What makes Jewish meditation Jewish?
For some, it’s a reliance on distinctly Jewish language and metaphors, such as choosing one of the traditional Jewish names of God, or a phrase from sacred Jewish texts, as the object of one’s focus.
Or it could be the use of visualizations or other techniques developed by the Jewish mystics. The medieval kabbalists developed a number of specific techniques that can be used to achieve a meditative state.
Or it could be meditation toward a specifically Jewish end. Like any spiritual practice, meditation can be a vehicle for embodying particular values, like being more charitable, or compassionate, or drawing close to God.
Whatever it is, meditation has to be practiced to reap its benefits. Here are some ways to get started.
Read a Book
There are no shortage of introductory meditation texts. Here are some of the more popular choices:
- Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life by Alan Lew
Alan Lew spent years in deep study of Buddhism before becoming an ordained Conservative rabbi. He was the co-founder of Makor Or, a Jewish meditation center in San Francisco.
- Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life by Jeff Roth
The founder of the Awakened Heart Project, Rabbi Jeff Roth is one of the leading teachers of Jewish meditation. This book presents both theory and practical techniques of Jewish meditation.
- Conscious Community: A Guide to Inner Work by Rabbi Kaloynmus Kalman Shapira (translated by Andrea Cohen-Keiner)
Recovered from the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto, this volume, authored by a hasidic master murdered by the Nazis, deals extensively with the nature of consciousness and Jewish techniques of meditation.
- Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide by Arye Kaplan
First published in 1985, Kaplan’s book is one of the earliest contemporary introductions to Jewish meditation.
Try it Out
A number of Jewish organizations offer online resources and opportunities to study meditation.
- Institute for Jewish Spirituality: IJS offers a number of resources for beginning meditators, including a free starter kit and an eight-part online introductory course. The institute also runs silent meditation retreats.
- Or HaLev: Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation: This U.S. and Israel-based organization offers retreats of various lengths in both countries throughout the year, as well as a wide range of online resources.
- Hazon Meditation Retreat: The Jewish environmental group Hazon offers a weeklong Jewish meditation retreat every December at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.
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