Zalman z”l


The Jewish world becomes a smaller place. On the passing of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an icon on the American Jewish scene, read the obituary written by Shaul Magid here in the Daily Forward. Fusing world religions, LSD, cosmic consciousness, and open possibilities, his was a relaxed form of neo-Hasidism, a profoundly pagan Kabbalah, about which I still do not quite know what to think. Was it for real or just an act? Just what are the limits of the religious imagination? Shaul describes Zalman as the real deal. “A tireless organizer and spiritual architect, Schachter-Shalomi single-handedly created a new form of Jewish practice and spirituality known as Jewish Renewal, founded on the idea of Gaia consciousness: the notion that the earth is a living organism and that human civilization needs to construct religion to frame its responsibility to the planet…Jewish Renewal adopts a belief in the Aquarian Age, an idea that human civilization is now experiencing a radical transformation of consciousness. Schachter-Shalomi believed in adopting and sharing spiritual traditions in order to create a world where distinct religions remain but are integrated with one another. Adopting Buddhist meditation, Gregorian chants and Sufi zikher to Jewish prayer, Schachter-Shalomi sought to broaden the possibilities of Jewish spiritual life.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Zalman z”l

  1. ej says:

    I was friends with Reb Zalman z’l for around a year or two a while back… like a little over 50 years ago. What can I say ? He was a lot of fun, interesting, full of ideas. We spoke about kabbalah and the hippie culture that was sweeping the country. I have watched his career from afar ever since, and it is with some sadness to hear that he is gone. I somehow could never get with his program, nor did I particularly try. I always thought the task was close reading of traditional texts like Talmud through the prism of advanced thought. In those days Marxism and psychoanalysis were still alive and kicking. I wasn’t prepared for an encounter with a charismatic figure like Reb Zalman who was prepared to be his own text. It wasn’t the liberalism, of which I approved, or the high spirits which I shared. It was a feeling that he had no boundaries. He desire for transcendence wasn’t just vertical away from our material world of bodies and relationships, it eventually morphed into a horizontal quest of transcending the boundaries of any specific religion. Compare him to someone like Stanley Cavell who places the locus of value in places like a marriage and the realia of ordinary life and language. He once told me “Everyone gets on a bus. Most get off close to home. I never got off the bus.”

    He was so prolific, so many ideas, a virtual mayan hanoveah, that is difficult to assess his thought. Shaul Magid is very good in presenting his later period when Zalman overcame the limits of Jewish particularism. He is less useful on early Zalman, the reconstructionist who was going to invigorate shul life with multi colored taleisim and the counterculture of the chavurot movement. I remember a conversation in Chicago where he spoke with great enthusiasm about string theory and Judaism. I had no idea what string theory asserted or entailed, but I wasn’t worried. I knew there would be other equally radical ideas when we met again. And there was. He had this idea about interdenominational religious services where the choice of religion was still left open…and he mumbled something about aging.

    It will take a while to get a full measure of this wonderful, creative person.

    • zjb says:

      thank you so much, ej. your remarks are both moving and clarifying. i’ll make sure Shaul sees them. Shabbat shalom, –Zak

  2. dmf says:

    he was @ Naropa recently:

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