Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

 
 

MESHULLAM ZALMAN HAKOHEN SCHACHTER was born on August 17, 1924 in Zholkiev, Poland to Shlomo and Hayyah Gittel Schachter. In 1925, his family moved to Vienna, Austria, where he spent most of his childhood. His father was a Belzer Hasid with liberal leanings, and thus educated Zalman in both a leftist Zionist high school---where he learned secular subjects like Latin and modern Hebrew---and a traditional Orthodox yeshiva, where he studied classical Jewish texts like Torah and Talmud.

In 1938, after the Nazi annexation of Austria to Germany, when Schachter was just 13, his family began the long flight from Nazi oppression through Belgium, France, North Africa, and the Caribbean, until the family finally landed in New York City in 1941.

While still in Antwerp, as a teenager, Schachter came into contact with a small group of Habad Hasidim, the last of the now extinct Niezhiner lineage. Enamored with their deeply contemplative and soulful approach to Judaism, he became a Habad Hasid. Thus, upon landing in New York, he quickly enrolled in the Habad yeshiva in New York, and in 1947, received his rabbinic ordination from the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva (Tomhei Temimim), in Brooklyn, New York.

Not long after his ordination, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson (1880-1950), directed Schachter and his friend, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994), to begin visiting college campuses to inspire young Jews in postwar America toward Judaism. Schachter also took up a post as a congregational rabbi in Fall River, Massachusetts, and later served as a congregational rabbi in New Bedford, Massachusetts.


By 1956, he had acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology of Religion (pastoral counseling) from Boston University and was ready to transition out of work as a congregational rabbi. He now wished to be a Hillel rabbi and soon accepted a position as such at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and a teaching post in the Department of Religion there (which he would hold until 1975). Soon after, he was instrumental in the founding of the Department and Clinic of Pastoral Psychology at United College (later the University of Winnipeg). Along the way, in 1968, Schachter earned his Doctor of Hebrew Letters (DHL) from Hebrew Union College.

By his time, Schachter was effectively "divorced" from the Lubavitcher movement over issues relating to his controversial immersion in modern culture and intimate involvement with other religions, but continued his life’s work as an "independent" Hasid, teaching the experiential dimensions of Hasidism as one of the world's great spiritual traditions. The same year he received his DHL, while a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University, he was instrumental in launching the Havurah movement of American Judaism, helping to found Havurat Shalom in Somerville, MA.

The following year, inspired by Havurat Shalom, Christian Trappist spirituality and the discovery and circulation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Schachter founded the B'nai Or Religious Fellowship (now ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal) with a small circle of students who wished to form an intentional spiritual community.

After years of cultivating his own vision of Jewish leadership, Schachter finally ordained his first rabbi, Daniel Siegel of Boston (one of the current leaders of ALEPH), in 1974. At the same time, he helped found the Aquarian Minyan of Berkeley, California, the west coast anchor of a new kind of Judaism deeply immersed in Judaism’s Hasidic spiritual tradition while simultaneously engaged with modern American ecumenism.

As he was laying the groundwork for this form of post-war American Judaism, he began to study Sufism and meet with Sufis in California. This encounter led to his being made a Sheikh in the Sufi lineage of Hazrat Inayat Khan in 1975. That year, he also became professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University where he stayed until his early retirement in 1987, when he was named professor emeritus.


In 1980, as certain denominations of American Judaism began entertaining the idea of opening the rabbinate to women, Schachter and two others ordained one of the early influential women rabbis, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb (later based in New Mexico).

In these years, Schachter added the name Shalomi (based on the word shalom or ‘peace’ in Hebrew) as a way of signally his desire for ‘peace’ in Israel and around the world. In 1985, feeling the effects of age and ceaseless activity, Schachter-Shalomi took a forty-day retreat at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico and emerged with a new teaching that became the foundation of his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing and the catalyst for the Spiritual Eldering movement.

In 1990, Schachter-Shalomi participated in a series of historic dialogues with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India, memorialized in the bestselling book by Rodger Kamanetz, The Jew in the Lotus.


Eight years after his formal retirement from Temple University, he and his wife Eve Ilsen moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1995, where he accepted the World Wisdom Chair at the Naropa Institute (later Naropa University), finding a home there from which he could finally teach contemplative Judaism and ecumenical spirituality in an accredited academic setting.

In 2004, Schachter-Shalomi retired from Naropa University and participates in a Roundtable Dialogue with Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Vancouver. That year, he also co-founded the Sufi-Hasidic, Inayati-Maimuni Order with his student, Netanel Miles-Yepez.

In his last several years, Schachter-Shalomi was been been surfeited with honors. In 2012, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of sacred theology from the Starr King School for the Ministry and gave a highly popular series of lectures for the occasion.


 

     Timeline


1924 - Born in Zholkiew, Poland.

1925 - Moves to Vienna, Austria.

1938 - Flees to Antwerp, Belgium.

1939 - Encounters Habad Hasidim.

1940 - Flees to Vichy France, and

    is interned in a labor camp. Later

    travels to Marseilles to await

    passage to America.

1941 - Meets Rabbi Menachem

    Mendel Schneerson, later to be

    the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    Sets off for the United States.

    Arrives in New York two days

    before Passover. Meets Rabbi

    Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the

    sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe and

    enters the Tomhei Temimim

    Yeshiva.

1946 - Begins supervised teaching

    in New Haven, CT.

1947 - Receives rabbinic ordination.

1948 - Teaching at Yeshiva Achei

    Temimim in Rochester, NY.

1949 - Rabbi and Principal for

    Avodath Achim, Fall River, MA.

    Travels to college campuses with

    Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at the

    direction of the sixth Lubavitcher

    Rebbe.

1950 - Passing of his rebbe, Rabbi

    Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the

    sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

1952 - Rabbi and Principal for

    Congregation Ahavas Achim,

    New Bedford, MA.

1954 - Begins chaplaincy training.

1955 - Begins M.A. work at Boston

    University. Meets Rev. Howard

    Thurman.

1956 - M.A. from Boston University.    

    Meets Rabbi Abraham Joshua

    Heschel. Accepts Hillel and

    teaching post at the University of

    Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.

1957 - Teaching pastoral

    counseling at United College.

1958 - Privately publishes The

    First Step, a work on

    Jewish meditation.

1959 - First trip to Israel. Meets

    philosopher Shmuel Hugo

    Bergman, Kabbalah scholar

    Gershom Scholem, Jungian

    analyst Erich Neumann, and

    encounters the Roth Hasidim.

    Begins teaching at Maimonides

    College.

1960 - Founds Yiddish language

    lab at the University of Manitoba.

    Meets Elie Wiesel and begins

    to correspond with

    Thomas Merton.

1961 - “Religious Environmentalist”

    at Camp Ramah.

1962 - Meets Dr. Timothy Leary

    and experiments with LSD.

1963 - Begins doctoral work at

    Hebrew Union College.

1964 - First visit to Lama

    Foundation in New Mexico.

1966 - Talks on “Kabbalah and

    LSD” lead Lubavitch leadership

    to dissociate from  him.

1968 - D.H.L. from Hebrew Union

    College. Post-doctoral work in

    Near Eastern Languages and

    Literature and teaching at

    Brandeis University. Inspires

    The First Jewish Catalog and is

    involved in the first year of

    Havurat Shalom.

1969 - Founds B’nai Or Religious

    Fellowship. Promoted to Full

    Professor in the Department of

    Near Eastern and Judaic Studies.

1972 - Passing of his mentor, Rabbi

    Abraham Joshua Heschel.

1973 - Begins to meet with Sufis.

1974 - Gives first ordination to

    Rabbi Daniel Siegel. Teaching at

    the Institute of Transpersonal   

    Psychology and helps to found

    the Aquarian Minyan.

1975 - Initiated into the Sufi lineage

    of Hazrat Inayat Khan and made

    an honorary sheikh by Pir Vilayat

    Inayat-Khan. Teaching at

    Berkeley Theological Union and

    the Naropa Institute. Publishes

    Fragments of a Future Scroll.

    Accepts post a Professor of

    Jewish Mysticism and

    Psychology of Religion at Temple

    University in Philadelphia.

1976 - Adjunct teaching at the

    Reconstructionist Rabbinical

    College.

1980 - Meets Sheikh Muzaffer

    Ozak and is initiated into the

    Halveti-Jerrahi order of Sufism.

1982 - Travels to India and teaches

    at the Transpersonal Psychology

    Conference in Bombay.

1983 - Publishes The First Step

    (with Donald Gropman) and

    Sparks of Light (with Edward

    Hoffman). Attends Amsterdam

    Peace Conference.

1984 - Sabbatical from Temple

    University. Fulbright professor at

    Tubingen and Berne. Second

    half of the year in Israel. Meets

    Gedaliah Kenig.

1985 - 40-day retreat at Lama

    Foundation, after which he sheds

    Hasidic exterior and begins

    Spiritual Eldering work.

1986 - Publishes The Dream

    Assembly with Howard

    Schwartz. Founds the Pnai Or

    Wisdom School with Eve Ilsen.

1987 - Retires professor emeritus

    from Temple University. Teaching

    at the Academy of Jewish

    Studies in New York.

1989 - Founds the Spiritual Eldering

    Institute.

1990 - Meets and dialogues with

    the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala,

    India.

1991 - Publishes Spiritual Intimacy.

1993 - Publishes Gate to the Heart

    and Paradigm Shift. Takes

    Rabbinic Chair of ALEPH:

    Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

1994 - Passing of his second

    rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel

    Schneerson, the seventh

    Lubavitcher Rebbe, and his

    friend, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

1995 - Publishes From Age-ing to

    Sage-ing. Becomes the second

    World Wisdom chair holder at

    the Naropa Institute (now

    University) in Boulder, Colorado.

2003 - Publishes Wrapped in a Holy

    Flame (with Netanel Miles-

    Yepez).

2004 - Retires from Naropa

    University. Co-founds the Sufi-

    Hasidic Inayati-Maimuni order

    with Netanel Miles-Yepez.

2005 - Pilgrimage to the grave of

    the Ba’al Shem Tov. Publishes

    Jewish with Feeling (with Joel

    Segel) and Credo of a Modern

    Kabbalist (with Daniel Siegel).

2006 -  Speaking and teaching tour

    of Australia and New Zealand.

2007 - Publishes Integral Halachah

    (with Daniel Siegel).

2009 - Publishes A Heart Afire with

    Netanel Miles-Yepez.

2010 - Publishes the S’hma’

    prayerbook and A Merciful God

    with Netanel Miles-Yepez.

2011 - Publishes A Hidden Light

    with Netanel Miles-Yepez and

    The Gates of Prayer. Donates

    archive to the University of

    Colorado at Boulder.

2012 - Lectures and receives

    honorary doctorate at the Starr

    King School for the Ministry.

    Publishes My Life in Jewish

    Renewal (with Edward Kaplan),

   Davvening (with Joel Segel), and

    Geologist of the Soul.

2014 - He passed away in his sleep

    in his home on July 3rd, 2014.

Biography

                            Rights statement on use of photos seen on this web-site.

“Reb Zalman in celebratory prayer at Baker’s Beach, California.” Photograph by Yehudit Goldfarb, 1987.