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‘Reb Zalman’ was founder of the Jewish Renewal movement

Special to the Ledger

 

BOULDER, Colo. – Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, died July 3, in Boulder, Col. He was 89.

Schachter-Shalomi, known as ‘Reb Zalman,’ was often a controversial figure, loved by those who saw him as a spiritual revolutionary and criticized by those who felt he had betrayed the traditional values of Orthodox Judaism.

Beginning in the 1950s, along with his friend, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, he set out to find Jewish youth “where they were” and to show them the depths and options still available within Judaism.

Today, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the organization he originally founded in 1964 as B’nai Or Religious Fellowship, continues to serve the core of Jewish Renewal communities all over the world.

In 1990, Schachter-Shalomi met with the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders to discuss how Tibetan Buddhism might “survive in exile.” This dialogue became the focus of a best-selling book by Rodger Kamenetz called The Jew in the Lotus. Schachter-Shalomi was invited to take up the World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University, the only accredited Buddhist-inspired university in the Western hemisphere. He retired from the Boulder, Colo. school in 2004.

Meshullam Zalman Schachter was born on August 17, 1924 in Zholkiew, Poland, to Shlomo and Hayyah Gittel Schachter. In 1925, his family moved to Vienna, Austria, where his father, a Belzer chasid with liberal tendencies, had him educated in both a “leftist” Zionist high school and a traditional Orthodox yeshiva. In 1939, his family fled the Nazi through Belgium, France, North Africa, and the Caribbean, until landing in New York City in 1941. While still in Belgium, he began to frequent a circle of Chabad chasidim in Antwerp. He eventually became a Chabad Lubavitch chasid, studying at the group’s Brooklyn, N.Y. yeshiva, where he received rabbinic ordination in 1947. In 1948 or ’49, he began to travel to college campuses with Carlebach, at the direction of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. By 1956, he had acquired a Master of Arts degree in the psychology of religion from Boston University and took a teaching post in the Department of Religion at the University of Manitoba in Canada, which he would hold until 1975.

In 1958, he wrote what was perhaps the first book on Jewish meditation in English, later reprinted as The Jewish Catalog. A decade later, he was effectively ‘divorced’ from the Lubavitcher Chasidim, but continued on as an ‘independent’ chasid, teaching the experiential dimensions of chasidism.

This past spring, Schachter-Shalomi led a Shavuot retreat at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT. Following the retreat, he fell ill with pneumonia. He returned home to Boulder on June 19 and died in his sleep two weeks later.

He is survived by his wife, Eve Ilsen, ten children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a brother, and a sister.

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