Here’s the problem with contemporary Reform Jewish spirituality: it isn’t Jewish.
I’m reading the “President’s Report from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion” (HUC–JIR), the rabbinical seminary of Reform Judaism from which I graduated in 1981. In the section entitled “Spirituality Initiatives” there is a photograph of a group of people, Jews I presume, practicing yoga on the floor of a synagogue sanctuary in front of the Ark. As I read the short essay, I discover two other practices that seem to be part of our Jewish spirituality initiative: mindfulness training and spiritual direction.
Now I have nothing against yoga, mindfulness practice, or spiritual direction; in fact I’m an advocate of all three. And if you can get more Jews to lie down on the floor of the sanctuary than to bob up and down in the pews, go for it. But let’s be honest: yoga, mindfulness, and spiritual direction are not Jewish practices. While it is possible to strip these practices of their religious roots and trappings (Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian, respectively), it does a disservice to them when we do so, and suggests that when it comes to spiritual practice Judaism has nothing to offer.
Why is there no “Spirituality Initiative” teaching the contemplative practices of Abraham Abulafia, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and Reb Nachman of Breslav? Why are we practicing spiritual direction rather than yechidut, mindfulness rather than hitbonenut and hitbodedut, and yoga rather than the walking (pacing) practice of Musar?* The answer, I suspect, is that there's no place for spiritually hungry liberal Jews to go to learn these practices, and to become teachers of them so they can bring them back to our Jewish communities the way Jewish students of yoga do with yoga.
How sad that monies are going to fund secularized versions of Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian practices rather than to fund Reform versions of Jewish practices. How ironic that as more and more Reform Jews ask for spiritual practices they are offered practices from religions other than their own. If this is the future of “Jewish” spirituality, there is no future at all.
* If you are Jewish and have no idea what yechidut, hitbonenut, hitbodedut, and Musar are, you're simply making my point: Jews are being robbed of their contemplative heritage because our leaders and funders are either ignorant of them, or have consciously and deliberately abandoned Jewish spiritual practice for culturally denuded versions of the spiritual practices of others.