this web page is an archived version of the page that originally appeared on the synagogue 3000 web site

Jewish Emergent?

Finding the sacred in all things, and acting beyond institutions and denominations, Jewish Emergent leaders demonstrate their commitment to the pillars of Judaism - Torah, prayer, and social justice - through the establishment of transformative spiritual communities and new organizational forms.

Jewish Emergent resists easy definition: its post-denominational cant reflects its attempt to find the essence of Jewish spiritual commitment, one free of labels or packaging. In general, there appear to be two broad streams of emerging Jewish leaders and communities: a "congregational" stream based in communities of practice, and an "encounter-based" stream based in more episodic individual spiritual expression.

The priorities of American spiritual communities are changing as Generation X comes of age and takes over leadership positions. Younger people crave spirituality but they aren't interested in either rote rules or in lightweight, "easy" worship. Instead, they are interested in a devotional experience that moves beyond the walls of the synagogue, builds community, and, perhaps most of all, gives them what they call an authentic connection to their traditions and to God.

While Jewish Emergent leaders exhibit a rich diversity of approaches and philosophies, they do seem to share “family resemblances,” especially in the values they emphasize and how they practice Judaism as a relational conversation aimed at spirituality in intentional community.

  • Jewish Emergents seem to have a renewed interest in Jewish theology - “God-talk” - as the ground of both prayer and activism.
  • To the extent that many Jewish Emergent communities are blurring the line between the “sacred” and the “secular,” they are ignoring traditional institutional boundaries to do their work wherever it is, especially in local urban neighborhoods. Put another way, the institutions are driven by actions, not defined by an address.
  • Relationship, not contract or program, is the driving metaphor for many Jewish Emergent communities. It is the foundation of all kinds of connections, from hospitality to social justice. Jewish Emergents use technology, especially the Internet, to bring people closer to one another and to enrich theological and other dialogue. The shared meal, the open door, the nonjudgmental acceptance, the care for the other is a central overarching aspect of a spiritual life.”
  • Jewish emerging communities practice "orthoparadox" - the creative tension that arises when doctrine and intentional practice are given equal weight in organizing a community's priorities.

Not only are there no set answers or rules when it comes to building a congregation and a community, the similarity of the journey and the process across denominational lines are what Jewish Emergent communities have in common. For the first time in the evolution of Judaism in America, we are witnessing the emergence of a phenomenon that brings together Jews from a variety of backgrounds, practices and beliefs in a relationship of shared values rather than shared ideology. If the future is to witness an American Judaism unhindered by denominational labels or institutional constraints, the Jewish Emergents may be a first step towards that future.