Jewish Renewal
At the heart of Jewish Renewal is a renewed encounter with God and an understanding of Jewish history as a series of renewed encounters with God after crises during which God has been eclipsed -- each crisis resulting in the emergence of a more or less deeply transformed version of Judaism.
Jewish renewal is a process of Jewish prayer, learning, community-building, and practice that seeks:

  • to nurture communities that dance and wrestle with God, that are intimate, participatory, and egalitarian,
  • and to assist the spiritual growth and healing of individuals,communities, whole societies, and the planet.

Jewish Renewal draws on the wisdom of Jewish tradition without getting stuck in it -- infusing these with the insights of contemporary ecology, feminism, and participatory democracy.
The two words "Jewish renewal" describe the process; if the emerging content also were to be put in two words, "ecofeminist Hassidism" -- with and because of all their seeming contradictions -- might be the closest.

In Jewish renewal:

  • women and men are fully equal & participatory in shaping the future of Judaism;

  • those who have traditionally been marginalized in Jewish life (such as gay men and lesbians, converts, those who are new to the study of Torah and the process of prayer) are welcomed and honored;

  • there is respect for and often learning from other spiritual paths;

  • people seek to heal the earth and society through seeking peace, justice, and ecological wholeness;

  • chant and meditation and dance and "bibliodrama" are encouraged as ways of connecting with God & Torah;

  • people desire to embody wisdom in addition to intellectualizing and learning about it;
    people sense God as suffusing the world with Divinity.

Jewish renewal is "maximalist" about Judaism -- that is, tries to apply Judaism in many down-to-earth life-dimensions (food, money, sex, health, politics, etc) rather than restricting it to just prayer or holy days or Torah-study.

Jewish renewal is based on the conviction that we are entering a profoundly different period of Jewish life, as different from Rabbinic Judaism as Rabbinic Judaism was/ is from Biblical Judaism -- Many Jewish-renewal groups understands that the Divine in the universe is calling on us to move beyond old ways of connecting with God as King and Judge, toward metaphors that are much more intimate -- Breath of Life, for example -- and toward a whole new paradigm of Jewish life in all its dimensions, including:

  • new words and forms of prayer;

  • new pro-active efforts to help heal the wounded earth;

  • new efforts toward mutual respect between the Jewish people and other peoples and paths, in the world at large and in the Land of Israel;

  • new efforts to carry Jewish wisdom into the public sphere.


Several important books that specifically and broadly address the issues of renewing Jewish life:

  • Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's Paradigm Shift (Jason Aronson)

  • Jonathan Omer-Man and Shohama Wiener, eds, Worlds of Jewish Prayer & The 58th Century (Jason Aronson)

  • Michael Lerner's Jewish Renewal (Putnam),

  • Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus (Harper San Francisco),

  • Judy Petsonk, Taking Judaism Personally (Free Press);

  • Arthur Waskow's Seasons of Our Joy (Beacon), Down-to-Earth Judaism (Morrow 1995) Godwrestling -- Round 2 (Jewish Lights, 1996); and with Phyllis Berman, Tales of Tikkun (Jason Aronson).

Membership in ALEPH is the handiest way to get continuing information about retreats, gatherings, Shabbatonim, and new books, tapes, ritual objects, ceremonies, etc., emerging through Jewish renewal, as well as the quarterly journal New Menorah and other informational mailings. Every other summer, ALEPH holds a week-long kallah -- sacred gathering -- with from 400 to 800 participants. Membership in ALEPH costs $36 a year, and contributions of larger amounts are of course welcome. ALEPH is a tax-exempt religious organization, and contributions are tax-deductible. Email: Phone: 215-247-9700 Address: 7318 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia PA 19119.
ALEPH sponsors Elat Chayyim, a retreat center in the Hudson River Valley near Woodstock, NY. During every summer there are week-long sets of courses and celebrations at Elat Chayyim; during the rest of the year, weekend gatherings of various sorts. For more info: E-mail or call 800-398-2360.