A few months ago I tried my hand at defining Jewish Renewal. I'm happy with the definition I offered, and I enjoyed the process of reaching toward that definition.
I'm not alone in the work of attempting to give form to the riotous and joyful phenomenon which is Jewish Renewal, of course. Recently I had the pleasure of reading somebody else's definitional document. This one was written by a group, which included its eventual redactor Rabbi Marcia Prager (author of the terrific book The Path of Blessing, which I blogged about last year).
Here are some excerpts from that document:
Jewish Renewal is a phenomenon, not a denomination. It resembles Reform Judaism in some ways, Reconstructionism in other ways, and even Orthodoxy -- especially Hasidism -- in some important ways. But it is not a formal denomination with a formal hierarchy or structure. It is the ongoing creative project of a generation of Jews who are seeking to renew Judaism and bring its spiritual and ethical vitality into our lives and communities, and at the same time embrace a global vision of the role of all human beings and spiritual paths in the transformation of life on this precious planet.
Jewish Renewal is a "movement" in the sense of a wave in motion, a grassroots effort to discover the modern meaning of Judaism as a spiritual practice. Jewish-renewalists see "renewal" as a process reaching beyond denominational boundaries and institutional structures, more similar to the multi-centered civil rights or women's movements than to contemporary denominations.
Jewish Renewal is built on the idea that we live in a transformative moment in time, in which a new paradigm for spiritual life is being developed.
Jewish Renewal actively seeks a relationship with God as the immanent reality that suffuses all creation and from time to time calls to us from beyond creation as well.
Jewish Renewal is neither halakhic nor anti-halakhic but neo-halakhic. Just as Rabbinic Judaism involved transcending the halakhah of Temple sacrifice, so Jewish Renewal seeks to go beyond the limitations of traditional Rabbinic Judaism to forge a new halakhah in which Judaism is conscious of its place in an interconnected world.
Jewish Renewal has long been committed to a fully egalitarian approach to Jewish life and welcomes the public and creative input of those who were traditionally excluded from the process of forming the Jewish tradition.
Precisely because Renewal is such a grassroots endeavor no two definitions of Renewal are exactly alike, but this one does a good job of outlining some of Renewal's primary qualities. My deep thanks to Reb Marcia and to the others who worked together to draft this; I hope it helps shed some light on some of the principles that Renewal holds dear.