The very first class I took, when I was in the process of preparing to apply to the ALEPH rabbinic ordination program, was Deep Ecumenism. (It's a required class for all students in the ALEPH ordination programs.) Deep Ecumenism was one of the pillars of Reb Zalman's thinking. It's a way of relating to other faith-traditions which goes beyond the shallow waters of "interfaith dialogue," and which eschews the old-paradigm triumphalism which held that there's only one path to God.
The idea of Deep Ecumenism wasn't Reb Zalman's alone. Centuries ago, Meister Eckhart wrote that "Divinity is an underground river that no one can stop and no one can dam up." Following on Meister Eckhart's teaching, Reverend Matthew Fox wrote "we would make a grave mistake if we confused [any one well] with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river. That is Deep Ecumenism." Deep Ecumenism teaches that no single religious tradition is "The" way to reach God.
Reb Zalman built on that thinking when he wrote (and taught and spoke, time and again) that each religious tradition is an organ in the body of humanity. Our differences are meaningful, and our commonality is significant. No single tradition is the whole of what humanity needs; no single tradition contains all the answers. And that's great! Because it means that we can learn from and with each other across our different traditions. "The only way to get it together, is together."
Deep Ecumenism teaches us that we can best serve the needs of all humanity when we not only respect other religious paths, but collaborate with them in our shared work of healing creation. No one tradition contains all the answers, but every tradition can be (in the Buddha's words) "a finger pointing at the moon," directing our hearts toward our Source.
Reb Zalman z"l taught that we can and should find nourishment in traditions other than our own. No single spiritual path contains all of the "vitamins" that are needed. He wrote that we must undertake "the more intrepid exploration of deep ecumenism in which one learns about oneself through participatory engagement with another religion or tradition."
In engaging with the other, we learn about ourselves. When we learn from and collaborate with fellow-travelers on other spiritual paths, our own practices are enriched — and we come one step closer to a world without religious prejudice or fear.
(That's from the Deep Ecumenism page on the new ALEPH website.) This is one of the things I've always loved about Jewish Renewal. Reb Zalman's teaching that each religious tradition is an organ in the body of humanity -- each necessary; each individual and different; and each needing to be in communication with the others because we're all part of the same great whole -- speaks to me. And I think that this kind of shift, in interreligious relations, is something that humanity needs.
Over the course of 2015, ALEPH will be presenting a variety of programs relating to Deep Ecumenism. One will be a weekend gathering over the 4th of July in Philadelphia, titled GETTING IT TOGETHER: Reb Zalman’s Legacy and The Jew in the Lotus 25th Year Retrospective. (I'm incredibly excited about that; longtime readers may recall that Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in The Lotus is the book which introduced me to Reb Zalman and to Jewish Renewal in the first place!)
Another will be a week-long retreat at Ruach Ha'Aretz (ALEPH's mobile summer retreat program) focusing on Deep Ecumenism. I know that some terrific Jewish Renewal teachers will be there, and the organizers are also exploring having teachers from other religious traditions as well. A third will be an interfaith pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine [pdf], to be co-led by Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross, among others. And there are other projects in the works -- literary, liturgical, and so on.
When I think about why I'm glad to be on the ALEPH board of directors; when I think about the kinds of things ALEPH is doing which feed my spirit, and which I think have the capacity to be world-changing; this Deep Ecumenism work is one of top things on my list. This is one of the reasons I came to ALEPH in the first place -- because I found Reb Zalman's mode of interacting with, relating to, and learning from other traditions (as described in The Jew in the Lotus) to be so meaningful.
I'll post more about that 25th anniversary gathering as more information becomes available, but for now -- save the date, and consider joining us that weekend? I know that many of the original participants in that journey will be joining us, among them Rabbi Yitz and Blu Greenberg, Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, and of course Rodger Kamenetz himself. And it will take place on the Gregorian anniversary of Reb Zalman's leaving this life -- a sweet time to remember his work, and to rededicate ourselves to carrying that work forward in the world.