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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776


  1. Feb 2005 Digest 027

    At [our congregation] we have an ongoing Jewish Meditation group which meets every second and fourth Shabbat for one hour prior to the start of the Saturday morning service. Many who attend meditation consider it a "warm-up" or preparation for prayer and continue with the regular service. Some attend only meditation and then leave.

    Our meditation follows a fairly set pattern beginning with a breathing meditation, a chant, a mantra based on a phrase of prayer, i.e. "Shema Israel" or a word "shalom" or the "Yod Hay Vov Hay," followed by a guided imagery based on the Torah portion of that week. We have been going for over five years and have an entire volume of meditations prepared during that time. I have the honor to be co-leader of this group.

    I have also attended the Union’s meditation retreats each year in Prescott, Arizona and urge anyone interested to consider attending the Kallah. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn more, go deeper and share with other Jewish meditators.

    Kevaand kavannah are precisely what the Jewish meditation experience is about. Taking a phrase of prayer, fixing attention on it and, holding it in mind over a period of time bring one into a closer (call it spiritual) understanding of prayer. The purpose of meditation is indeed to draw closer and to open more to the oneness of G-d and our own relationship to that which is sacred. I consider meditation as a way of bringing those who wish it into a closer more open experience of our tradition.

    I welcome…skepticism and always have a few [skeptics] in my lectures when I talk about meditation, brain mechanisms in meditation, meditation and the mind, etc. The interest in meditation is not new. Our Chasidic siblings have been at it for several centuries and there are mentions of meditation in our liturgy going back several millennia, "May the words of my heart and the meditations of my soul be acceptable...."

    Being wrapped in a tallit is indeed a wonderful way to experience separating the ordinary from the sacred, and can be thought of as being "wrapped in holiness." I urge anyone who has not tried a tallit to consider it.

    720 families

  2. Feb 2005 Digest 028

    Katherine suggests that the Shemona Esray or the Amidah be recited (albeit silently) by mouthing the words. It is the tradition in Orthodox and Conservative prayer to quietly murmur the words to oneself, thus being able to dwell on the meaning of each word. At Kol Hanesemah, the Reform synagogue in Jerusalem, it is the practice to take a deep breath and have a suspended moment of silence before the "Sh'ma" and to sing each word slowly, contemplatively, giving each davener the opportunity to personally think about the declaration that they are making. This is a remarkable and very special service that I heartily recommend to those who visit Jerusalem.

    224 families

  3. Feb 2006 Digest 028

    At [our congregation] we have Shabbat Morning Meditation prior to the regular Saturday morning service. We meet for one hour in advance. The format is meditation beginning with a breathing meditation (Kol Haneshema), a chant, a focused meditation or mantra (such as Henaini, or B'Orcha Nireh Or), a guided visualization tied to the Torah portion of that week, and ending with a healing chant and Kaddish. We average ten to fourteen people, some of whom attend and then leave, others view it as preparation for prayer and remain for the Shabbat morning service. Attendees include some experienced meditators and some who come to sample and may continue or not, as they choose. This is our sixth year… we have six years of prepared materials and can send…samples…
    650 families

  4. Jan 2005 Digest 024
    …how many of you are interested in Jewish meditation? Are you discussing it in synagogue? Are any of you actually practicing it? Have any of you taken instruction in any form of Jewish meditation? Are any of us actually meditating during a services? I don’t mean the sixty-second silent meditation referred to in the siddur. I am talking about one of the forms of Jewish meditation discussed by Kaplan and others. I am trying to get my fellow congregants interested in the practice and I would like advice on the subject.

  5. Jan 2005 Digest 025

    Our Scholar-in-Residence a year ago was Rabbi Ted Falcon of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle. ( He was featured as the cover story in the Summer 2003 issue of Reform Judaism magazine (

    Rabbi Falcon heads a wonderful annual meditation kallah in Prescott, Arizona. ( It was originally sponsored by the Union. The Union is still involved, but now it is run by Rabbi Falcon's non-profit organization, Lev Shalom…

    I've attended twice and it is a remarkable experience. If I had the means, I'd certainly go again! I do have consolation in that the kallah's music leader, Cantor Martin Levson, recently put out a CD of music from the kallah. ( The music is exceptional. I play it often--and I don't even meditate!

    Although I'm able to offer some resources ... I'm not much help with your real question: How do we get people involved? One idea, though, would be to start with whoever might be interested, even if it's only you and one other person. My thought would be to create a time, space and mood each week just before Shabbat services. I would include meditative music and a guided meditation. I would hope that those participating would "talk it up" with other people. Then perhaps, a special Shabbat service could be organized to introduce the concept of Jewish meditation to the whole congregation.

    I'm also interested in hearing whether anybody has a successful meditative practice (in the Jewish context), either as an individual or with a group. I know that people do have an individual practice, because I've met some at the meditation kallah.


  6. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    …I often liken the communal prayer experience to an electro magnet: It only draws people when you turn it on.

    Here at [our kibbutz], we often find ourselves waiting for a minyan to start services. This is a weak approach (he says, though I also find myself waiting for others before I start). When we begin on time, people recognize that something is happening before they show up, and if we are consistent, they will begin to come earlier.

    What's true on Friday night is true of the rest of the community life, too. Wherever we run our energy--that's where it will be, so let's run our energy in the direction of those who are already there…

    …I don't disagree that we need to see how the synagogue can meet the needs of those who never show up, so that they'll start to show up, but I think that the place to start is with the people who do show up--by strengthening the core, the electro magnet is stronger. (okay you scientists - I know that's stretching the metaphor...)


  7. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    There has been an increasing interest in Jewish meditation over the past few years. Luckily, it has also been an interest of several of our associate rabbis and now our cantor.

    A small group developed, and they met on Saturday mornings before services. Now we are offering a class on Sunday mornings as part of Adult Education on Spirituality and Meditation. They're using Jonathon Slater new book as the base.

    In addition, we partnered with a number of other Reform congregations and organizations and offered a Spirituality weekend. The scholars included Rabbis Arthur Green, Sheila Peltz-Weinberg and Myriam Klotz. It was a terrific success.


  8. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    I have meditated both in and out of shul for over twenty years using primarily Mantra Meditation. I often use Rabbi Nachman’s mantra “Ribbono shel Olam,” but in the past few years I have more often used the first six words of the Sh’ma. Most recently I have been able to meditate more easily with the single word, Sh’ma.

    When I first began this practice, I was viewed as a “weirdo” and most of my fellow congregants scoffed at Jewish Meditation. For many, it smacked of TM and Buddhism and came perilously close to idolatry-- in their eyes, at least. The only people I knew who took the practice seriously were my Chassidic friends, and they were not overly talkative on the subject.

    Today, there is obviously a more accepting environment. In some places, such as the Bet Aleph Congregation, meditation is the norm. As you might expect, meditation of any type is a hard sell in [the area in which I am]. Nevertheless, I am slowly introducing the idea and practice at the services that I lead. We will see what happens.… I encourage those of you who have never considered the practice to read Rabbi Kaplan’s small book on Jewish Meditation, at least to get a flavor and perhaps to wet your appetite.


  9. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    I would say that most local interest in Jewish meditation developed through individuals who attend the outstanding classes and retreats at Elat Chayyim Jewish spiritual retreat center in Accord, New York I know of three venues for Jewish meditation which now or formerly existed in our community.
    First (at our temple): We have a twice-monthly non-traditional Shabbat morning spirituality service where we've tried meditation, but surprisingly only a small core group was comfortable with it. However, more recently, our Temple Sisterhood began sponsoring a women’s spirituality group that meets monthly when possible, and they include meditation among their activities.

    The second is a long-standing chavurah, comprised of members from several synagogues, who are very seriously and deeply into Jewish meditation. The chavurah is a private group and does not do publicity, but I'm sure they welcome new members.

    Third, I attended a series of spirituality/kabbalah programs that often featured meditation experiences, and speakers/leaders were financed by attendees' donations. This was sponsored by a group (HaMakom) independent of any one synagogue. The series was held at the local Conservative synagogue (the rabbi there is interested in those topics), and while open to all, I'd guess that 99% of attendees were congregants of the host synagogue. Turnouts were good but the program seems to have been at least temporarily discontinued. (That synagogue, by far the largest and probably the wealthiest in the area, has been experimenting with enhancing their services in a variety of ways, and now includes an optional Shabbat yoga experience on Saturday mornings).


  10. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    Maybe because I'm not a meditator, and maybe because I am a Litvak (actually, I'm not genealogically, only in the sense of being a skeptic), I wish this discussion were being framed with a more Jewish vocabulary. We have the two perfectly good terms, keva and kavannah--keva being the fixed liturgy and habitual performance of worship, and kavannah being the inner understanding that each worshiper brings to her/his individual prayer.

    A number of years ago I was at a kallah, where our distinguished guest was Rabbi Yoffie, who had already been named to his present position as president of the Union but had not yet assumed it. Rabbi Yoffie shared with the group (what do you call participants in a kallah? kallaists?) some of the thoughts on his mind as he looked forward to his presidency--and he gave us advance notice that one of the subjects that would be receiving his attention was the worship experience. It has stayed in my mind these dozen years or more that he presciently called attention to two components of an enhanced kind of worship--silence and song. His recognition of our needing silence was long before the current meditation vogue came along.

    As one of my congregational colleagues posted earlier on this thread, our congregation offers a variety of meditation-centered opportunities. But the nearest thing to full congregational silence is on Yom Kippur, when we are given a several-minute (or at least it seems that way) chance to meditate, with a background of the cello playing Kol Nidrei.

    We are also invited during the recitation of the t’filah to pray silently, either with the words of the prayer book or the prayers of our hearts. I generally choose the words of the prayer book--the more so since, at another kallah, the prayer leader suggested that we not sight-read the t’filah, but that we mouth the words. I have done so ever since, and find it adds significantly to my worship. Maybe the body language that we find around us these days (like rising on our toes for Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh) would bring something to me, but first someone will have to explain the whys and wherefores. Maybe wearing a tallit (which I don't) would help me feel wrapped in holiness.

    All this by way of saying that there is Jewish vocabulary with which to express our spirituality--perhaps some of you will respond with ideas that come out of our own tradition.

    1200 units

  11. Jan 2005 Digest 026

    ...I again recommend Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s book Jewish Meditation.” I think you will find therein enough Hebrew to satisfy your requirements. On the other hand, much that was written about Jewish Meditation in the ancient texts was couched in metaphor. There is an arcane vocabulary and nomenclature in these texts that is not easily translated. Keva and kavannah are excellent words, but they do not suffice to discuss the meditative concept or process. In addition, if I understand your statement correctly, it is difficult to describe the meditative state to someone who has not experienced it. Somewhat akin to describing color to the colorblind. As one of my teachers used to say--“Try it, you’ll like it.”


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