What is Jewish Spirituality?
“Spirituality” is notoriously hard to define. Because it is an individual experience, spirituality is experienced differently by people depending on their theology, their attitudes, and their perspectives about the world. These are some words that we associate with “spirituality:”
meaningful; purposeful; awarenss; experience-based; values; healing; soul;
interconnected; alive; integrity; God; Divine; energy; life force; clarity; journey;
depth; discernment; safety; open-hearted; sacred; mysterious; the unknown;
potential; attention; presence; love; vulnerability; transformation; unfolding
Core Jewish Spiritual Practices
While many traditional and non-traditional activities could be included in Jewish spiritual practice, the Institute focuses on teachings grounded in cultivating greater attention and mindfulness. The core practices we teach include:
- Tefillah (prayer)
- Talmud Torah (learning of a wide range of traditional texts, with a special emphasis on Chasidic and other mystically-oriented texts)
- Mindfulness meditation
- Yoga (embodied practice)
- Tikkun middot (developing desirable personal and communal traits)
We believe that these practices are best taught and integrated in environments that include retreat conditions, silence, contemplative listening, supportive community, and music.
What is Jewish Spiritual Practice?
We focus on cultivating practices that foster spiritual growth. Judaism has traditionally emphasized behavior as a powerful way of connecting to the spiritual; in fact, one could consider the entire mitzvot framework as a comprehensive approach to spiritual practice. At the Institute, we teach that Jewish spiritual practice is comprised of six elements:
While spiritual practice has value in and of itself, it is chiefly for the sake of something larger. Spiritual practice helps us connect to that which is bigger or deeper or more pervasive than ourselves and prepares us to act with greater inner freedom and to behave more justly and compassionately in the world.
We set an intention for each time we engage in our practice. Examples of a kavanah might be: “I am going to pray with an open heart.” “I will pay attention to sensation in the body.” “I will be present to what arises moment to moment.”
By setting an intention, we establish a framework for our inner work. However, our experience is what it is. Part of the practice is noticing when we are no longer in alignment with our intention, and making skillful decisions about whether to return to it or not.
Over time, spiritual practice leads to an expanded sense of awareness. The content of the awareness may depend on the original intention. It may have to do with noticing how the Divine works in the world, the unfolding truth of our own experience, or the greater context for our individual lives and actions. Expanded awareness is sometimes experienced as greater openness of heart and mind or as deeper wisdom, joy and insight, even in the face of something difficult or unpleasant.
Middot (Personal Traits)
From the place of expanded awareness, we have greater insight into how to act worthily in the world. We cultivate greater compassion, patience, generosity, humility, commitment, responsibility, or other middot to bring these qualities into our relationships and into the world.
Not only how we act, but what we actually do, can be influenced by our expanded awareness. Awareness may inspire us to make different kinds of commitments and decisions. Our actions are informed by a greater sense of freedom and integrity.
Jewish spiritual practice is strongly rooted, framed, and understood within the traditions and language we have inherited over centuries. While not all of the Institute’s practices originate in Jewish sources, they are all strongly informed by Jewish teachings and perspectives.