You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

August 28: Reb Zalman

August 27, 2015

zmanRabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, was born in Poland on this date (some sources say August 17th) in 1924. Interned under the Vichy government in France, he came to the U.S. in 1941 and was ordained by the Lubavitcher khasidic movement six years later. He served the Lubavitchers as a college speaker and emissary for more than a decade, but ran afoul of them as he came under the influence of psychedelic drugs, Eastern and Christian mysticism, feminism, and hippie culture in the early 1960s. He then forged his own “neo-khasidic” style of fervent worship and inclusive community that had strong influence upon leading rabbis within the Reform and Reconstructionist movements and gave rise to Jewish Renewal havurot and congregations, now numbering some three dozen. Reb Zalman, as he was known, held the World Wisdom Chair at the Naropa Institute, served on the faculty of Temple University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and founded ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, through which he ordained over 80 rabbis and cantors, both women and men. He was also a leader of ecumenical dialogue and a Jewish teacher to many Buddhists. A masterful storyteller, immersed in Yiddish folk culture, Talmudic lore, Jewish mysticism, and modern psychology, Reb Zalman became, writes Shaul Magid in the Forward, “an American Jewish spiritual leader [who] offered [a] detailed and... systematic vision for Judaism in the twentieth century. Part of Schachter-Shalomi’s project [was] founded on his belief that exploring the untapped commonalities between religious traditions and spiritual practices would both enhance Judaism and move human civilization further toward overcoming oppositional barriers.” He died at 89 in 2014. To see him speaking about human consciousness, look below.

“All forms of religion are masks that the divine wears to communicate with us. Behind all religions there’s a reality, and this reality wears whatever clothes it needs to speak to a particular people.” —Rabi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi