Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Breaking News

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Father of Renewal Judaism, Dies at 89

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, has died at age 89.

A maverick rabbi who started out in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Schachter-Shalomi transitioned over time toward a New Age, neo-Chasidic approach, gaining a substantial following on his own but also influencing other Jewish denominations.

His nontraditional approaches to Jewish spirituality, including services marked by ecstatic prayer, drumming and dancing, eventually morphed into the Jewish Renewal movement.

Known to friends and followers as Reb Zalman, he lived out his later years in Boulder, Colo., where he died Thursday morning after being ill for some time. An associate told JTA that he had been battling a pneumonia infection in recent weeks.

The movement he started had its origins in the 1960s, when Schachter-Shalomi began instituting meditation and dance during prayer services. He sought to fuse the mystical traditions of his Lubavitch background with the sensibilities of the modern world in an effort to revitalize a synagogue practice he found stultifying.

He eventually broke with Chabad, founding the P’nai Or Religious Fellowship in 1962 and a havurah — a lay-led congregation with no central leader — in Sommerville, Mass., in 1968. He ordained the first Renewal rabbi, Daniel Siegel, in 1974.

Schachter-Shalomi led prayers in English set to popular tunes, translated Hasidic texts on mysticism into English, promoted ecologically friendly kashrut and encouraged Jews to create their own colorful tallitot, or prayer shawls.

In 1993, P’nai Or merged with Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center to become Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. The Philadelphia-based institution has ordained some 80 rabbis. Born in Poland in 1924 and raised in Vienna, Schachter-Shalomi’s family fled the Nazis and eventually landed in Brooklyn in 1941. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1947 by the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson. He later got a master’s degree from Boston University in the psychology of religion, and a doctorate from Hebrew Union College, which is affiliated with the Reform movement.

His last teaching post was at Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired Colorado institution that is now home to Schachter-Shalomi’s archives.

“This man is a Chasid,” Rebecca Alpert, a professor of religion at Temple University, told JTA several years ago in an interview about Schachter-Shalomi’s influence. “No one could possibly duplicate his sagacity, presence and magic.”

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.