What is Jewish Renewal?

  • Jewish Renewal is a transdenominational approach to revitalizing Judaism.

    We combine the socially progressive values of egalitarianism, the joy of Hasidism, the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the havurah movement, and the accumulated wisdom of centuries of tradition.

    We value deep ecumenism; in Hillel's words, we learn from every person and spiritual tradition.

    We create innovative, accessible, and welcoming prayer experiences.

    We shape halacha (Jewish law) into a living way of walking in the world.

    And we seek to deepen the ongoing, joyful, and fundamental connection, with a God Who connects us all, which is at the heart of Jewish practice.

    Renewal is an attitude, not a denomination, and offers tools to all branches of Judaism, including:

    • An emphasis on accessible spiritual experience;
    • Contemplative practices (Jewish Renewal teachers were the first to recover meditative practices from the dusty attic of Jewish tradition, and to return them to their rightful place as central Jewish spiritual technologies);
    • Davvenology, the art and practice of being a living laboratory for creative and renewed Jewish prayer, in modalities including chant and embodied prayer;
    • Hashpa'ah (spiritual direction) as a tool for unpacking the holy potential of every moment and for discerning the voice of God.

    Renewal seeks to balance forward-thinking with backward-compatibility. We know we can't drive if we're only looking in the rear-view mirror, but neither can we move forward if we don't know where we've been.

  • Picture on right taken in Rabbi Isaac Luria's synagogue in Sfat, Israel.

Four Worlds Judaism

In Jewish Renewal we often speak in terms of the “four worlds.” These can be mapped to the four seasons, four elements, and/or five levels of soul described by the kabbalists. We understand that everything that arises, arises simultaneously in all four of these realms -- though sometimes we may experience life primarily in one realm or another. The four worlds are:

ASSIYAH
, earth, the objective world, where we live with our bodies in the physical world of action, including action for spiritual purpose. This is the world of sensible, concrete facts and their data. Here we are conscious of the physical realm and the laws of nature as we observe them. Here we are aware of being a creation of God. This is the world of duality, in which everything is seen as separate, and subject to cause and effect. This is also the world of the life force, the senses, the breath, experiencing freedom and love of life, being the God-wrestler. Guf (body); Nefesh soul aspect.

YETZIRAH
, water, the subjective world of vital feelings; the world of affect, of nuance, of aura, of sensitivity, of visceral and proprioceptive feelings. Things are seen as synchronistic in this world. This is the world of interdependence and relationship issues. Here is where our emotional being is attuned, where negative feelings of resentment, frustration, vindictiveness, and paranoia can be replaced by an attitude of gratefulness, appreciation, and joy. Here we can learn empathy, humility, and awareness of our own mortality. Ruach soul aspect.

BRIAH
, air, the symbolic world of the intellect, of contemplation, of pure thought. Everything is part of a pattern in this world; everything has a meaning. We understand ourselves as being the result of intended, loved, and continuous creation. Here we are commanded to exert ourselves to know and to reach the very edge of what is thinkable and understandable. This is the reality of poetry, wonder, intuition, and visualization. In this world, we can work with symbols and with dreams. Neshama soul aspect.

ATZILUT
, fire, the holistic world of deep divine intuition and of beingness with God. Reality is merged; all is one. This is the world of essence, where we recognize ourselves as being a spark of God's fire. It is not we who pray; rather, God prays in us. With God's own eye we see ourselves. Chaya and Yechidah soul aspects.

FOUR WORLDS, EIGHTEEN AFFIRMATIONS, ONE COVENANT: ALEPH STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES

We of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal strive to open ourselves to awareness of the sacred in all of existence. We strive to create Jewish paths of prayer and meditation, study, communal life—practice, and public action that embody this outlook. We see ourselves in a crucial position at these times of paradigm shift and are committed to help develop a spirituality through which Judaism can transform itself to continued viability in the service of tikkun olam—the healing and balancing of this planet.Together we affirm principles and values that flow together from the Four Worlds of Being, Knowing, Relating, and Doing:

In the world of Atzilut, Being:

1. We are committed to the search for a deeper and higher understanding of the spiritual realities in our lives and of our cosmic purposes.

2. What/Whom the traditions experienced as transcendent God we meditate on and worship in ways that honor both the tradition and our intuition as to how we are addressed by that God in the present.

3. We see the human spirit and the Divine as one evolving process that calls upon us all for the interaction we call Godwrestling (“Yisrael”) and “Gathering the Sparks.”

4. We intend to open ourselves to the transformation of consciousness and action that is resulting from our living in a time when the Feminine is emerging.

In the world of Briah, Knowing:

5. In the sacred texts of the Jewish people and the writings of Jewish spiritual teachers of previous generations we find enormous wisdom and insight that draw on Eternal truth and continue to have great potential to aid human beings in their quest for personal growth, empowerment, and healing—as well as those elements that are historically limited and need to be transcended. We will study, teach, and make accessible these texts and writings with all those who wish to encounter them, wrestle with their content and meaning, and decide what to draw on and what to leave behind.

6. Among our guides to interpretation of Torah are the Prophetic, Kabbalistic, and Hassidic traditions as they are now being transformed in the light of contemporary feminist spirituality, process theology, and our own direct experience of the Divine.

7. We are committed to consult with other spiritual traditions, sharing with them what we have found in our concerned research and trying out what we have learned from them, to see whether it enhances the special truths of the Jewish path.

In the world of Yetzirah, Relating:

8. We are committed to foster a safe environment for spiritual growth in which what we are learning about the human psyche and spirit is honored, and through which we enable the self to embody the Presence.

9. Our communities strive to be collective and egalitarian in leadership and decision-making.

10. Women and men are full and equal partners in every aspect of our communal Jewish life.

11. ALEPH welcomes, includes and recognizes the sanctity of every individual regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We recognize respectful and mutual expressions of adult human sexuality as potentially sacred expressions of love, and therefore we strive to create communities that include and welcome a variety of constellations of intimate relationships and family forms—-among them gay, lesbian, and heterosexual relationships as well as single lifepaths.

12. We will reach out toward including all who seek but have not yet found a spiritual home in the Jewish community or a satisfying connection to the Jewish people and its traditions and teachings.

In the world of Asiyah, Doing:

13. In order to heal the world, we seek to re-balance the power relationships among human beings and all other species and aspects of the Earth, as well as among races, peoples, faith communities, classes, genders, age groupings, and other human groups so that each can live in shared peace and dignity. We will ourselves treat with respect and open-mindedness those who belong to other peoples and walk other paths than our own, even if we feel compelled to oppose their actions in the world. These efforts we view as integral to Jewish spirituality and action.

14. We believe that the healthy expression of Jewish people requires a vital self-governing Jewish community in the Land of Israel (which in our generation has taken the form of the State of Israel); Jewishly vital, varied, and creative communities in many places throughout the world; and a continuous and open-hearted interchange between all these communities. We will try to embody such connections in our individual lives and in building the networks of our communities.

15. We welcome with surprise and excitement the discovery that God’s will for our generations of Jews is that we learn to live in what we understand as the Land of Israel face to face with our cousins the children of Abraham and Hagar through Ishmael. We support every effort to do so in mutual recognitions of each other’s right to freedom, self-determination, security, and peace - as part of our own share in the task that all peoples face in this generation, of learning to share in peace and freedom the great unboundaried earth.

16. We intend to treat with respect other Jews and other Jewish communities whose approaches to Jewish life differ from our own, even if we feel compelled to oppose their statements or their actions.

17. We are committed to applying all of these values and principles to the renewal and revitalization of our personal and communal ceremonies, liturgies, rituals, life-paths, and spiritual practices, and to our processes for collective decisions-making and collective actions.

18. We will help in the formation of communities based on these values and principles.

Directions

Services are held at Flagg Road Church, 134 Flagg Road, West Hartford, CT 06117