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Reconstructionism and Spiritual Life II


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Title: Reconstructionism and Spiritual Life II

Reconstructionism and Spiritual Life IIA
Conversation About Spirituality
  PEARL Providing Education and Resources for
Leadership For Part One see
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Transformative Judaism for the 21st Century 101
Greenwood Avenue Beit Devora, Suite 430
Jenkintown, PA 19046 215.885.5601 / fax
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Rabbi Richard Hirsh, and Rabbi
    Rachel Gartner
  • May 4, 2011-800 p.m.-915 p.m.

An Opening Prayer c- Rabbi Shawn Zevit, May
  • We begin our holy work
  • In space and time
  • This moment, this Eternality.
  • Open our hearts, Dear Gd
  • Open our eyes, our mind
  • To be present to this process
  • Of building sacred community
  • Be the strength and resilience
  • Energy, creativity, and wisdom
  • Compassion, love, and confidence
  • In being and becoming
  • In leadership and service
  • For all of us who share
  • This wonder-filled exploration
  • Called Life.

Jewish Tradition and Spiritual SeekingRabbi
Richard Hirsh
  • Reconstructionist Judaism is respectful of
    traditional Jewish observances but also open to
    new interpretations and forms of religious
    expression. As Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan
    (1881-1983), the founder of Reconstructionism,
    taught, tradition has "a vote, but not a veto.
    Reconstructionists share a commitment to making
    Judaism their own by finding in it joy, meaning,
    and ideas they can believe. We continue to turn
    to Jewish law and tradition for guidance, if not
    always for governance. We recognize that in the
    contemporary world, individuals and communities
    make their own choices with regard to religious
    practice and ritual observance.
  • We live in an age of spiritual seeking, a time
    in which the search for transcendent values and
    deeper meanings invites many of us back to our
    own religious traditions, to rediscover the rich
    insights of those who came before us on the
    spiritual journey. Reconstructionist Judaism has
    always been open to new approaches to thinking
    about God, to alternative ways of experiencing
    the Divine in our lives, and to honest wrestling
    with the inherited insights of our ancestors.

Exploring Judaism - Staub and Alpert Living as a
Reconstructionist, p. 79
  • Recent studies suggest that there are different
    spiritual typesSome people find holiness in
    analysis and study. Some experience God most
    readily in social justice or interpersonal
    relationships. Others find transcendence in
    observing the natural world or experiencing the
    creative process. There is even a spiritual type
    who best connects to God and religious life-
    remaining true to God by smashing the idols of
    religious hypocrisy No individual is purely one
    of these types, but each of us has greater
    propensities in some directions than others.
    Viewing Judaism as a religious civilization that
    encompasses all these paths, Reconstructionists
    affirm the validity of each of them and seek to
    encourage one another as we each find our own

Belonging to a Democratic Jewish Community in a
Post-Halakhic Age http//
  • If halakha is defined as the Jewish process of
    celebrating, creating and transmitting tradition,
    Reconstructionist Jewish communities would
    certainly fit within the framework of
    halakha.But if halakha has the meaning of a
    rigid body of law, changeable only under very
    rarefied circumstances, most Jewish people,
    including Reconstructionists, no longer accept
    its binding authority. While Reconstructionists
    are lovers of tradition and support community
    celebration of the Jewish sacred year and
    life-cycle events, we also believe that the face
    of the Jewish community is changing and that
    individuals have the right to adapt Jewish
    tradition to new circumstances.Reconstructionist
    communities challenge Jews to participate fully
    in our shared Jewish civilization. From building
    a sukkah to appreciating Jewish music, from
    caring for the Jewish young and old to leading
    Torah study - community members should experience
    Jewish civilization in our day as fully as they
    experience secular civilization.Judaism will
    continue to be a dynamic civilization only if we
    choose to participate, create and transmit
    vitality to future generations. Reconstructionist
    rabbis work in partnership with committed lay
    people to formulate guidelines that serve as
    Jewish touchstones for our times. These
    guidelines are presented and democratically
    considered in Reconstructionist communities as
    standards for enhancing the Jewish life of the
    individual and the community rather than as
    binding laws.

I. From Conception to Perception(Commentary
R. Richard Hirsh)
  • A. Rabbi Larry Kushner Spirituality is a
    dimension of living where we are aware of Gods
    presence. (Eyes Remade for Wonder, p. 153)
    Reverence is the only option.
  • B. Rabbi Art Green  The proper question is, Do
    you consider yourself a religious person? How do
    you express that religiosity? What is the
    relationship between your own spiritual life and
    the symbols of Judaism? In what sense do you use
    the word God or its Hebrew equivalent in your
    religious life? (Art Green, symposium in
    Commentary August 1996, p. 42)
  • COMMENTARY, Richard Hirsh     What I want to
    introduce here is the place from which we look
    i.e., religion as a human project, not a divine
    revelation not a different way of being but a
    different way of looking. So, much of theology
    presumes to tell us something about God and much
    of spirituality often foregoes even asking any
    questions about God and simply assumes God too
    easily. A Reconstructionist approach to
    spirituality could start from an interior
    assessment of what may be just below the surface,
    and a naming of that through Jewish symbols and
    language. Ultimately, reverence is a posture,
    an attitude, an assumption encompassing a sense
    of wonder, appreciation, newness, and challenge.

II. Spiritual Practice as a Means of
Cultivating a Perceptual Framework
  • A. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan The pragmatic method is
    concerned with the effect the words of the writer
    had on the inner life of the people or the way
    what he said workedThe pragmatic method, seeks
    to identify the direction which the thought first
    formulated by the writer has taken. It tries to
    get not at the static truth but at the dynamic
    truth. It is this method alone which is of
    actual aid in the religious life of a people or a
  • B. Abraham Joshua Heschel The Biblical words
    about the genesis of heaven and earth are not
    words of information but words of appreciation. 
    The story of creation is not a description of how
    the world came into being, but a song about the
    glory of the worlds having come into being. And
    God saw that it was good. This is the challenge
    to reconcile Gods view with our experience. The
    demand, as understood in Biblical religion, is to
    be alert and open to what is happening. What is,
    what comes about. Every moment a new arrival, a
    new bestowal.  How to welcome the moment?  How to
    respond to the marvel?  The cardinal sin is our
    failure to sense the grandeur of the moment, the
    marvel and mystery of being, the possibility of
    quiet exultation. (What Is Man?)

II. Spiritual Practice as a Means of
Cultivating a Perceptual Framework (R. Rachel
Gartner commentary)
  • COMMENTARY, on Kaplan, R. Rachel Gartner
  • effect the words of the writer had on the inner
    life of the people
  • Pragmatic approach to spirituality Spiritual
    practice is about cultivating an ever- evolving
    perceptual framework (or perspective) for
    experiencing and interpreting what happens in our
    individual lives as part of what happens in Life
    as such. A framework which, over time, allows us
    to weave a given experience into it, see how a
    given experience fits into it or sometimes even
    re- shapes the framework or experience and our
    understanding of Life. The question of whether
    or not that framework reflects an objective
    reality about Life is interesting to me on some
    level, but is not really in the realm of
    perception, rather it returns us to the realm of
    conception. This realm and its questions are not
    primarily what I am compelled to investigate as a
    religious practitioner and as a rabbi. However,
    whether or not that perceptual framework is
    empowering, comforting, ennobling is a pragmatic
    concern, and one that interests me profoundly
    both in my life and in my rabbinate.

II. Spiritual Practice as a Means of
Cultivating a Perceptual Framework (R. Rachel
Gartner commentary- contd)
  • the direction which the thought first formulated
    has taken, the dynamic truth
  • To my mind, truths of the human/trans-human,
    natural/trans-natural experience are not exactly
    dynamic but the way we experience these truths
    is. Truths like things come and go there is
    pain there is resilience and so forth are in my
    mind in some essential way not dynamic, but the
    way we experience and interpret them is dynamic
    and the way they show up in our lives and
    communities is dynamic.
  • religious life of a people or group
  • This cultivation can be a communal seeking and
    cultivation of an empowering, comforting,
    ennobling perceptual framework, or an individual
    one. In my work, I am most interested in the
    intersection of the two. The two intersect in my
    work primarily through in-depth deeply personal
    engagement with liturgy/text either in Spiritual
    Direction or in group meditation and sharing
    sessions. The way I practice Spiritual Direction
    is not at all about teaching concepts, rather
    its about helping people develop perceptual
    frameworks, informed, when appropriate, by Jewish
    teachings and texts. I engage texts when they
    feel to me like they connect with the emerging
    perceptual framework of the directee and might
    help deepen or take that perceptual framework to
    a new place.
  • One way I do this is by creating contexts in
    which life and Jewish text can intimately mix,
    mingle and ultimately (hopefully) morph so that
    ones life illuminates the meaning of the text,
    and the text can come to illuminate the
    meaning(s) of ones life/Life.
  • Religious life of the group is enhanced through
    the cherubim model it comes out in chevurta and
    other larger groups in the conversations and
    what passes in between participants.

II. Spiritual Practice as a Means of Cultivating
a Perceptual Framework (Commentary on Heschel, R.
Rachel Gartner)
  • Here, Heschel interprets the biblical account of
    genesis of heaven and earth not as a factual
    account that fits into a neat conceptual
    framework of how the world was made. Rather, he
    interprets the biblical account of heaven and
    earth as
  • (a) being reflective of the thought first
    formulated in the writer and,
  • (b) meant to induce in the listener the effect
    on the inner life of the listener a specific
    perceptual framework in this case a perceptual
    framework of appreciation, newness, welcoming,
    sensing of grandeur, marveling at mystery, quiet

III. From Conception to Perception Ways of
Knowing(Commentary Rabbi Richard Hirsh)
  • Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan God must not merely be
    held as an idea He (sic) must be felt as a
    presence if we want not only to know about God
    but to know God...There is a difference between
    knowing God philosophically in His manifestations
    and experiencing Him religiously in worship.
    (Mordecai Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern
    Jewish Religion, chapter God Felt as a
    Presence, p. 244, 249)
  • COMMENTARY, RH  1) Kaplan Reconstructionism
    do not only know the god idea or talk about God
    only in an academic, analytical or intellectual
    manner. The religious quest is to experience
    something that places our personal-temporal
    lifespan into a larger context.

III. From Conception to Perception Ways of
Knowing(Commentary Rabbi Richard Hirsh, contd)
  • B. Rita Nakashima Brock Heart knowledge, the
    deepest and fullest knowing involves a union of
    body, spirit, reason, and passion. What we get
    from our hearts is true, valid information. For
    we know best by heart. (Journeys by Heart)
  • COMMENTARY, RG Perceptual frameworks are not
    constructed through information, argumentation,
    scientific facts, or even religious dogmas.
    Rather, they are built on intuition, unitive
    experiences, feelings, and ultimately what,
    borrowing from theologian Rita Nakashima Brock, I
    call heart knowledge.

IV. Cultivating Perception The Meeting Place
between Personal Experience Jewish Expression
  • Kaplan When we worship in public we know our
    life is part of a larger life, a wave of an ocean
    of being the first-hand experience of that
    larger life which is God.
  • (KOL HANESHAMAH Shabbat Vehagim p. 57)
  • http//

V. Separation Connection(Commentary Rabbi
Richard Hirsh)
  • A. Marcia Falk I would describe my own
    experience of the divine as an awareness, or a
    sensing, of the dynamic, alive, and unifying
    wholeness within creationa wholeness that
    subsumes and contains and embraces me, a
    wholeness greater than the sum of its parts
  • (Marcia Falk The Book of Blessings, p. 419)

V. Separation Connection(Commentary Rabbi
Richard Hirsh, contd)
  • B. Danny Matt once explained the relationship
    of the World of Separation and the World of
    Unity this way we have a word for leaf, twig,
    branch, trunk, roots. The words make it easier
    for us to categorize and comprehend reality. But
    we must not think that just because we have words
    for all the parts of a tree that a tree really
    has all those parts. The leaf does not know, for
    instance, when it stops being a leaf and becomes
    a twig. And the trunk is not aware that it has
    stopped being a trunk and has become the roots.
    Indeed, the roots do not know when they stop
    being roots and become soil, nor the soil
    moisture, nor the moisture the atmosphere, nor
    the atmosphere the sunlight. All our names are
    arbitrarily superimposed on what is, in truth,
    the seamless unity of all being. And that is when
    the World of Separation gives way to the World of
    Unity. It lasts for only a moment, the twinkling
    of an eye. Then it's gone and we're bounced back
    into this World of Separation."  (Rabbi Lawrence
    Kushner, Kabbalah A Love Story)

V. Separation Connection(Commentary Rabbi
Richard Hirsh, contd)
  • COMMENTARY, RH What I want to stress here is
    the fundamental decision we are challenged to
    make -- whether life is primarily defined by
    polarities, opposites, distance, dissonance or
    whether it is primarily defined by unity,
    contact, the one versus the two. Are we
    apart from or a part of? This too is
    primarily an act of perception and position and
    decision but one that conveys an
    investment/faith in the ultimate nature of

Personal Spiritual Connection
  • Throughout my life, I had searched for a
    spirituality that felt right for me. I had
    belonged to a number of synagogues and read many
    books, but never found a community or a
    philosophy with which I could identify. But
    during my first Shabbat service at Kehillath
    Israel, I had a sense that I had finally found a
    'home.' A class called 'God and Spiritually - a
    Reconstructionist Approach' helped me affirm
    intellectually all the positive feelings I
    experienced on my first visit to the synagogue.
    During the class I realized that the entire
    community was helping me validate my own
    intuitive, spiritual perceptions. I am very
    grateful that Kehillath Israel has turned out be
    a place that nurtures my spirituality through
    experience and education. - Member, Kehillath
    Israel, Pacific Palisades, California
  • "For me there is no separation between
    spirituality and living. Spirituality is at the
    core of Life . -Debbie Freidman, zl, Lilith
    Magazine 1988

Further Resources
  • Reconstructionism http//
  • Reconstructionism Today Articles
  • http//
    eligious Values
  • Who Is A Reconstructionist Jew?
  • Reconstructionism and Prayer http//
  • Audio Programs http//
  • FAQ's on Reconstructionist Approaches to Jewish
    ideas and Practices
  • http//
  • How To Successfully Integrate and Use
    Reconstructionism in Synagogue Processes
  • http//
  • What Is Reconstructionism, Anyway?
  • http//

Further Resources
  • http//
  • http//
  • http//
  • (Omer Series available at http//
  • http//
  • Omer Project "A House of Prayer for All
    Peoples" Diversity in Growing Sacred Community
  • Omer Project Spiritual direction "Growing
  • Omer Project Varieties of Spiritual practice
  • Omer Project Liturgy and Prayer
  • Omer Project Growing Self and Community through
    Creativity and the Arts
  • Omer Project Tikkun L'eyl Shavuot The Many
    Paths to Revelation of Torah
  • Omer Project Growing Spirituality in Education
    Learning Across the Lifecycle
  • Spirituality and Social Justice
  • Re-inventing Synagogue Life and Prayer
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