to run a school
and treat a
population, or it's
— Rabbi Levi
Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman works with bar mitzvah Edan Wernick: Where Judaism meets New Age and travels to Israel.
"Mysticism and its texts are looked
on as resources, not as guidelines."
It was the 16th-century Kab-
balists of the city of Safed in northern
Israel who introduced many now-
traditional practices, like singing
"Lecha Dodi" (see sidebar) and
. "Aishet Chayal." They were burden-
ed by two cataclysms that had struck
the Jewish world: the apostasy of the
majority of Spanish Jews and the ex-
pulsion of the rest of the community.
"They felt they had to punish
themselves for what had happened,"
Rabbi Silberschein says. "They would
roll in the snow as punishment. I'm
not going to do that. You don't have
to be a Chassid to enjoy parts of
Instead, Rabbi Silberschein, 35,
uses the mystical tradition to find a
deeper meaning in his Jewish
Kabbalah searches for deeper
meaning in the Torah than that sug-
gested by a literal reading of the text.
Words become emblems, letter
become symbols posessing creative
Through meditation, the mystic
attempts to unlock the secret work-
ings of God.
In the mystical tradition, human
activity can be amplified into a holy
act. As it is written in the Zohar, Kab-
balah's magnum opus written some
250 years before the Safed mystics
flourished, "Through an action below,
an action above is aroused."
"I put on tefillin every day. Kab-
balah rejuvenates it. Now at my Shab-
bat table, telling words of Ibrah takes
"The chavurah was
to be not only a
davening place, but a
on a cosmic import," Rabbi
Mysticism was part of
mainstream Judaism until the
Enlightenment of the last two cen-
turies. The modern Orthodox, Conser-
vative and Reform movements locked
Kabbalah in the closet to portray
Judaism as a primarily rational legal
system, Rabbi Silberschein says.
It was Professor Gershom
Scholem of Hebrew University — one
of the chavurah movement's gurus —
who sought to prove that mysticism
had a place in normative Judaism.
Scholem's interest was mainly
academic, but he paved the way for a
new generation of scholars who
sought to reintroduce Kabbalah as a
voice of Jewish expression. Many of
these scholars, like Savran, and Rab-
bi Arthur Green, head of the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College,
are chavurah alumni.
"These people went back to the
sources," Rabbi Silberschein says.
"They saw how rich the culture is and
started studying. These are people
who haven't turned their backs on
Western values — democracy and
equality. They're seeking a synthesis
between modernism and Jewish tradi-
f these neo-Kabbalists haven't
turned their backs to Western
values, in coming to Israel they
have been confronted by other bearers
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