitalizing American Jewry: Women's religious expressions, she writes, “create social contexts and are characterized by shared dynamics quite different from the isolated, individualized Jewish experience that some argue defines the modern Judaism. ."
I left with the belief that the Restoration had a huge impact on Jewish life, especially for baby boomers like myself. But I also wondered whether his comparative, extroverted Judaism failed to instill a sense of obligation to Jewish forms, institutions, and community – unlike Orthodoxy in all its flourishing manifestations today.
I asked Magid how the Renewal could have failed.
“Part of its failure is that it's very, very tied to a certain kind of American counterculture that no longer exists. It hasn't really entered phase 2.0," he said. "There are students and staff members who are still very attached to [Schachter-Shalom's] vision, and then there is the younger generation, Generation Z, who have read some of his work and they're influenced by it, but they're really thinking much more, how does this translate to post-counterculture America?'
Magid also believes that ideas of reconstruction will become more important as American Jewish attachment to Israel weakens and the living memory of the Holocaust recedes.
If Rabbi Green's speech at the JTS graduation was any indication, the ideals of Jewish Renewal are still appealing.
"We need a new Judaism in America ... where we also have the fresh air needed to create it," he said. "How can we go about ... articulating a Jewish theology today that is both spiritually honest and spiritually rewarding?"
The audience of future Jewish leaders and teachers jumped to their feet.
is editor-in-chief of the New York Jewish Week and editor-in-chief of Ideas for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
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