Featured Ads

Rabbi Rami Shapiro to visit Congregation Beth Torah, teach ‘perennial wisdom’

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro keeps his door wide open.

It lets in a parade of spiritual and religious traditions along with his Judaism. In turn, it lets him move toward those traditions and embrace them.

Rabbi Shapiro will come to Congregation Beth Torah April 28 through April 30 as the scholar in residence for Rabbi Javier Cattapan’s installation as the congregation’s senior rabbi. 

Rabbi Cattapan uses Rabbi Shapiro’s book “Ethics of the Sages: Pirke Avot” (Skylight Illuminations, 2006) to prepare for a speech he gives every Friday night to congregants who are celebrating special events such as birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. 

Rabbi Shapiro will teach three or four classes during the weekend at Congregation Beth Torah, he said.

“I’m invited to participate in the installation of Rabbi Javier, and that includes both a ritual element that the congregation has created for him and an educational piece, which is my focus,” he said. “I want to explore with them what is my opinion about the nature of an America rabbi, what is required of a rabbi in our time and of an American Jewish congregation. Things have changed drastically since a rabbi was invented, and I want to talk about how rabbis and congregations interact.”

Rabbi Shapiro is an award-winning author of more than 30 books, a poet, an essayist and a teacher. His poems have been included in more than a dozen anthologies, and his prayers are used in prayer books around the world.

He received rabbinical ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and holds Ph.D. and doctor of divinity degrees. He was a congregational rabbi for 20 years and an adjunct professor of religious studies at Middle Tennessee State University until he retired five years ago. 

He also writes a regular column for Spirituality and Health magazine called “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler” and does a weekly podcast for the publication. His most recent book is “The World Wisdom Bible” (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2017).

He responded to a question about increased alienation of people with opposing political views in light of the recent presidential campaign and President Donald Trump’s administration, and whether he sees more people seeking ways to bring spirituality in their lives, by saying he didn’t think “we can lay it on the seat of President Trump.”

“Bifurcation and the whole cultural war have been going on for a long time,” he said. “Two things are happening: One, their politics are causing people to retreat into different, warring camps. And religious people are taking that same tribal mentality into their religious lives, so their religions are becoming more isolated one from another. … So religion is no escape in this circling of the wagons, and they live in these bubbles where their opinion is the norm, becomes the opinion.”

He distinguished between how this phenomenon affects spirituality and how it affects religion and said that more and more people are moving from religion toward spirituality. Political labels of liberal and conservative, and religious labels, are becoming less important, he said.

“People are realizing that there’s some shared wisdom, perennial wisdom, that’s rediscovered generation after generation,” he said. “You can find it in the mystical teachings of all religions. Many people are saying ‘I don’t need to restrict myself to one religion.’ ” 

This perennial wisdom has four main points, he said. 

“First, every being is an expression of a singular reality, but different religions call it by different names,” he said. “Second, human beings have the innate capacity to know that we’re all expressions of this singular reality. We don’t need a religion to realize it, the interconnectedness.

“Third, when you experience that interconnectedness, you are immediately compelled to react lovingly to all human beings,” he said. “So the Bible says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and everything is your neighbor. And fourth, realizing God and living godly is the highest calling of every human. This is reality, and the mystics of every tradition come to the same four points. When a Jewish mystic articulates the points, she does it through language of Judaism. When a Muslim does it, it’s through Islam.”

One thing that’s common to people who are religious, spiritual, atheist or agnostic is seeking the truth of reality, he said.

“If you’re searching for something among these, the point is the same to me: Let’s see what’s real,” he said. “When I teach perennial wisdom, I teach meditation. If a person is open to seeking, I’m open to teaching a number of different meditation techniques. Meditation is basically sitting still and breathing, and you can add whatever you want. 

“In the Catholic (tradition), there’s the meditation prayer,” he said. “Usually, when someone says they’re an atheist, they usually have a God idea in mind that they reject. Agnostics, too. If you believe in Krishna and I don’t, you might see me as an atheist. It’s the same with those who’ve lost faith. Belief is all about content: Believe it or not. Faith is about context. Reality is what happens.”

What happens in his professional life that he most enjoys is writing, “and radio work comes in a close second.” His writing regimen starts with getting up, meditating and then sitting at his computer and typing.

“The fun for me is the rewrite,” he said. “I don’t take what I’m saying at the time at all seriously. The craft to me is in honing the stuff. Probably 90 percent of it I have to throw out.”

In his private life, taking walks with his wife or dog or grandson takes the prize. 

Asked whether he ever struggled with his faith in God, Rabbi Shapiro said no.

“I struggle with — I rejected it — the God I was taught when I was little,” he said. “I’m almost 66, and I’ve had too many experiences with this oneness. I’m very convinced through my experience of the rightness of what I’m saying.”

Beth Torah Installation Weekend schedule

Friday, April 28

Celebratory nosh takes place at 6 p.m. followed by worship at 6:30. Rabbi Rami Shapiro will speak at the oneg following worship.

Saturday, April 29

Rabbi Rami will participate in several study sessions throughout the day. Nosh prior to the Havdallah and Rabbi Javier Cattapan’s installation begins at 5:30 p.m. Desserts will be served following the ceremony.

Sunday, April 30

The Bagel Walk & Talk begins at 8 a.m. The final study session with Rabbi Rami begins at 10:15.

For a complete schedule, visit the Beth Torah website at beth-torah.org or call 913-498-2212.