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September 28, 1990 - Image 32

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

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Rabbi Omer-Man, director of spiritual
outreach for the Los Angeles Hillel Coun-
cil and a nationally known writer and lec-
But reasons why are almost beside the
point. Simply put, placing blame is not a
sign of chasidut, or saintliness in a Jew-
ish sense. So regardless of the cause, if, as
Rabbi Zaiman said, "vocabulary struc-
tures how you think," then the first task
for those desiring spiritual fulfillment
within Judaism is to relearn Judaism's
vocabulary for expressing life's
"Otherwise," noted Rabbi Zaiman,
"you're always on the outside, and the
spiritual quest is being on the inside."

After survival, then what?

There is
Jews have
lost much
of their


Rabbi Zaiman and other Jewish reli-
gious leaders interviewed also widely
agreed that increasing numbers of Amer-
ican Jews, having handled life's personal
survival issues, have begun to look to-
ward spirituality for the inner peace they
still seem to lack.
The emergence of the rapidly spreading
ba'al teshuvah movement, which has
brought tens of thousands of previously
non-religious Jews into Orthodoxy over
the past two decades, is one manifesta-
tion of this. Reform Judaism, meanwhile,
which in its classical form all but negated
the spiritual. component, has witnessed
the birth of its own small traditionalist
movement. Rabbi Zaiman also sees the
proliferation of self-help books as yet an-
other stab at spiritual completion.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman of Atlanta's
Congregation Beth Shalom believes that
part of this spiritual awakening can be
traced to contemporary American Juda-
ism's loss of its ethnic roots.
"Everything the older generation did
smacked of Judaism," said Rabbi Zim-
merman, who is Conservative. "For
them, religion was a knee-jerk reaction
because they were raised in a community
where Jewish religion and culture went
"Today, we're one step removed from
that ethnicity and so people are looking.
They are missing something and they
don't really know what that is, so they
call it spirituality."
For Rabbi Omer-Man, a crucial part of
the Jewish spiritual quest is to find a
mentor — a rabbi or knowledgeable lay
person — and to join a community — be it
an established congregation, a chavurah,
or an "alternative minyan."
"The practice of going to a place and
trying to belong is extremely important,"
he said. "My most profound spiritual
work and prayer, I do myself. But it is
also important to go to synagogue. We
need community because we deceive
ourselves. The community is where we
find our teachers and sense of direction.



Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man:
Community protects us from self-deception.

Rabbi Menachem Goldberger:
"Without Torah, you can only have pieces of

We can't do it alone."
For the observant, spirituality without
Torah is a meaningless oxymoron; a futile
attempt to celebrate the light while ignor-
ing its source.
"When it comes to Jewish spirituality,
the bottom line is an attempt to follow
the path of Torah," said Rabbi
Goldberger. "Without it, you can only
have pieces of spirituality."
But regardless of the point of view, the

consensus among those interviewed is
that Judaism's religious institutions
must do more to promote sensitivity to
life's spiritual dimension.
Rabbi Syme urges congregations to
create "varied points of entry for the vast
numbers of Jews who stand outside the
Jewish community and its notion of spiri-
"Jews grow up thinking they are apart
from Jewish spirituality because they are


Books On The Spirit

ome Rabbis say that one way to
enter Jewish spirituality is
through learning its vocabulary.
Books, which attempt to describe the
spiritual experience, the spiritual life,
and the varieties of Jewish spirituality
are one way to acquire this vocabulary.
Here are several titles that might be
• The Way of Man by Martin Buber.
At only 41 pages, Buber's interpreta-
tion of six Chasidic stories is easily ac-
cessible and eminently readable. The
philosopher discusses the tales' rela-
tions to our lives and how we can put
them into practice.
• Jewish Spirituality, edited by Ar-
thur Green. A comprehensive two-
volume collection of essays by scholars
and rabbis on the history and devel-
opment of Jewish spirituality from
Biblical days to the present. Volume II
examines current modes and innova-
tions in Jewish spirituality.

• Honey From the Rock by Lawrence
Kushner. Poetic and sometimes highly
personal, this text incorporates
autobiography, Biblical quotations
and Jewish legends to usher the reader
through the many forms of spiritual
• Beggars and Prayers and Teshuvah
by Adin Steinsaltz, Orthodox Juda-
ism's reigning popularizer. The first
volume retells Chasidic tales by Rabbi
Nachman of Bratslav and includes
Rabbi Steinsaltz' own spiritual in-
sights. The second is his widely read
guide for easing into observant prac-
• Meditation and The Bible by
Aryeh Kaplan. How did the Prophets
attain their spiritual insights? This is
an attempt to explain the nature of
spiritual experiences and how they can
be cultivated. Its drawback for the
beginner is the author's reliance on
technical terms.
— A.J.M. and I.R.

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