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The Spiritual Transformational Processes of Baalei Teshuvah


Present a model of spiritual transformational processes of ... Definition: A state of inner emptiness and the perception that life lacks meaning (Frankl, 1963) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Spiritual Transformational Processes of Baalei Teshuvah

The Spiritual Transformational Processes of
Baalei Teshuvah
  • Roberta G. Sands and
  • Rivka A. Danzig (dec.)

Goals of Todays Presentation
  • Present a model of spiritual transformational
    processes of Jewish adults who have become
  • Identify implications of this model for working
    with individuals with health challenges

Prior Literature and Research on
Religious/Spiritual Change
  • Research on religious conversion
  • Psychosocial and spiritual development theories
  • Spirituality and religion as meaning-making
  • Literature on baalei teshuvah
  • Prior research has not addressed processes of
    change among baalei teshuvah over time

  • Spiritual transformation movements of the soul
    toward and away from the Divine Source of Being
  • Processes of ST soul work
  • Soul work involves active meaning-making
  • Three elements
  • Expanded knowledge of Torah
  • Experience of Holiness (Qedushah)
  • Perform commandments (mitzvot).
  • The transformation processes are non-linear,
    recursive, and spiraling

Qualitative Research Methods
  • Data collection methods
  • Individual interviews (N 48, half men, half
    women half observant 2-12 yrs, half 13)
  • In-depth interviews
  • Time lines
  • Focus groups (N 2)
  • Key informant interviews (N 10)
  • Individual and focus group interviews were
    transcribed key informant interviews were

Qualitative Methods of Analysis
  • Review of transcribed interviews and focus group
    meetings, minutes of team discussions, and
    analytic memos
  • Using a grounded theory approach (Glaser
    Strauss, 1967), inductively developed and revised
    analytic categories and framework for model
  • Coding of transcripts
  • Cross-checking of findings across methods

Case Example 1
  • Rochel 31 year-old single woman, observant 4.5
    years. Parents divorced when 8. Mother had
    significant mental illness. Lived with different
    parents in different cities. Continuity in Jewish
    affiliations. Traveled in Israel, where learned
    Hebrew, and Germany. Studied in seminary in
    Israel and became Orthodox on return to US.
    Continues to struggle with issues around feminism.

Case Example 2
  • Barbara 35 years old, married with children
    observant 18 years. Grew up in intact home
    attended Jewish day school. Active in Jewish
    youth groups. Started to become observant in
    high school continued during college. Law
    school high powered job. Married moved to
    Israel later returned to US. Gave up law to
    teach because law didnt jive with my soul.
    Gives classes and leads services for women.

The Model of Spiritual Transformational Processes
  1. Spiritual Eclipse of the Soul
  2. Spiritual Imprints
  3. Existential Vacuum
  4. Spiritual Reactivity
  5. Spiritual Immersion
  6. Movement toward Qedushah
  7. Living the Commitment (open-ended)

Spiritual Eclipse of the Soul
  • Definition muting, silencing, or blocking of
    spiritual needs by adverse or non-supportive
  • Result of lack of exposure to Jewish education or
    practice, disapproving attitudes by family and
    others, other experiences (e.g., child of
    Holocaust survivor, family conflict or abuse)
  • I felt so cheated. That there was this whole
    part of who I was, or who I could be connected
    to, that was kept totally away from me. (Shira)

II. Spiritual Imprints
  • Definition Individuals or experiences that leave
    a strong impression on the individuals soul or
    spiritual development
  • They may be from childhood or adulthood
  • Examples grandparents, lighting Sabbath candles,
    youth group activities, contact with charismatic
  • I was awestrucka watershed moment inmy
    relationship with Judaisma very powerful
    transformation for mehis impact on me was very,
    very deep. (Jeffrey)

III. Existential Vacuum
  • Definition A state of inner emptiness and the
    perception that life lacks meaning (Frankl, 1963)
  • Characterized by feelings of loneliness, shame,
    chaos, and confusion and a sense that something
    is missing
  • May be manifested by depression, restlessness,
    tension, ennui, spiritual emergencies (Grof
    Grof, 1990)
  • Theres something missing.When you think of a
    wheel and a tire, you think of the spokes and the
    hubcap. Now whats the center of our life?
  • Opens up space for the unfolding of spiritual
    reactivity ?

IV. Spiritual Reactivity
  • Definition Struggling, striving, and searching
    for meaning in response to existential vacuum
  • Unfocused spiritual seeking within diverse
    spiritualities and Judaism
  • Reactions rebellion, separation from
    family/friends, wandering
  • We used to go up to the ashram. It wasnt so
    much about G-d wasnt about religion. It was
    about spiritualityhaving transcendental
    experiences, feeling my body floating or
    whatever. (Yehudis)
  • I see a poster... that there was going to be a
    Bible study class.I had no interest in learning
    the Bible I just wanted to meet some girls. But
    I met this rabbi. (Steven)

V. Spiritual Immersion
  • Definition serious engagement in activities
    within Judaism that enable connection with G-d
  • Characteristics
  • Incremental study, gradually taking on mitzvot,
    and forming new relationships that link them with
    religious community.
  • Idealization of new connections and community.
  • Spiritual canyoneering ----------- gt

Spiritual Canyoneering
  • "I'm the kind of person that doesn't like to walk
    into cold water I like to jump.I jumped deeply
    into it before I really knew what it was all
    about or what I was going to experience. As a
    kid I would jump off large cliffs into quarries. 
    And it's kind of what I did going into being
    religious, too.  I didn't think about it too
    much. (Jeffrey) 

VI. Movement toward Qedushah
  • Definition a spiritual process in which one
    deepens ones relationship with God and
    intensifies ones commitment to the practice of
  • Characteristics
  • Engagement in a deliberate and directed
    transformational process
  • Cascading learning process
  • Continued, expanded spiritual seeking, learning,
    and observing
  • BT high
  • Spiritual struggles
  • From straddling two worlds to making a
  • "You can't just do one mitzvah.  You start doing
    one. Because I wanted to learn to read from the
    Torah, I started to go to minyan, and I started
    putting on tefillin.  And then I started going to
    Shabbes services." (Barry)

VII. Living the Commitment
  • Definition observance becomes normative and
    pervades ones everyday life and
    spiritual/religious existence.
  • Characteristics
  • Observing mitzvot on daily basis
  • Regular Torah study
  • Engaging in acts of lovingkindness (chesed).
  • Participating in community and leadership.

Living the Commitment
  • I'm trying very hard now to structure my week to
    go to as many women's shiurim (classes) as I
    can.That it keeps merevved up and in the right
    direction." (Shira)
  • Davening is the most important part of the
    beginning of my day. (Amy)
  • we wiped ourselves out as a family, with doing
    a lot of volunteering. But it felt so good. We
    had so much energy and enthusiasm, and we wanted
    to give, and we wanted to raise money for good
    causes, etcetera. (Yehudis)

  • Gradual process, not leap into faith
  • Prior eclipses and losses of meaning create need
    for new sources of meaning
  • (Spiritual) transformation occurs in the context
    of relationships with spiritual models (Oman
    Thoresen, 2003)
  • Heightened group identification and solidarity
    support the process
  • Deepening of knowledge of ones religion
    religious values is inspiring

  • The need for knowledge slows the process down
  • Social support, modeling, and community
    reinforcement spur the process on
  • Doing reinforces what one has learned
  • Chesed and community service appear at the
    highest level of spiritual transformation

Implications for Health
  • Spiritual transformation develops from an unmet
    need for a framework to structure meaning
  • Need derives from prior losses or gaps (eclipse
    of soul)
  • Need to construct a meaningful life (existential
  • Serious health issues of oneself or others can
    provoke a need for a new framework for meaning
  • Critical elements for change
  • Emotional support
  • New knowledge
  • Religious communities or social networks that
    draw people in and enhance and reinforce
    spiritual/religious values

Research Team
  • Roberta G. Sands, PhD, PI
  • Rivka Ausubel Danzig, DSW, Co-PI
  • Robyn Rapoport Spero, MA, Research Associate
  • Samuel Z. Klausner, PhD, Research Consultant
  • Interviewers from 3 metropolitan areas
  • Transcribers from 2 metropolitan areas

  • We are grateful for the funding and support
    provided by The Spiritual Transformation
    Scientific Research Program, sponsored by the
    Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science, with
    the generous support of the John Templeton
  • We also thank Temima Azizollahoff Danzig for
    creating our logo.