Six Principles of Tel Shemesh
1. Our lives are interwoven with the earth.
A midrash from an ancient rabbinic work called Genesis Rabbah says: “Three things depend on one another: humans, the earth, and rain.” We cannot live without the earth, and we cannot live without the cycles of nature. The earth, in turn, cannot survive unless we rein in our destructive tendencies. Earth-based Judaism honors our interdependency with all of nature. Some earth-based Jews may see the earth as a gift from the Infinite, while others may view it as a living being of whom we are a part, or as an embodiment of the Divine. All of these views remind us to treat our world with care and reverence.
Try: offering thanks at mealtime for the gifts of the earth; taking care to avoid products that harm the environment; taking a nature walk to see how plants and animals interact; learning how your food grows.
2. Natural cycles are a source of spiritual wisdom.
A midrash from Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer tells how the Holy One gave Adam and Eve knowledge of the cycles of nature. Earth-based Jewish practice views cycles like day and night, winter and summer, life and death as part of the spiritual teaching of the universe. Rather than viewing one part of these cycles as good and another part as bad, earth-based Jews might choose to view each part of these natural cycles as having its own wisdom to share.
Try: Planting or composting; learning or inventing a ritual for a season or life-cycle event; talking with your family about the ups and downs of their lives; remembering to rest as well as work; enjoying a rainstorm.
3. We know the Divine through images from nature.
Almost all images of God—father, creator, rock—come from our experience in a physical world. Earth-based Judaism uses balanced images of God inspired by the diversity of nature: mother and father, rock and wellspring, Tree of Life and Infinite Unknown. The use of varied God-images, feminine and masculine, sky-dwelling and earth-dwelling, allows us to see our fellow creatures as reflections of the Divine.
Try: Praying to God as a mother or bride; reading the Psalms to see how varied the images of God are; making up your own list of names for the Divine; going out into nature to see where you find the sacred.
4. The body is crucial to spiritual life.
The body is like a small earth, fragile and miraculous, messy yet sacred. Earth-based Judaism honors our bodies and emphasizes those aspects of Jewish ritual that use the body. Rituals like candlelighting, handwashing, or wearing a tallit all invite us to use our bodies to express our spiritual intentions.
Try: waving a lulav on Sukkot; setting up a homeless shelter; dancing to welcome the Sabbath; immersing in a ritual bath; saying a blessing over a fragrance.
5. All forms of life are holy.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav imagined each blade of grass with its own angel encouraging it to grow. Earth-based Jews might choose to see themselves as one form of sacred creature among many—as beneficiaries of a varied universe rather than as masters of subordinate species.
Try: Reducing your consumption of meat or leather; visiting the sick; celebrating Tu b’Shevat, new year of the trees; singing to welcome the angels on Friday night; caring for a pet.
6. We have much to learn from shamanic and nature-oriented traditions.
Earth-based Judaism draws on Jewish lore related to shamanism (the art of tapping into the spiritual qualities of nature). Legends about King Solomon speaking to animals, the powers of Miriam’s well, or the gifts of the four winds all fall into this category. Earth-based Judaism may also choose to learn from other earth-based traditions around the world. Earth-based Jewish practice helps us to respect other religious civilizations.
Try: Exploring books of Jewish legends; telling a story to a child; choosing a biblical figure, ancestor, or animal as your spirit guide; listening to the stories of someone with a different tradition.
At a winter solstice/Chanukah event last year, Tel Shemesh participants sang, moved and drummed to celebrate the return of the sun’s light. So too, we are celebrating the return of earth-based consciousness to Jewish life. Individuals, families and communities who long to hear the rhythms of the earth in Jewish tradition can join us and the many others who believe we are nature, just as we are spirit.
—from “What is Earth-Based Judaism?,” an article written by Rabbi Jill Hammer for Jewz.com
Rabbi Jill Hammer is the director of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.
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Havdalah for the Summer Solstice
Go to a lake or sea, or prepare a large bowl of water. Hum a niggun, or sing a song celebrating light or fire. Welcome the four sacred worlds of assiyah (west/earth/body), yetzirah (south/water/heart), beriyah (east/air/mind), and atzilut (north/fire/essence) by turning to face each direction while holding a candle or while sprinkling water from a bowl of water. Ask everyone to say their name and one wish for the coming summer.
Remind the group that in Jewish lore, the summer solstice is a day when, for a moment, we all lose our shadows. Ask each person present to throw a flower or other organic non-polluting object into the body of water and speak aloud one thing he or she needs to release or give away, one thing that has been "shadowing" him or her. Let these objects float away.
Ask each participant to sit for a moment and feel the energy of the earth, which reflects the energy of the Divine, and consider how he or she needs to be cleansed in order to face the future.
God has sent a tent for the sun, and a lake of water stands before it, and when it goes forth, the Holy One tempers its strength in the water lest it go forth and burn up the world…”
(Genesis Rabbah 6:6)
On this day of the glory of the sun, we bathe in water to bring gentleness and healing to ourselves and to the world. May the sun’s fire bring us abundance and fruitfulness, not drought and destruction. May we cleanse our own radiance so that we too shine in the world, bringing warmth and light to all.
Have all participants immerse in the sea or a lake or bathe their hands or feet in water. Hum a niggun while the immersion is taking place.
At the end of the immersion, all present recite:
Livrachah velo liklalah
Lesova velo lerazon
Lechayim velo lemavet
For blessing and not for curse.
For fullness and not for hunger.
For life and not for death.
After the washing or immersion, conduct a Havdalah Ceremony to welcome the new season:
Over wine or grape juice:
Beruchah at shekhinah, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, boreit peri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Shekhinah filling the world, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Over fragrant leaves or grasses of summer:
Beruchah at shekhinah eloheinu ruach ha’olam boreit isvei vesamim.
Blessed are You, Shekhinah filling the world, who creates fragrant grasses.
Over a braided candle:
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei me’orei ha’eish.
Blessed are You, Adonai, spirit of the world, who creates the light of fire.
Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam, oseh vereishit, asher betevunah meshaneh itim umachalif et hazmanim od kol yemei ha’aretz zera vekatzir vekor vechom vekayitz vechoref veyom velailah lo yishbotu. baruch ata adonai mevareich hashanim.
Blessed are You, Holy One who fills the world, who fashions the world, changes the times with wisdom, and turns the seasons. All the days of the earth, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease. Blessed are You, Holy One, who blesses the years.
Mix wine with water (if possible, water from the sea or lake).
Extinguish candle in wine and water.
Say: Tekufah tovah: a good season!
Rabbi Jill Hammer is the director of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.
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The design and the conduct of a Jewish ritual, whether a life-cycle event or a personal exploration into the sacred, require a unique mix of skills. One needs, among other things, the knowledge and authority of a rabbi, the sensitivity of a therapist, the tact and timing of a choreographer, the words of a poet, and the playfulness of a child. And most especially one needs a deep sense of reverence for spirit and its presence in everyday life. The making of ritual is a sacred and co-creative art and Rabbi Jill Hammer has been developing her skills as an artist and collaborator of the sacred for a number of years. That she offers her gifts to the world is cause for celebration. She brings magic.
Peter Pitzele, bibliodramatist
Jill Hammer is among the most creative spiritual teachers in the Jewish world today. She brings to her work an unparalleled knowledge of Jewish legend and myth, particularly about women and nature, as well as deep insight into soul, body, and heart that reflect her own life-journey and professional background. Simultaneously masterful and vulnerable, Jill's work is instantly recognizable, and may well be creating a new mode of experiential Judaism that will impact our community for decades to come.
Jay Michaelson, meditation guide and mystic
Rabbi Jill Hammer, founder of Tel Shemesh, a website celebrating and creating earth-based Jewish traditions, and author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, has taught ritual workshops and created rituals for numerous public and private settings from baby namings to weddings, from new moon/Rosh Chodesh gatherings to solstice celebrations to retirement ceremonies. Her approach to ritual-making combines deep knowledge of ancient Jewish ways with reverence for nature and the human spirit.
Rabbi Hammer is available for private consultations regarding baby namings, croning ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvah rituals, weddings, commitment ceremonies, and other life-cycle events. She also crafts rituals for calendar events such as the new moons, solstices, and Jewish holidays. Rabbi Hammer is based in New York; phone consultations are available as well as face-to-face meetings. Rabbi Hammer is also available for lectures and workshops.
Life-cycle events are gateways to spiritual growth and renewal. Give yourself the gift of a guide through your unique gateway. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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Tel Shemesh Recommended Weblinks
Adamah: the Jewish Environmental Fellowship, is a three or six month leadership training program for Jewish young adults — ages 20–29 — that integrates organic farming, sustainable living, Jewish learning, leadership development, and contemplative spiritual practice. The program takes place at Camp Isabella Freedman in Connecticut. The Adamah Fellowship integrates living on the earth with Jewish spiritual teachings.
Bayit Chadash is a spiritual retreat center in Israel committed to Jewish renaissance. The approach of Bayit Chadash to spirituality includes the balance of masculine and feminine, the celebration of Eros, and the integration of earth-based theology with Judaism.
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life promotes environmental education, scholarship, advocacy, and action in the American Jewish community. COEJL is sponsored by a broad coalition of national Jewish organizations and has organized regional affiliates in communities across North America.
Elat Chayyim is a Jewish renewal retreat center located in Accord, New York, in the Catskill mountains. Founded by Rabbi Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz, Elat Chayyim offers weekly retreats year-round, including classes, vegetarian food, spiritual community, yoga and meditation offerings, and a unique prayer experience. Class topics range from Jewish-Hindu encounter to Jewish spirituality to yoga. Elat Chayyim is deeply committed to egalitarianism and ecological responsibility, and to viewing the Divine in feminine and masculine ways.
Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael
Rabbi Raphael lectures on topics such as angels, Women of the Wall, Jewish magic, Jewish music, women in the bible, Rosh Hodesh (the new moon), and Shechinah. She is also a ritual consultant for life transitions and a musician who creates songs celebrating trees, the earth, and the Divine feminine. See her music group with Juliet Spitzer and Margot Stein, MiRaJ: www.shechinah.com/miraj/miraj.html
This site, created by a Jewish woman, provides an introduction to the Divine feminine that includes some analyses of Jewish holidays and archetypes. Also see www.asphodel-long.com, another site created by a Jewish woman that offers analyses of the Jewish Divine feminine from a Goddess-centered perspective.
Hamakom is an intentional community and retreat center for the study and experience of Hebraic wisdom, located near the Dead Sea. Its facilitator, Ohad Ezrachi, is committed to exploring the earth-based roots of Jewish tradition.
Nahalat Shalom: The Southwest Center for Jewish Renewal
Congregation Nahalat Shalom is a spiritual and cultural center for Jewish Renewal in the Southwest. It affirms and supports discovery and exploration of Jewish identity, heritage, and the arts. Woven throughout this exploration is the rediscovery and renewal of women’s voices in Judaism. Nahalat Shalom is also committed to reviving an earth-centered religious practice that emphasizes the natural elements inherent in Jewish holidays. Nahalat Shalom is guided by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a pioneer in reclaiming Jewish earth-based and women’s spirituality.
Rabbi Leah Novick
Rabbi Novick teaches spirituality rooted in the Shechinah and the sacredness of the earth. This article posted on www.ohalah.org describes her vision of Judaism. She is also an author of a number of books on spirituality.
This treasury of creative Jewish ritual, sponsored by Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s project of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, and Kolot: The center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, provides many building blocks for creative life cycle and holiday ritual.
The Shalom Center
The Shalom Center, founded by Arthur Waskow and others, promotes the renewal of Judaism. Their section on healing the earth contains many valuable articles on Jewish environmentalism, and their sections on holidays and life-cycle events contain essays and rituals sympathetic to earth-based Jewish practice.
The website of Shir-Yaakov Feinstein-Feit, web designer of Tel Shemesh and maker of Jewish interpretive music that turns sacred text into mantra and mystery. Many of these songs deal with seasons and sacred occasions and are appropriate for Jewish earth-based ritual.
Teva Learning Center
The Teva Learning Center, North America's foremost Jewish Environmental Education Institute, is a non-denominational educational service for participants from throughout the Jewish community, working with Jewish day schools, Hebrew schools, synagogues, camps and youth groups.
Walking Stick Foundation
Walking Stick Foundation is a non-profit, tax-exempt educational organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of aboriginal Jewish spirituality, occasionally sharing events with teachers indigenous to Native American and other earth-honoring traditions. Their wilderness retreat center, near Cuba, New mexico, hosts programs throughout the year. This center is associated with Rabbi Gershon Winkler, a Jewish shaman.
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A Bibliography of Earth-Based Judaism
A Bibliography of Earth-Based Judaism
Amichai, Yehuda. Open Closed Open. Trans. Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld. New York: Harcourt, 2000.
The prayerful, irreverent, text- and nature-based poetry of the man known as Israel’s poet laureate Yehuda Amichai yields many treasures for Jews searching for moving, quirky imagery related to the earth, the human, and the “here.”
Bernstein, Ellen (ed.). Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet. Jewish Lights, 2000.
A variety of essays on Judaism and environmentalism, covering traditional sources, modern ecological questions, and new approaches to nature and the sacred.
Berrin, Susan (ed.). Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996.
An exploration of texts and creative ritual around the Jewish festival of the new moon.
Elon, Ari, Hyman, Naomi, and Waskow, Arthur. Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shevat Anthology. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2003.
A comprehensive anthology on trees and Jewish tree celebrations including multiple perspectives on Judaism and the earth.
Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
This volume of new liturgy for the weekday, Sabbath, and new moon views the Divine as part of nature.
Gottlieb, Lynn. She Who Dwells Within: A Feminist Revision of a Renewed Judaism. San Francisco, Harper SanFrancisco, 1995.
This woman spiritualist’s quest to find the Shekhinah/the Goddess within Jewish lore and practice contains innovative earth-based legends and rituals.
Johnson, Cait. Earth, Water, Fire and Air: Essential Ways of Connecting to Spirit. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2003.
This is not a Jewish book, but the author examines Jewish rituals, among others, as she explores the role of the four elements in spirituality. The meditation exercises Johnson offers are powerful.
Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess. 3rd ed. Wayne State University Press, 1990.
A classic volume examining the sources across time that deal with the Jewish concept of the Divine feminine, and polytheistic influences on Judaism, from the goddess Asherah to the kabbalists’ Shekhinah.
Ostriker, Alicia. The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
This volume creatively dialogues with biblical texts using poem and story. Ostriker explores tensions between male and female, justice and compassion, pagan and Jewish, belief and unbelief, and ends with a spectacular meditation on the transformation of God.
Piercy, Marge. The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Knopf, 2000.
This is a beautiful volume of spiritual poetry, often Jewish liturgical poetry, with rich, earthy imagery.
Ribner, Melinda. Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation. Jossey-Bass, 2002.
This book offers a treasury of Jewish teachings about the months and reflects on each month’s nature.
Rutterberg, Danya (ed.). Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 2001.
This anthology by young Jewish women includes reflections on the Goddess and on Jews who practice Wicca.
Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman. Paradigm Shift. Jason Aronson, 1993.
One of the seminal works of Jewish renewal, this book describes the spiritual journey of Reb Zalman and discusses interfaith relations as well as new approaches to the spirit.
Schwartz, Howard and Rudolf, Anthony (eds.). Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books, 1980.
This amazing multicultural collection of Jewish poetry, past and present, contains poems that are wondrous in their mythic invention and make great liturgy.
Waskow, Arthur. Seasons of Our Joy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.
A classic work on the Jewish festival calendar that discusses the seasonal placement of each holiday and its wider context within Near Eastern myth, as well as fascinating Jewish sources on each festival season.
Waskow, Arthur and Berman, Phyllis. A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux (2002).
A new approach to life-cycle events, using a four-worlds structure.
Winkler, Gershon. Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism. North Atlantic Books, 2003.
Winkler, a rabbi learned in Jewish sources, has also studied with Native American healers. In this book, he traces his spiritual journey and relates the many connections he has found between Jewish religion and Native American teachings. His reflections on the Jewish meanings of the months, winds, and directions are particuarly enlightening.
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Tel Shemesh welcomes event announcements related to Judaism and the earth or earth-based spirituality. Contact email@example.com to post your event announcement.