Trade Secrets from the Monastery: Rev. Howard Thurman and Brother Franciscus

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

While teaching Pastoral Psychology and Psychology of Religion at the University of Manitoba, I would often talk to various people about the Reverend Howard Thurman, a great African-American contemplative and my mentor at Boston University. As The Canada Council sometimes made grants available to invite a speaker, I eventually arranged to invite Dr. Thurman to speak at the university. He came by train (as he said that flying affected his sense of time), gave some wonderful talks in different places, and even led a chapel service for us.

During his talk and sermons, he had a wonderful way of pausing that was simply amazing. It was as if he was looking for just the right word . . . looking and looking . . . until everyone wanted to help him with the word, but didn’t dare. But in that pausing, people also tended to fall into the space and silence he had created, until finally he would speak again and cover you with the word. He would say something like “that luminous  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .  .  .  .  . darkness” and catch you on the insight of the paradox. 

Between talks, I asked him if there was anything that he would like to do in Winnipeg. I told him about all the various sights to see, but he was not interested in the real estate.  So I asked him, “Would you like to go out to St. Norbert’s monastery?”

He said, “Yes, that I’d really like to do.” 

“Good, I’ll call up and arrange it. Who would you like to talk to while you’re there?  Would you like to speak with the abbot?”

“No, the abbot is a manager.” 

So I called the abbot and said, “I think my guest would like to talk with the Master of the Novices, Brother Franciscus.”

The abbot said, “That’s fine; we’ll arrange it.”

After we arrived, we sat down in a room with the noice master and they began to talk over tea and cookies. Dr. Thurman asked the Master of the Novices, “What are the complaints that your novices have?”

Brother Franciscus replied, “The hardest thing has to do with the ones who come and say, ‘Why do we have to have these long hours of discipline in prayer when it’s so easy to get into raptures out in the field doing our work?’” (St. Norbert’s is a Trappist monaster where the do ora et labora, ‘prayer and work,’ and the work is often agricultural.)

So Dr. Thurman asked, “So what is it that you do when they say this?” 

Brother Franciscus answered, “I forbid them to come to chapel, except on holidays and for Masses of obligation. After a while, they come and complain again, ‘We didn’t come here to be merely farmhands.’ But it is in this way that they eventually realize that it is the time that they spend on their knees in prayer that prepares them for those raptures that they experience in the field.  It is as it is said, ‘Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy.’” (Ps. 126:5)

Well, Dr. Thurman was very happy with this answer. You know, people sometimes want to talk theology and fight with each other. It’s ridiculous. But when two clerics can sit down to talk with each other, saying, “Listen, you’re working at the same trade that I’m working at; what do you do when people experience recalcitrance to the message?” Then things just fall into a softer place and we can do work across the borders of denomination, and even religious traditions.


* Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (d. 2014), founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, was widely considered one of the world's foremost authorities on Hasidism and Kabbalah and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. This reminiscence was originally told to Netanel Miles-Yépez and later edited by him for publication here.


Foundations of the Fourth Turning of Hasidism: A Manifesto

By Netanel Miles-Yépez & Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

A Call for a New Hasidism


"Hasidism in Poland has to return if it does not want to die (and it must not die, for “thought that proceeds from sublime Wisdom is not to be destroyed”). It must return to the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples, those bearers of divine compassion. Hasidism needs to be restored to its source. Then it will nourish the spirit and soul of all humanity . . ."

"The holy Hasidic word needs to be carried far, far beyond the boundaries of Poland, even beyond the bounds of the entire Jewish people. The inner power of this word needs to call forth to all humanity, arousing them to true love, true justice, and the true 'kingdom of heaven.'”

— Hillel Zeitlin, Warsaw, Poland, 1916-1917 (translated by Arthur Green)


Hasidism is a movement of the spirit that arises in us as a yearning for God and the sacred, and which expresses itself through acts of loving-kindness and service to the same. Hasidism is the willingness to make ourselves transparent to God’s grace and will, to live in the authentic Presence of God—nokhah p’nai Ha’Shem—as if facing God in every moment, allowing this awareness to change our behavior, to make sacred acts out of potentially profane and purely secular moments.

This movement of the spirit, at the core of the Hasidic tradition, is also a universal impulse, as is the attitude of active-receptivity to the divine which it fosters. Thus, what has been called ‘Hasidism’ over the centuries is only the story of the evolution and manifestation of that universal impulse and attitude among the Jewish people—for whom it has become a communal ethos, wedded to the primary revelation of Judaism, to the Jewish myth and magisterium—with unique characteristics and experiential outcomes.

From this perspective, Hasidism is both the origin and fulfillment of Judaism’s spiritual potential, arising and developing in different periods to meet the unique needs of a specific time and place. Through the millennia, Judaism has witnessed the emergence of numerous Hasidic movements, both large and small, some bearing the name, and others not. Among the former are four significant Hasidic movements which represent the Hasidic ideal as it existed in three different paradigms and historical periods: the classical period of Greco-Roman Palestine; the medieval period of Muslim Egypt and Christian Germany; and the pre-industrial period of Eastern Europe and Russia.

We call these movements, ‘turnings,’ literally, revolutions that demonstrate the adaptation of the Hasidic tradition to a particular time and place.[1] Judaism, as we have already suggested, has seen three such turnings of Hasidism (in four separate movements), each an appropriate expression of the highest and most integrated levels of spirituality available in that period, which is to say, informed by the spirit of the times and influenced by the chthonic element of the place.[2]

The First Turning of Hasidism

In the Mishnah, we are told about the Hasidim ha’Rishonim, the ‘First Hasidism.’ Although this expression is likely a general reference to the ‘pious of times past,’ the examples given of their actions are consistent with what we know of Hasidism in other periods.[3] Moreover, in the classical period of Greco-Roman Palestine, we find references to a Jewish sect known as the asidaioi or essaioi in Greek, which may be the first actual community to be called Hasidim, as these words are generally believed to be Hellenized versions of Hebrew and Aramaic originals (most likely, hasidei or hasya, both meaning, ‘pious’).[4] In the Book of Maccabees, they are called, “stalwarts of Israel, devoted in the cause of the Law.”[5] And in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, it is said that they are “above all, devoted to the service of God” and seek “a freedom which can never be enslaved.”[6] It is generally accepted that these Hasidim (usually called Essenes, based on their Latin name, esseni)[7] are the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the sect whose practices and beliefs are described therein. 

The Second Turning of Hasidism

The Second Turning of Hasidism is best seen in two movements of the medieval period, emerging independently in separate geographic areas and cultural climates which clearly influenced the particular expression of Hasidism in those places. These were the Hasidei Ashkenaz in Christian Germany, and the Hasidei Sefarad in Muslim Egypt.[8] The Hasidei Ashkenaz were led by the famous Kalonymous family of kabbalists (most notably, Rabbi Yehudah He’Hasid, the author of the Sefer Hasidim) who practiced an almost monastic form of Hasidism. The Hasidei Ashkenaz planted seeds in Europe that would spring up in many smaller Hasidic movements in the centuries that followed. Similarly, the Hasidei Sefarad were led by the philosopher-mystics of the Maimuni family (most notably, Rabbi Avraham Maimuni of Fustat, the son of Maimonides and the author of the Kifayat al-Abidin) who forged a community of Hasidic contemplatives whose teachings and practices paralleled those of Muslim Sufis, whom they openly admired.

The Third Turning of Hasidism

The Third Turning of Hasidism flowered in the pre-industrial period of Eastern Europe and Russia under the leadership of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, called the Ba’al Shem Tov, and his successor, Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch, whose lives and teachings set the pattern of Hasidism for centuries to come, even into our own day. Integrating and building on the spiritual work of previous Hasidic movements like the Hasidei Ashkenaz, as well as generations of kabbalistic endeavor, Hasidism exploded with creativity in the 18th-century. Its approach was characterized by a new embrace of the material world as a divine manifestation, by an acceptance and celebration of the potential of the common Jew, by a joyous engagement with life, by prayer and contemplation of extraordinary depth, as well as stories and teachings that turned conventional thinking upside down. Owing to its positive approach and popular appeal, the movement spread like wildfire over Eastern Europe and Russia, making it the most influential of the three Hasidic movements. 

The Fourth Turning of Hasidism

With the emergence of a global consciousness in the 20th-century, perhaps best articulated in the work of the philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and symbolized by the first images of our planet as seen from outer space, the paradigm of every known religion began to shift irrevocably. Before the dawning of this global consciousness, every religious tradition followed a more or less independent trajectory, or could at least maintain the illusion of doing so. But once the ‘shape and sharing of the planet’ was known, all trajectories began to align, causing upheaval in every religious tradition and spiritual lineage. Thus, a global consciousness is both the primary catalyst for, and the defining characteristic of the Fourth Turning of Hasidism.

The following are common elements shared by all the previous turnings of Hasidism in the view of the Fourth Turning:


The beginning and end of a Hasid’s spiritual path is t’shuvah, continually ‘turning’ one’s awareness back to the divine source, remembering from whence we come and our common identity in the divine being. T’shuvah is also repentance, a reorientation to a radical humility that serves as the foundation for true righteousness in our world. No matter how righteous one appears or feels oneself to be, there is always room for repentance; for the paradox of true righteousness is the requirement of self-abasement, realizing one’s utter inability to serve God perfectly and humbling oneself in response.[9]


Nevertheless, the primary goal of Hasidism is a direct connection to God, often characterized as nevu’ah, ‘prophecy,’ or ru’ah ha’kodesh, the ‘spirit of holiness.’ Hasidism believes that the prophetic consciousness is still available (though the Sages declared the prophetic period closed at the time of the closing of the canon).[10] If Hasidism, as we have said, is a genuine ‘openness to the divine will,’ then prophecy is the product of such openness (as seen in the root of the word, navi, ‘open’ or ‘hollow’).[11] This suggests both the method and the means that allow for prophecy, or as we might characterize it today, deep intuition.


The primary means of cultivating one’s ‘openness to the divine will’ is prayer, which is central to Hasidic life. In the Hasidism of the Ba’al Shem Tov, prayer is generally spoken of as avodat HaShem or davvenen, ‘divine service’ or ‘prayer in which one is deeply connected to God.’[12] In the Fourth Turning, we are also inclined to emphasize what we call ‘davvenology,’ the investigation of the inner process of prayer, including all aspects of worship and the Jewish liturgical life. For today, it is not enough to be able to connect in prayer; we must also understand the sacred technology which allows us to make the connection.


Nevertheless, Hasidism has always embraced a variety of supererogatory methods or hanhagot, ‘spiritual practices’ that are not required in Judaism, but which are taken on by the Hasid to continue the process of making oneself transparent to God’s grace and will, and to facilitate an awareness of living in the authentic Presence of God. Such hanhagot were often given in the form of traditional and intuitive eitzot or ‘prescriptions,’ to remedy particular spiritual maladies and to promote particular spiritual effects.[13]


Spiritual prescriptions and guidance in the ways of Hasidism are given by one’s rebbe, a neshamah klalit or ‘general soul’ who is able to locate and connect with the souls of individual Hasidim because they are part of the same ‘soul-cluster,’ allowing for relationships of deep spiritual intimacy. The rebbe gives his or her guidance to the Hasid in the private encounter, yehidut, and in public gatherings, farbrengen. In the past, the person serving others as rebbe was often indistinguishable from the ‘rebbe-function’ they performed. But in the Fourth Turning, it is recognized that the rebbe, though ‘called to service’ and to function as a neshamah klalit through the cultivation of their own spiritual attunement, is nevertheless, not identical with that service and function. For the projection of such a static identity limits the rebbe’s personal freedom, creates unrealistic and unhelpful expectations, and allows the Hasid to yield personal responsibility in a way that is not conducive to spiritual growth.

Because the ability to function as a rebbe is rare, requiring particular spiritual gifts and a significant cultivation of them, Hasidism also recognizes the need for the mashpiyya, the mentor or guide, as well as the haver, the spiritual friend. The former is an individual who has achieved maturity on the spiritual path and is thus able to help others in negotiating many of its paths and pitfalls. Likewise, friends who share the same spiritual values, and with whom one can share the journey, are also critically important.[14]


The communal context for spiritual growth in Hasidism is the farbrengen, literally ‘time spent together.’ The Hasidic gathering may take place on Shabbat, other yom tovim, or at any other time of the year. Likewise, it may be led by the rebbe or a mashpiyya, or simply be a gathering of haverim. It is a time for spiritual guidance, cultivating both joy and introspection, during which meditations and Hasidic niggunim are used for tuning consciousness to the right frequency for receiving Torah, and where Hasidic ma’asiot and meshalim, stories and parables, open the heart and imagination to the possibilities of living a more virtuous reality. 


The norms of Hasidic life and behavior are oriented around a radical engagement with Jewish law, or halakhah. Contrary to some modern misconceptions, Hasidism is not anti-legal and has never been casual about halakhah. On the contrary, Hasidism stresses the most integral, elevated, and meaningful application of every aspect of Jewish law and tradition to Jewish life. This is also the view of the Fourth Turning, which seeks to engage and examine every law and tradition, taking the needs of the time, the place, and the people into consideration, looking at the original function of the law in its original context to see how it may be best applied today to achieve similar ends. 


Finally, the view of Hasidism is providential. In each turning, Hasidism has embraced an idea of providence in keeping with its own experience of divinity, as well as an awareness of the ‘miraculous order’ in creation. The holy Ba’al Shem Tov spoke of hashgahah pratit, a ‘specific personal providence,’ in which all events are seen as happening with a specific or particular purpose, beyond appearances of ‘good’ or ‘evil.’[15] This is in keeping with his pantheistic worldview, wherein there is nothing in existence but divinity; therefore, nothing happens that is not divine or divinely ordained (however we may judge it according to our limited vision). Our own understanding of  ‘organismic pantheism’ is but an extension of this view, merely acknowledging the dynamic and sophisticated organizing principle of ecological systems within the whole of possibility, always serving the Greater Purpose.

In one form or another, these elements have been present in every turning of Hasidism. And yet, each turning always contributes something new—new interpretations, new teachings, new practices and new ideas. The following are some of the new ideas on which the Fourth Turning bases itself:


More than ever before, Hasidism needs to maintain an awareness of its own evolution (of which the various turnings are evidence) in the context of the greater evolution of spiritual traditions  on the planet. As consciousness evolves over time and the world changes, traditions must reclaim their primary teleological impulse in order to adapt to the needs of the evolving consciousness. This process of unfolding within and adapting without, we call ‘renewal.’[16] Renewal itself is characterized by the struggle to marry the magisterium of a religious tradition, i.e., its inherited body of knowledge and wisdom, to a new reality map or paradigmatic understanding of the universe. On a small scale, renewal is happening continuously; but it is also a process that we witness on a larger scale in certain epochs or axial moments in history, like ours, when religions and religious forms are breaking down and slowly re-organizing and re-forming over time.

An awareness of this process can help to keep our current religions and spiritual traditions healthy. For as we engage and become aware of the process of renewal, we must re-evaluate our traditional spiritual teachings and practices, considering their ‘deep structures,’ analyzing their function in different historical periods to better understand how they might apply, or be adapted for use in our own time.[17] This new understanding and adaptation allows us to utilize the maximum of our historical traditions, without at the same time turning a blind eye to the true needs of the present. 


However, as we explore the deep structures of our own traditions, revealing the basic functionality beneath the specific wrappings, we cannot ignore their similarity to those of every other religious and spiritual tradition on the planet. Providence, as well as our own evolutionary perspective, demands that we acknowledge a similar sacred purpose at work in these deep structures, that we learn how others use them for the fulfillment of the Greater Purpose, and how others can aid us in understanding our own use of them.

While dialogue with other religious traditions undoubtedly took place in our past, it had no legitimizing basis or support in the tradition and could rarely take place openly. Today, it is nevertheless embraced by many Jewish leaders, being seen as a salutary attempt to achieve a measure of understanding between religions, discerning similarities and differences through dialogue and close observation. However, the Hasid must go beyond such surface knowledge, seeking the spirit beneath the external forms and teachings, undertaking the more intrepid exploration of ‘deep ecumenism,’ in which one learns about oneself through participatory engagement with another religion or tradition.[18]

Judaism can no longer afford to see itself as the only valid religious tradition, or even as the most important. For such a view is ultimately self-defeating and destructive to the ecological system of the planet, which prefers diversity and depends on it for its own health. From this ecological perspective, every religion is like a vital organ of the planet; and for the planet’s sake, each must remain healthy, functioning well in concert with the others for the health of the greater body. Thus, Jews must be the best and healthiest Jews they can be, doing their part in the planetary eco-system; but they must also do it in a way that recognizes the contributions of other religions and supports their healthy functioning.


As we embrace this larger ‘organismic view,’ seeing Judaism as a contributor to the health of the planetary system, we must not, as we have already said, forget to support the health and diversity of the internal Jewish ecological system. Judaism has, for too long, excluded women from full participation in the religious life of the community, denied the basic rights of individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and erected high walls to protect Judaism from so-called ‘outsiders.’ Although there may have been times in our history when the exclusion of these groups served to preserve a fragile social order or seemed less important amid greater concerns for health and safety, today, their exclusion is untenable and acts like a cancer in the body of Judaism. If Judaism would be healed and give its most healthy functioning back to the planet, it must embrace all of these groups. And in doing so, it will find that much of its new vitality and creativity will come directly from them.


But all of this is just a beginning. It is not definitive, not the final word, nor the only view of the matter. Our words are not ‘the word’ of the Fourth Turning of Hasidism. They are merely the product of a longing to serve God as deeply as our Hasidic ancestors once did, recognizing the needs of our time and attempting to call the future into the present with a name. It is only Hasidism itself—i.e., making ourselves transparent to God’s grace and will, and living in the authentic Presence of God—that can do the rest.

         — N.M-Y. & Z.S-S.


1. In speaking of ‘turnings,’ we are consciously borrowing language from the Buddhist tradition, which speaks of ‘three turnings of the wheel of dharma,’ describing three phases of how the wisdom of that tradition was presented according to the needs of different eras.

2. Chthonic (from the Greek word, chthon or ‘earth’) referring to how the land itself, or the landscape of a place influences expression in that place.

3. The expression hasidim ha’rishonim may be read both ways. It occurs many times in the Mishnah. One example is found in Berakhot 5:1.

4. Another possibility is the Aramaic word, asyah, ‘healing.’

5. 1 Maccabees 2:42.

6. Philo of Alexandria, Quod Omnis Probus Liber Sit, sections XII and XIII.

7. As they are called by Pliny the Elder.

8. Although this group did identify themselves as Hasidim, “Hasidei Sefarad” is simply a name we have applied to them for the purpose of differentiating them from their northern siblings, the Hasidei Ashkenaz.

9. See Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yépez, A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2009: 44-54, and 294-95.

10. See Ibid., 180-92.

11. From the tri-literal Hebrew root, Nun-Beit-Beit, which may be interpreted as ‘hollow.’

12. Davvenen may be derived from the Latin word, divinum, meaning, ‘divine work.’

13. See Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yépez, A Heart Afire, 306-31.

14. See Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yépez, A Hidden Light: Stories and Teachings of Early HaBaD and Bratzlav Hasidism, Santa Fe: Gaon Books, 2011: 160.

15. See Schachter-Shalomi and Miles-Yépez, A Heart Afire, 26-44.

16. Another term for what we have sometimes called ‘paradigm shift,’ a phrase originally introduced by the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn.

17. We have borrowed the term, ‘deep structures’ from Noam Chomsky’s discussion of transformational grammar.

18. ‘Deep ecumenism’ is a phrase coined by Father Matthew Fox. Ecumenism, from the Greek, oikoumenikos, ‘from the whole world,’ originally referred to cooperative efforts between different parts of the Christian Church.

Thinking through the Metaphors of Deep Ecumenism: A Dialogue

By Arthur Green and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Rabbi Arthur Green is one of the preeminent authorities on Jewish spirituality, mysticism, and Hasidism today. A student of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Green has taught Jewish mysticism, Hasidism, and theology to several generations of students at the University of Pennsylvania, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Brandeis University, and Hebrew College, where he is currently Rector of the Rabbinical School. Some of his recent books include: Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow and Radical Judaism. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, better known as Reb Zalman, was one of the world’s foremost teachers of Jewish mysticism and Hasidism, as well as the father of the Jewish Renewal and Spiritual Eldering movements, and one of the pioneers of ecumenical dialogue. A student of the 6th and 7th Lubavitcher Rebbes, Schachter-Shalomi went on to teach Hasidism and Kabbalah, as well as Psychology of Religion, at the University of Manitoba, Temple University, and Naropa University. Some of his last books include: Geologist of the Soul and Foundations of the Fourth Turning of Hasidism. Reb Zalman passed on in July of 2014. 

In this dialogue, the root metaphors of ecumenical discourse are discussed by two modern masters of the Jewish tradition like a page of Talmud, l’shem shamayim, 'for the sake of heaven.' The dialogue was excerpted from a longer conversation that took place in Reb Zalman’s home in Boulder, Colorado on August 19th, 2001. It was originally transcribed by Ivan and Temima Ickovits and later edited for inclusion in an early issue of Spectrum: A Journal of Renewal Spirituality (Volume 3, Number 2, Summer-Fall, 2007).

— N.M-Y., editor

ZALMAN SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: Is the earth alive? Once, it was considered idolatry to ascribe consciousness to the earth and the stars. Now we talk about 'vibrations' and 'energy,' and it is more acceptable to say that they are consciousness. We can even speak of a galactic consciousness, or a solar consciousness.

This is why I feel a connection to the traditional Melekh Ha’Olam, the 'World Sovereign' description of God, because this is a Gaian God with whom I can have a connection. With a Solar God, in a manner of speaking, the distance is too great; it takes the Sun approximately 250 million years to make one circuit around the galaxy, and my experience has little to do with that galactic time-scale. But when I say, Melekh Ha’Olam, speaking with the Gaian-consciousness of the Global Brain, I can say that every religion is like a vital organ of the planet, and we need to have all the religions. This moves us away from the triumphalist[1] point of view to one that is organismic. 

Then comes the question, “How does the Universal Mind want to be addressed?” It needs personas (partzufim), metaphors, and forms through which we can get to the uniqueness of the Universal Mind, and these are what we find in the different religious traditions. If it appears as a woman, looking like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we might not feel that this is appropriate for us as Jews. But how should the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) appear to the imagination? We need to have it in a form that the heart can recognize. This is what I make of the sentence, dibrah Torah bil’shon b’nei adam, it comes as it has to come to each individual awareness. 

When other Jews criticize my acceptance of non-Jewish spiritual traditions, I ask them, “Do you believe in God’s special Providence (hashgahah pratit)?” And if they do, then I ask, “Do you think God was asleep when Jesus was born? Or when the Buddha was born?” If God’s Providence is true and we believe in 'general souls' (neshamot klaliyot), then how else can we see such souls as Jesus and the Buddha, except as general souls through which the Divine-flow (shefa’) comes through to people?

 ARTHUR GREEN: We are very close on this issue, though I think I want the religions to be seen as 'garments' (levushim) rather than 'organs,' because I want to say that “the One is one and whole in itself.” It is seen in different vessels as It addresses Itself to different civilizations. Garments clothe the body, but organs are part of the body, dividing God, as it were.

I think every mountain, every tree, and every flower is a garment (levush) for the One. We believe in biological diversity, in cultural diversity, and spiritual diversity, because the planet needs to recover the spiritual truth that has been lost in the modern world. And for this healing, we need to preserve all the diversity we can; but I think I am still more comfortable with the language of garments than the organism.

SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: I understand your point, but the problem with garments as opposed to organs arises around the question of the collaboration organs have with each other; there is inter-dependence with organs.

When I have dealt with health problems in the past, I really began to understand that the kidneys and lungs share a connection—that the kidneys and the heart share a connection, and that each one influences the other to find a balance for the whole.  There is a book by Sherwin Nuland, called How We Die, in which he says, it is a mistake to say that someone died from a 'heart attack,' because the rest of the organs had to give consent to that as well. That is to say, they were all getting fatigued in the process.

It used to be that people would say, 'she' or 'he died of old age.' But now, because the medical profession wants to find the 'culprit,' we no longer acknowledge that the organism as a whole begins to shut down. Nuland writes that the mutual influence of the inner organs is important. So when I look at the organismic understanding of things, it is better to me than the flatland democracy, with no distinctions and hierarchy. Some people say, 'everything is the same,' but it isn’t. With the organism, we have distinction and inter-dependence.

GREEN: I understand that “your intent is desirable,” as it says in the Kuzari, but what of the question of the supernatural origins of the traditions? I want to say something that goes like this:

There is the One Universal Being, a line of life present in all things, undergoing the whole evolutionary process, struggling to manifest itself, seeking to be known. It is a Creature seeking a garment for Itself, one which can ultimately have self-awareness, that can ultimately stretch its mind to be aware of this greater Whole. This One Brain manifesting all of our brains, manifesting all of our cultures, needs of us, calls upon us, to know It, to recognize It. And we, as people and cultures, then create all the forms. We create all the forms through which It is known, whether those forms are the Eucharist, the shalosh regalim, the chakras, the language of metaphysicians, or the language of Buddhist angelology; whatever these forms are, we create them. We create them in response to an inner call from the One, which says, “Know Me!” 

If you say, “organs,” you are making them more part of the One, rather than the human response to that inner call, and this is why I still prefer 'garments' to  'organs.'  I do like the inter-dependence of the organic relationship, but you seem to be saying they are essential revelations, rather than human responses.

SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: No, this isn’t the way of it for me. The first cells are called stem-cells. Stem-cells are generic cells that can become particular cells when the body needs them to do a unique task. Now, when I look at the Earth, I see that species are interacting in this same way. What is it that salmon spawn eat? What is it that comes from the old fish that has died? Everything has to become everything else! I see this as an organic issue, and this is the reason that I feel strongly about the specificity of organs. 

If I say it is a garment among other garments, it loses some value. But if you say it is a 'vital organ,' then they are not something one can divest easily. This is why I want to counter triumphalism by saying, if the heart were to say, ‘the whole body can exist by the heart alone,’ without the kidneys, without the lungs, then it is obvious, isn’t it, that the body is going to die! That is why I want to make the total inter-dependence more palpable.

GREEN: Which tradition do you want to make 'the heart,' and which one 'the kidneys'? 

SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: Each tradition always wants to claim the heart.

GREEN: Yehuda Halevi’s Kuzari makes someone else the kidneys; it’s not much of a concession.  

SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: Yes, and when I was reading Emanuel Swedenborg,[2] I found that he has a Maximus Homo, a primordial human corresponding to Adam Kadmon. But, unfortunately, the Jews are the rump, the back-side. People will designate as they will. 

GREEN: Are you sure that these are all vital? Let’s choose a tradition other than our own. Let’s suppose that Zoroastrianism and the Parsis disappear; too many of them become middle class, they move West, intermarry, and their tradition disappears. Is the body of the Universe, the mind of God, going to get sick because of that? I don’t think so. It will survive. Certainly, It would be diminished because of that. We are poorer for not having Dodo birds, and I regret that the Universe doesn’t have them, but the Universe has made itself new garments and has gone on; they have planted what they needed to plant into the civilizations of the world, and I don’t think there is a vital organ missing. 

SCHACHTER-SHALOMI: The psychologist Alfred Adler wrote about how the body compensates. If you have only one kidney, you can still do quite a lot. Even without a gall bladder, you can still survive. That is true. But, I still feel that there is a contribution that gets lost. I want to say, 'As a Jew, I need to be a Jew, because I am making a contribution, not only for myself, but also for the planet.' The better a Jew I am, the better the contribution I make. The better a Catholic Christian is, the better contribution she or he makes. But then, I don’t speak about garments that you can take off or put on. That is why I like organs.

 GREEN: The difference is essential.



1. Triumphalism is the belief that one’s own spiritual tradition will 'triumph' in the end, all other traditions being proven false.

2. A Christian mystic and scientist known for his great works, Heaven and Hell and the Arcana Coelestia.