BOULDER, Colo. – Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, died Thursday, July 3, at his home in Boulder, Colo. He was 89.
Schachter-Shalomi, known as ‘Reb Zalman,’ was often a controversial figure, loved by those him saw him as a spiritual revolutionary and criticized by those who felt he had betrayed the traditional values of Orthodox Judaism. In the 1950s, along with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, he set out to find Jewish youth “where they were” and to show them the depths and options still available within Judaism.
Today, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the organization he founded in 1964 as B’nai Or Religious Fellowship, continues to serve the core of Jewish Renewal communities all over the world.
In 1990, Schachter-Shalomi met with the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders to discuss how Tibetan Buddhism might “survive in exile.” This dialogue became the focus of the bestselling Rodger Kamenetz book The Jew in the Lotus.
Meshullam Zalman Schachter was born on Aug. 17, 1924 in Zholkiew, Poland.
In 1925, his family moved to Vienna, where his father, a Belzer chasid with liberal tendencies, had him educated in both a ‘leftist’ Zionist high school and a traditional Orthodox yeshiva. In 1939, his family fled the Nazis landing in New York City in 1941. He eventually became a Chabad Lubavitch chasid, studying at the group’s Brooklyn, N.Y. yeshiva, where he was ordained in 1947. In 1948 or ‘49, he began to travel to college campuses with Carlebach, eventually becoming a congregational rabbi in Fall River, Mass. and later New Bedford, Mass. In 1968 he earned his Doctor of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College, but he continued on as an ‘independent’ chasid.
He is survived by his wife, Eve Ilsen, ten children, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.