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September 28, 1990 - Image 29

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-28

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given us. Spirituality and aesthetics —
enjoying the world — are closely linked.
Jewish spirituality means sanctifying the
every day. Its a way to appreciate the
world moment-to-moment."
"Other religions," said Prof. Katz,
"especially Christianity and Hinduism,
tend to devalue this world. Judaism's
emphasis is how to be in this world.
That's a big difference."
Judaism's awareness of the world can
be illustrated by the blessings that are
said upon seeing a rainbow, a shooting
star, a great desert, or trees blossoming
in spring: These prayers help bring an
experience into consciousness, into a con-
text that is both personal and divine.
A full spiritual appreciation of the
world, said Rabbi Zaiman, usually means
that one "is not afraid of life." It does not
imply, he said, that the spiritual person is
certain of each new step in his life or that
he has plotted out his future. Instead, he
said, someone on the spiritual path
assumes that "the universe you inhabit is
safe and you trust that it will not destroy
you.
Judaism, then, offers extraordinarily
different ways of meeting God: Prayer,
study, work, joy, devotion to community.
Given these varied paths, perhaps a
Chasidic tale answers in a broad sense the
question of how one can sense God's
presence:
"Where is the dwelling of God?," the
rabbi of Kutzk asked several learned men
visiting him.
"What a thing to ask," laughed the vis-
itors. "Is not the whole world full of his
glory?"
The rabbi then answered his own ques-
tion:
"God dwells wherever man lets Him
in."
In Jewish spirituality, then, man can
let God in wherever he can: Through the
intellect, through the heart, through ac-
tions. There is no one province for the di-
vine, no one conduit through which man
can best serve Him.
Indispensable to the spiritual journey,
said Rabbi Zaiman, is the willingness to
take "the risk" of such an adventure, one
that may alter a person's sense of self and
the world.
Also indispensable is a sense of per-
spective. As the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th
century founder of Chasidism, said, "One
too filled with self has no room for the
Holy One." Just as God has made space
for man in the world, one must make
space for God in the soul.
Or, as philosopher Martin Buber wrote,
the spiritual person should "begin with
oneself, but not end with oneself; start
with oneself, but not to aim at oneself; to
comprehend oneself, but not to be preoc-
cupied with oneself.... Then we will estab-
lish, in this our place, a dwelling for the
Divine Presence." ❑

Spirituality
In The Rabbinate

lthough rabbis are often referred
to as "spiritual leaders," until
recently many were poorly edu-
cated in Jewish spirituality or were un-
comfortable talking about it. Sermons
about it were rare. When asked about it,
many "got confused," said Nathan Katz,
a professor of religious studies at the
University of South Florida. "When
pressed, they would say they didn't
know anything about it. They were em-
barrassed by the subject."
In recent years, Reform and Conser-
vative rabbinical seminaries have been
trying to change the knowledge and
attitude toward spirituality of their
denominations' next generation of
rabbis. Both schools have injected
more spirituality into their academic
and experiential programs. According
to Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, a profes-
sor of liturgy at the New York branch
of the Reform movement's seminary,
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Insti-
tute of Religion, "We try not to teach
purely in an academic or theoretical
context, but talk about the spiritual
consequences of what is being discuss-
ed."
Classes at the seminary are often
preceded, said Prof. Hoffman, with a
prayer. If he is teaching about the
historical and theological evolution of
a certain prayer, Prof. Hoffman might
ask students how this development re-
lates to contemporary Judaism.
"We are trying to build a spiritual
community in which we sustain each
other and build the habits that will last
a lifetime," he said.
The Conservative movement's Jew-
ish Theological Seminary is trying to
cultivate spirituality in its students
through its new Rabbinical School
Seminar. The sessions began during
the last academic year and meet for
four hours a week for each of a
student's five years at JTS.
During their first three years at the
seminary, the five to eight students in
each seminar discuss prayer, the Jew-
ish life cycle, Judaism's annual cycle of
holidays, Jewish theological and philo-
sophical issues and Jews and Israel.
The fourth and fifth years are devoted
to discussing students' internships.
A few years ago, said JTS vice chan-
cellor Rabbi William Lebeau, the in-
stitution realized its challenge was "to
take someone who studies and under-
stands Jewish texts and integrate this
into his or her religious life so he or she
can communicate this to others. We

A

Rabbi William Lebeau of JTS:
"Trying to develop a religious personality."

are trying to develop a religious per-
sonality. The seminars are where spiri-
tuality gets tested. It's not left as a side
issue."
The seminars' ultimate goal, said the
vice chancellor, parallels the concept of
a rabbi articulated by the late German
rabbi and philosopher, Leo Baeck:
"The message of the rabbi must not be
the sermon of the preacher. The mes-
sage must be the rabbi himself."
The dean of the nation's leading
mainstream Orthodox seminary at
Yeshiva University in New York said
it was not necessary to rejuvenate spir-
ituality in his institution because Or-
thodoxy's beliefs had never caused the
school to deviate from traditional Jew-
ish spirituality.
Orthodoxy "believes God gave the
Torah at Mount Sinai," said Rabbi
Zevulun Charlop, dean of Yeshiva's
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological
Seminary. The Reform and Conserva-
tive movements "have trouble with
that, so they have to find other ave-
nues for spirituality.
"One could not commit himself to
the totality of Orthodox observance
and study unless he felt he had to serve
God," said Rabbi Charlop. "In other
denominations, one may feel he wants
to serve man, not God. In the Jewish
tradition, among the various commu-
nions with God there is none more sig-
nificant than learning. When a Jew
learns, he speaks to God."
— A.J.M.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

29

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