Revitalizing the Body Through Judaism

In his essay on Jewish Megatrends, Rabbi Sid Schwarz identifies four “pockets of Jewish renaissance” driving individuals and organizations, each with differing motivating factors:

  1. wisdom (dorshei chochmah)
  2. social justice (dorshei tzedek)
  3. community (dorshei kehillah)
  4. lives of sacred purpose (dorshei kedushah)

My life, work, and practice are informed by all four of these propositions. It is thrilling to see these emergent waves identified so clearly, and I locate my present and future selves in each of them to varying degrees. The real revolution will come when they are discovered, not in remote pockets, not in siloed echo chambers, but rather found flourishing conversation and accord with one another.

I recently started a community called Kol Hai, meaning ‘all life.’ The name informed by a yearning that the wisdom we study, the civic work we do, the communities we build and our personal intentions are all in service of becoming whole people, in intimate communion with our total selves. Being human means being in relationship with all things.

Rabbi Sid writes that Judaism contains “spiritual wisdom and spiritual practice that can compete more than favorably with what is available in the general American marketplace.” We need a new metaphor to replace competition. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi proposes the organismic. In order to understand our evolving Judaism, we must experience it in organic relationship with other religions throughout the world. Max Mueller put it this way, “to know one religion is to know none.” And not only religion but our national, communal, culture and ethnic identities, which are rapidly transforming in this boundary-less age. Ideas and structures of self, historically held in place by imposed externalities, are beginning to well up from within the newly emerging global citizen.

There is no mention of the body in Sid’s four propositions. Embodiment is the foundation for our human experience. Our society educates us out of our bodies. Traumas we’d prefer to transcend are transmitted on a cellular level. The expression of our genealogy has epigenetic reality. It’s precisely these blind spots that can create faults in the foundations of what we build. No body, no Torah.

A person will only embrace and embody a Jewish identity, and live it thoroughly if they can identify, locate within themselves, and heal their unique place in tribe, culture and time.

“I will dare to predict only this much: each will see the whole. For just as it is impossible to attain to the whole without modestly beginning with that which is nearest, so it is impossible for a person not to attain to the whole, the whole that is destined for him, if he has really found the strength to make that first simple and most modest beginning.” –Franz Rosenzweig

This story "Revitalizing the Body Through Judaism" was written by Shir Yaakov Feit.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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