jewish renewal


Topics of this page:
What is Jewish Renewal?
Rabbi Marcia Prager on Purim
July 3, 2014: Baruch Dayan HaEmet

July 3, 2014: Baruch Dayan HaEmet
Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi z''l passed away on July 3, 2014. We are very sad but extremely grateful for all inspiration, guidance and blessings we owe to him.
The article in the following link honors many facets of the far-reaching influence of Reb Zalman.

OHEL HACHIDUSCH  is affiliated to ALEPH - Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Jewish Renewal is well-established in the United States and England but in Continental Europe it is not widely known yet.
Therefore we are grateful to Rabbi Marcia Prager that we may cite part of her article:

What is Jewish Renewal?

Jewish Renewal is a trans-denominational movement in contemporary Jewish life which joyously brings renewed ethical and spiritual vitality to the forefront of Jewish lives and communities. Jewish renewalists understand that we live in a transformational time in history. Unprecedented changes in how we live on this planet are before us While many Jews find safety and meaning in a return to pre-modern styles of orthodoxy, a large number of Jews seek a contemporary truly egalitarian approach that transcends the boundaries of the various denominations and teaches Judaism as a profound, self and world-transformative spiritual practice. This is Jewish Renewal – a worldwide movement created by thousands of people who come from all varieties of Jewish backgrounds. Many are active in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox worlds as well as many others whose only religious/spiritual affiliation is Renewal. What makes Jewish Renewal such a special experience? In Jewish Renewal women and men are fully equal and participatory in shaping the future of Judaism. Those who have often been marginalized in Jewish life are welcomed. Our gatherings for prayer and celebration are lively, participatory and engaging of mind and heart and yes: music, movement, chant, meditation, dance, and drama are all explored as ways to connect with God and Torah. We engage in Tikkun Olam, the healing of brokenness in the world through mitzvot and acts of caring. We are committed to a deep love of Israel, striving to realize our vision of peace between the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael in the promised land of our ancestors. We foster respect for and openness to learn from the wisdom of other traditions, AND we are maximalist, not minimalist about our Judaism!

ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal is a U.S. national organization that came into existence to promote Jewish Renewal and is the umbrella for many projects, including the ALEPH Seminary which trains and ordains rabbis, cantors and rabbinic pastors. Anyone looking at the ALEPH website ( would see that these ordination programs are serious and academically rigorous. Most students study for 5 to 10 years while also leading congregations, teaching, and serving the Jewish community in fieldwork and internships. The Boards of Rabbis of growing numbers of major American cities accept ALEPH rabbis as full members.The greatest sign of Jewish Renewal´s success, however, is that Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative synagogues across the US as well as increasingly in Australia, Europe, Central and South America are adopting and integrating Jewish Renewal sensibilities in worship, meditation and text study into their services and religious training.

(Rabbi Marcia Prager is a graduate of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, rabbi of the Philadelphia P´nai Or Jewish Renewal Community and Director and Dean of Aleph Ordination Program.)

Rabbi Marcia Prager on Purim

If you have been watching the night sky, perhaps you saw
the first sliver of the new moon last week. In the Jewish world, we’re
moon-watchers, because each new month begins on the new “moon-th.” In
early Spring, or sometimes even late winter, we celebrate the New Moon
of the Hebrew month called Adar, the month whose motto is: “With the
month of Adar, Joy increases!” Why ? – because winter is winding down,
and the festival of Purim is coming! One month later we’ll see another
new moon, which arrives in the night sky to really herald the coming
of spring! This new moon ushers in the month of Nisan, The Month of
Spring: liberation from the tight cold of winter! Rebirth! Fifteen
days later, on the full moon of Nisan, what happens? The festival of
Pesach/Passover! If we understand the spiritual journey that begins in
the month of Nisan, we’ll have some of the tools we need to understand
Purim, which falls on the full moon of Adar and the gifts and
challenges this seemingly minor holiday brings. So lets look at the
month of Nisan first, and then come back to Adar and the festival of
Purim. The month of Nisan, the month of spring, is sometimes called
the month of "speaking," because Passover is in this month, and the
Hebrew for Passover is PESACH. The rabbis extract a teaching from the
word Pesach, which literally means to “pass over.” But it 
happens that
in Hebrew the verb "sach" means "to tell." Peh is "mouth." Thus
Pesach, Passover, can also mean a "mouth that tells!" And what a
story we tell! On the full moon of Nisan, we gather to share a
Passover feast. Around the table we sing and tell the story of Yitziat
Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Can you hear the TZR in miTZRayim?
In Hebrew Egypt is not the name for the land in which we were
enslaved, but Mitzrayim. TZR means constriction (like in Tsuris, for
anyone who might remember some Yiddish.) TZR - The too-tight-place,
the “Place Where Life was Being Squeezed Out of Us.” Our people’s
liberation from The-Place-of-Constriction is one of the great tales of
human history, and also describes a challenge that life can bring to
each one of us! The telling is so important that the booklet of songs
and stories read at a Passover seder, is called the Hagada, which
simply means “the telling!” During Pesach God blazingly reveals God's
Self to us as the ultimate liberating power, bringing us out of
Mitzrayim, and then on to Sinai to covenant with us as a nation. With
drama and a cast of thousands, God intervenes in history to liberate
an oppressed people and bring us into freedom. We escape from slavery,
and trek into the wilderness of Sinai. At Sinai, God reveals God’s
Self to us with lightning and claps of thunder. We receive Torah and
learn to understand freedom in an entirely new way: freedom as
commitment. We will serve no ruler but God. We hear God call to us:
 "Be holy, for I, the One Power that "Gods" you, am
holy." (Leviticus 19:2) We commit ourselves and all future generations to this striving:
to be a holy people in a brit olam, an eternal covenant with the
Creator of the Universe. The walk from Mitzrayim to Sinai is a
walk from liberation to commitment, from a rush to freedom to a deep
purpose. It is a time of refinement, of preparation and openness to
experiencing the revelation of God’s active presence in our lives, in
Torah, in Mitzvot … The festival of Shavuot is a celebration of the
revelation at Sinai! A fulfillment of the journey of liberation begun
at Pesach; A sacred time to stand again at Sinai, to open our hearts
to the I AM of the universe, to receive Torah. Now here is an
interesting point:If you remember the story of the Exodus, who was
arguably the main hero? If you said Moses, you’re right. So it might
surprise you, that in the traditional Hagadah, the “TELLING” that is
recounted at the Passover Seder, Moses/Moshe is not mentioned at all!
Who is center stage in The Telling? If you said “God” you’re right.
God is center stage! God is revealed! Moshe is not even mentioned.
Now, in order to go further, you need to know that just like at
Pesach, when we tell the Exodus story by chanting the Hagadah, when we
tell the story of Purim, we do this by chanting the Scroll of Esther,
the Megillah of Esther. The Megillah is the scroll that recounts the
entire story of Queen Esther, her noble uncle Mordecai, the King
Ahashverush and the villain Minister Haman. In the tale, Mordecai
learns of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish villages of Persia and
enrich himself with the booty. Mordecai’s young niece Esther, who has
through fate or fortune become King Ahashverush’s new Queen, is the
only possible person to thwart these evil plans. She must, at great
risk, disobey the laws that imprison her in “purdah,” in the wealthy
but sex-segregated world of the Palace harem, to seek out the King,
and somehow turn aside this evil decree. With great faith and daring,
she succeeds. Evil is overcome and goodness triumphs. In the Hebrew
Megillah of Esther, all the heroes have big roles. But one hero is
missing. Surprise! God is not mentioned even once. How strange that
God does not appear in the Purim Megillah! In the Hagadah, Moshe is
not mentioned, and God is center stage. Moshe is concealed and God is
revealed! In the Purim Megillah God is so concealed that God does not
appear even once. Hmmm… Yet even so, when chant the Purim story how
strongly we can feel God working! In the Megillah of Esther God is
like the hidden actor, whispering stage cues from behind the curtain,
the main character who never gets a line or curtain call What is this
about? If God is so very present, so center stage at Pesach and at
Shavuot, WHY is God so absent at Purim? Lets look: Purim: a story of
heroism and evil undone by goodness. And also a holiday of masks: On
Purim everyone wears costumes and masks. That is part of the
celebration! Adults and kids, all come to the reading of the Megillah
dressed in elaborate disguises! Purim is a Mardi Gras of disguises –
reality is hidden, garbed in funny, gaudy, attractive clever,
glittery, cute, silly, but always external appearances. It is a clue
to the meaning of the holiday, and the story. Truth can be disguised.
Sometimes even the main character is hidden. Sometimes even God is
hidden. So not surprisingly, we have to probe beneath the surface,
past simple appearances, to find the real story of Purim. In fact, the
disguises and the masks are all designed emphasize the theme of
hiddenness! Look: This theme of concealment is found in the very name
of the heroine of Purim. “Esther” derives from a Hebrew word 
(nistar) that actually means “hidden.” ... God is NISTAR / hidden in the Purim
story. To underscore the hiddenness of God, the entire story seems to
be one of coincidences •Queen Vashti just happens to refuse to appear
at the royal feast;• the king just happens to banish her and need a
new queen;•Mordecai just happens to be in the right place at the right
moment to foil a plot against the king’s life;• the king just happens
to have a sleepless night and his courtiers remind him that Mordecai
saved his life;•Even the date on which the Jewish villages are to be
exterminated is determined by the casting of lots -- purim are the
lottery (Esther 3:7) and it is this “pur” that gives us the name of
the holiday. If there is any guiding hand of God, that hand is
disguised in a string of seemingly random coincidences. In the
Megillah, the role of God is unseen. God’s presence is invisible.
Gradually we begin to understand the role of hiddenness in the Purim
story. It is a story wrapped in a disguise, hidden behind a costume,
concealed behind a mask. Purim. What does this holiday ask of us? 
Purim asks us to look behind all masks and find the hidden truths. 
Purim challenges us to confront all the false appearances that show up
our lives and in our world, and to find evidence of the Presence of
God even when this is not at all obvious. Purim asks us: What are the
hidden realities, and what are the false appearances that hide them? 
Is there a core reality that even our ordinary, every-day habits of
perception can mask? How can we get locked into false assumptions and
not really see what is going on? In teaching us to look beneath
appearances to the hidden truths, Purim is asking something rather
difficult of all of us. Purim asks us to look at our world and at our> own lives and confront the biggest false appearance of all: The
appearance that God absent, that God is not working through our lives.
You may know that there is an odd instruction that comes along with
the holiday Purim: The Rabbis say that that we should get so drunk on
Purim (ad d’lo yada) that we can’t distinguish between Baruch
Mordechai, Blessed be Mordechai and Arur Haman, Cursed is Haman. Now
they were certainly not encouraging alcohol abuse or gross
drunkenness… so what were they saying? ... ...and anyhow... .. how
could anyone be so “drunk" as to not know the difference between, say,
Yoda and Darth Vader, or Mother Theresa and Stalin..? Now here is
where a Kabbalistic teaching is important. Kabbalists often describe
our material world as “olam ha-p'ridah” a world of separation and
opposites: Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Blessing and Curse, young
and old, this and that, us and them… Yet they point out that the
numerical value of the Hebrew letters that spell “Baruch Mordechai,”
Blessed be Mordechai and “Arur Haman,” Cursed is Haman, are the same.
This does not mean there is no difference between good and evil, but
rather calls us to a deeper understanding of how seeming polarities
might actually intertwine. Remember: Esther has to walk out of purdah,
out of the sex-segregated harem, to find the King. To the kabbalists,
walking beyond “the World of Purdah” –º olam ha-p'ridah” is a journey> towards yichud: the Divine Unity that underlies and transcends the
apparent contradictions of our world, where even polarities like
Baruch Mordecai and Arur Haman merge. This is Esther’s walk, and ours.
Esther's brave walk from “purdah,” her separate women's abode, to
approach the king reminds us what a risky venture it is to leave the
comfort of everything we feel so sure about, all the comfortable
appearances -- and aspire, through heightened consciousness, to
experience, however briefly, the expanse of Infinite Oneness, the
chamber of yichud where false perceptions that disguise the oneness of
all things fall away. Purim asks us to challenge the foundational
false appearance: that we, and everything, and everyone, are
separate, segregated, not connected – that what happens to me won’t
affect you and that what happens to you won’t affect me. WE ARE
connected. Deep in our hearts we know it. This is the truth to which
religion is supposed to help us “re-lig” ie. re-connect, when we
forget: God flows through everything and IS everything. This is the
real truth. We don’t just interact. We inter-ARE! When pain and
suffering happen, it is our shared pain. And when healing happens, and
love flowers, this is our shared love. In Torah, we are asked to love
our fellow person as our self. Samson Raphael Hirsch, a great rabbi,
said When we hear this it is as if we hear God saying: "I am the
personification of love. I am the creating and vitalizing Source of
all beings around you, I have called them all, like you, to life and
well-being. Love My creation and all beings in it Rejoice in their
well-being, see in each My work, in each person My child... Let
everything you do reflect your love for the world, all creatures and
people. Carry love in your heart; it is this which makes you a human
being. (Horeb. chap. 16) Just like the name Esther echoes the Hebrew
word nistar, “hidden.” Megillah sounds like the Hebrew for “revealed,”
nigleh. So on Purim, on the full moon of Adar, we read the
 “Megillah” of “Esther” in order to begin revealing what is hidden!
This “revealing” picks up speed, taking us to Pesach, and on to the
wow-revelation of Sinai. So friends, Purim is this week! My hope for
us is that we can see through the masks and begin to reveal the
deepest truth. Lets see beyond our separateness and taste the
Oneness! This is what God wants to reveal. The Infinite Loving Oneness
of Being! This is the journey from Purim to Pesach. (Gratitude for
inspiration and section on coincidences from The Holiday in Hiding: by
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman)

(Rabbi Marcia Prager is a graduate of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, rabbi of the Philadelphia P´nai Or Jewish Renewal Community and Director and Dean of Aleph Ordination Program.)