At the heart of JEWISH RENEWAL is a renewed encounter between God and the Jewish people, and an understanding of Jewish history as a series of renewed encounters with God. These encounters have followed painful crises during which God has been eclipsed; yet each crisis has resulted in the emergence of a more or less deeply transformed, renewed, and joyful version of Judaism.
In our generation, Jewish renewal is the increasingly joyful, renewing, and transforming response of Jews to the crisis of the Holocaust and the triumph of Modernity in both its creative and destructive aspects.
Through prayer, study, and action, Jewish renewal seeks —
to nurture the rebbe-spark (that is, the creative energy and leadership that comes from direct contact with the Divine) in everyone, without fearing its emergence in different ways and degrees at different moments in different people;
to nurture communities that dance and wrestle with God, that are intimate, participatory, and egalitarian, and that create a "field of rebbetude" — shared openness to spiritual experience;
and to assist the spiritual growth and healing of individuals, communities, whole societies, and the planet.
JEWISH RENEWAL IS ROOTED IN A MIDRASHIC RESPONSE TO TORAH, DRAWING ON ANCIENT WISDOM WITHOUT GETTING STUCK IN IT — particularly on the wisdom of Kabbalah and Hassidism as well as the Prophets and Rabbis, infusing these with the insights of contemporary ecology, feminism, and participatory democracy.
Central to the emerging vocabulary of many (but not all) participants in Jewish renewal has been a renewed understanding of the Kabbalistic/Hassidic teachings of the Four Worlds of Atzilut (Being, Spirit), Briyyah (Knowing, Intellect), Yetzirah (Relating, Emotion), and Asiyah (Doing, Action), and of the S'phirot — all understood not only as aspects of the Divine but also as aspects of "embodied" human expression.
In Jewish renewal,
women and men are fully equal & participatory in shaping the future of Judaism;
those who have often been marginalized in Jewish life (such as gay men and lesbians, converts, those who are new to the study of Torah and the process of prayer) are welcomed and honored;
there is respect for and often learning from other spiritual paths (e.g. Buddhism, Sufism, etc),
people seek to heal the earth and society;
chant, meditation, dance, the graphic arts, and "drushodrama" are encouraged alongside more widely known forms of davvening and learning and daily practice as ways of connecting with God & Torah;
people desire to **embody** wisdom rather than etherealizing or intellectualizing it;
people sense God as suffusing the world with Divinity.
Jewish renewal is "maximalist" about Judaism — that is, applies Judaism in many down-to-earth life-dimensions (food, money, sex, health, politics, etc.) as well as to prayer, festivals, and Torah-study.
Many Jewish-renewal participants think we are entering/ creating a profoundly different period of Jewish life, as different from Rabbinic Judaism as Rabbinic Judaism was/ is from Biblical Judaism. This view is based on the sense that Modernity has challenged Rabbinic Judaism as profoundly as Hellenism challenged Biblical Judaism, and that this challenge demands as profound a transformative response.
Indeed, some feel that this challenge is not a mere accident of history but part of the emerging presence of the Divine in the universe. For this reason, many practitioners of Jewish renewal sense that God is calling on us to move away from old ways of connecting with God as King and Judge, toward metaphors that are much more intimate — Breath of Life, for example — and toward a whole new paradigm of Jewish life in all its dimensions:
New words of prayer, and more embodied forms of prayer;
New ethics for sexuality;
New "eco-kosher" practices to help heal the wounded earth;
New efforts toward mutual respect between the Jewish people and other peoples and paths, in the world at large and in the Land of Israel;
New efforts to carry Jewish wisdom into the public sphere.
Both Jewish renewal and what might be called "Jewish restoration" (the baal tshuvah movement, etc.) are critical of many aspects of Modernity — particularly the Modern urge to constrict religious expression, to shatter communities, and to conquer the earth.
Jewish renewal differs from "Jewish restoration" in trying to absorb into Torah the Divine truths embodied in some aspects of Modernity — such as the equality of women and a peaceful contact with Buddhism, feminist spirituality, and eco-philosophy — and go forward, rather than reject as much as possible of Modernity and return to the past.