Why people have trouble praying

Does your spiritual life need a GPS? Meet the master teacher who helped create it.

“So, Rabbi, in your more than forty years in the rabbinate, what are those things that surprised you – those things that you never expected, or that you once expected that didn’t actually come to pass?”

There would be a long list, but here is the one that moves me in particular.

Forty years ago, we never would have expected that so many Jews would turn to God as the location of their Jewish energies – that trend that we call Jewish spirituality.

In particular, we never would have expected that so many people – Jews and gentiles alike – would flock to the study of the teachings of Jewish mysticism – what we sometimes sloppily lump together into a bulging file folder called kabbalah.

My guest on today’s podcast – talking about Jewish mysticism, and Hasidism, and neo-Hasidism, and Jewish spirituality – is one of the veteran teachers – may I say rebbes, even gurus? – of the new Jewish spirituality – Rabbi Arthur Green.

At the age of 82, Art Green is nothing less than a living legend.

Consider the chapters in his Book of Life:

  • In 1968, he founded Havurat Shalom, an experiment in Jewish communal life and learning that birthed the Havurah movement. (Check out this podcast with another pioneer of that movement, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld).
  • He taught in the Religious Studies Department of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • In 1984 he became dean, and then president, of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.
  • In 1993, he was appointed Philip W. Lown professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University.
  • And then, obviously needing yet another rabbinical seminary to lead (because they’re like potato chips — you can’t have just one!) — he became the founding dean of the non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston

We are talking to Rabbi Green today because of his new commentary on the Jewish prayerbook — “Well of Living Insight: Comments on the Siddur.” You will never read another commentary quite like this one — a book that focuses on phrases that are filled with light, and which speak to our inner lives.

Because that is who Art Green is — a teacher who helped create the GPS of the inner life of the Jew.

Listen to the podcast, and join us as we talk about Art’s childhood; his earliest influences; how contemporary Judaism became stale, and how it can awaken; how we dropped the ball on God; and what it means for us to be seen by God.

And another thing (which I discussed in my review of the new work by Paul Simon): how we need more metaphors for God. It is not as if we need to invent them, as Paul does (fun fact: Paul Simon and Art Green are precisely the same age). Rather, Art reminds us that the metaphors for God are already there, embedded in Jewish mystical literature. God as sea, garden, soil, river — even Jerusalem.

My partial solution to the crisis in Judaism: We need more metaphors for God. Let’s find them. The Jewish people depends on it.

And maybe, even God.

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