Episode 22: Jewish Renewal - Rachel Barenblat and David Markus

Rabbis Rachel Barenblat ("The Velveteen Rabbi") and David Markus, co-chairs of the board of ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, join us for the first episode of a four-episode series entitled "Emergent Innovation." Along with co-hosts Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes, they look back at the history of Jewish Renewal, look forward towards its future, and discuss its animating philosophies and their application beyond the movement itself. 

(0:01 - 15:20): Barenblat and Markus begin by going over the history (the movement officially started in the 1980s) and pre-history of Jewish Renewal, along with some of its basic tenets (including "deep ecumenism," feminism, and elements of Hasidism). [2] We also learn about their journey together into Jewish Renewal, which began at Williams College and was sparked when both read The Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz[3][4]

(15:21 - 22:37): Our guests expand on the notion of "inventing" our own Judaism -- even when similar Jewish rituals might already have been invented! We also look at Jewish Renewal as it relates to some of the other denominations of Judaism (such as Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Judaism). [5] Rachel asks a pressing question -- "What is the Judaism of the future that you want to see?" -- and discusses some of the ways that Jewish Renewal attempts to answer it.

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal - Image Credit: VelveteenRabbi.blogs.com

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal - Image Credit: VelveteenRabbi.blogs.com

(22:38 - 34:14): We discuss the extent to which there exists a tension in Judaism between flexibility on the one hand and structure on the other, and we explore how that question manifests in Jewish Renewal. In doing so, we explore the place of prayer in Judaism, along with the variety of forms of prayer that exist in Jewish Renewal. 

(34:15 - 47:37): To close the episode, Markus and Barenblat look toward the future, considering two key questions: first, to what extent can (or must) forms of Judaism evolve that are substantially less expensive from a financial standpoint, [6] and second, what might Judaism and Jewish Renewal look like once the Millennial generation is given the proverbial "keys to the car." 

[1] Learn more about Jewish Renewal by visiting ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal's website.

[2] For more information on the life of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Jewish Renewal, visit this link from Aleph's website.

A collection of Williams College Haggadot - Image Credit: Rachel Barenblat

A collection of Williams College Haggadot - Image Credit: Rachel Barenblat

[3] Barenblat and Markus explain how the book The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz played an important role in their journeys into Jewish Renewal. You can purchase it on Amazon at this link.

[4] On the left you can see a variety of feminist Haggadot, as referenced by Barenblat.

[5] Dan mentions two individuals that have historically been regarded by many rabbis as heretics -- Elisha ben Abuya (also known as "Acher" meaning "the other") and Baruch (Benedictus) Spinoza. The book As a Driven Leaf explores the life of Elisha ben Abuya in greater detail and is available here. Learn about Spinoza here.

[6] To read Markus's recent MyJewishLearning piece about the financial costs of being Jewish in the 21st century, click here.

[7] In discussing the future of Judaism, Markus alludes to ALEPH's rabbinic program, which primarily functions online. To learn more about this program (as well as ALEPH's cantorial, rabbinic pastor, and spiritual director programs), click here.