Let My People Know

"There is an attempt by many to take out the spiritual part"

I once asked Rabbi Steinsaltz:

In my conversations with many Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis over the years, it is clear that many of them have an aversion to spirituality, even sometimes claiming that Judaism is not spiritual! What in the world is going on when rabbis represent spirituality as some fringe element in Judaism?

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

What is the problem? It is really a double or triple problem.

One of the big problems is historical. Most of the people you have encountered are relics. They really live in the past when anything about spirituality was some kind of a taboo.

In a strange way we are still living 19th century Judaism. And 19th century Judaism was in an age that was completely rationalistic. It was a whole rationalistic world in which the highest spiritual move was perhaps some kind of charitable feeling to others, and you didn’t even overdo that.

So because of this historical burden, some people are, in a certain way, afraid of anything that has to do with spirituality.

In our times there is a growing and a widespread fake Jewish Spirituality that is perhaps as dangerous as anything that can happen.

You have things that seem to be spiritual but are somewhere between confidence games and magic tricks.

All of these things are making people, and some honest people, turn away from the experience of anything to do with spirituality.

That is the reason why when a seeker or searcher somehow finds his way to a Jewish prayer place, he or she usually finds it dry, boring, and unappealing, especially if the seeker has any kind of a spiritual tendency– which in some way most people do have.

Now, the fact is that there is a very old and very rich Jewish spirituality, as ancient as anything else.

I am speaking about very clear-cut and very public forms that appeared not just in the last century, but have been a part of Jewish life for as long as we know about Jewish life.

It is not a matter of esoteric corners of Judaism.

There is an attempt by so many people to take out the spiritual part and to leave the sometimes-practical message and sometimes no message whatsoever in order to make it fit within some preconceived notion of what Judaism is.