Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement and an influential figure in contemporary Jewish thought and practice. He started the renewal movement in the early 1960s as a way to use contemporary religious and political scholarship to re-examine Judaism after the Holocaust. The non-denominational movement draws on Judaism’s prophetic and mystical traditions, and Schachter-Shalomi was heavily influenced by Buddhism, Sufism and the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton.
“How can we use that prayer technology, how can we use that spiritual technology to enrich Judaism?” he wondered. The movement now has dozens of congregations, and has ordained rabbis who serve across the world.
Born in Poland in 1924, he was raised in Vienna. He became part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Jews; his family fled to the US during the Holocaust. Ordained in 1947, he was among the first in Judaism to ordain women, and was part of a group of Jewish leaders who travelled to India in 1990 to meet the Dalai Lama, who was seeking counsel on leading people in exile. He also was a friend of Timothy Leary and experimented with LSD to see if it could enhance spirituality.
He introduced a new tallit, or prayer shawl, with the colours of the rainbow arranged according to kabbalistic principles instead of its traditionally white colour with either black or blue stripes. He also came up with a way of chanting the liturgy and Torah in English using traditional melodies instead of the traditional chant patterns in Hebrew.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, rabbi: born Zhovkva, Poland (now Ukraine) 28 August 1924; married Eve Ilsen; died Boulder, Colorado 3 July 2014.