Where does Jewish renewal come from? Paradigm shifts in Judaism go back as far as the destruction of the Second Temple and the transition from the Priestly Judaism of the Temple Cult to the Rabbinic tradition that has evolved up to present time. Other major shifts have occurred in response to the various upheavals such as the Expulsion from Spain, the Enlightenment, the founding of the Hassidic movement, the emergence of Reform/post-halachic Judaism, the trauma of the Holocaust, etc. The current phenomenon called Jewish renewal traces its roots to the Havurah movement, feminism and other late 20th century phenomena, but primarily to the work of Rabbis Shlomo Carlebach (z'l) and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman were trained in the Lubavitch Hassidic movement and later left it to found their own institutions, ordain their own students and plant the seeds of renewal worldwide. ALEPH is the outgrowth of B'nai Or Religious Fellowship, founded by Reb Zalman in 1962.
Those interested in an extensive history of Jewish renewal should read Godwrestling, Round 2, a chronicle of this movement by R. Arthur Waskow, also the author of "Seasons of Our Joy" and "Down to Earth Judaism."
Is Jewish renewal Orthodox Judaism? Reconstructionist? ...? Jewish renewal is non-denominational (sometimes referred to as trans- or post-denominational) Judaism. It honors the important and unique role of each denomination, but does not seek to become a denomination itself. Because of its emphasis on direct spiritual experience and mystical or Kabbalistic teachings, Jewish renewal is sometimes referred to as Neo-Hassidic or Four Worlds Judaism (a reference to the "four worlds" of Jewish mysticism). While we seek to restore the spiritual vitality characteristic of the Hassidic movement of pre-war Europe, we believe, along with the Reconstruction movement, that Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. This is what differentiates us from the Baal Tshuvah movement, which we refer to as Restorationist.
Is this "New Age" Judaism? Not really. Jewish Renewal is sometimes referred to as "New Age" by people who do not know that meditation, dance, chant, and mysticism have been present in Judaism throughout the ages and not, as some mistakenly believe, patched on to Judaism from other cultures or made up out of whole cloth. Sadly, some of our authentic, time-honored beliefs and practices have been lost to assimilation, leaving many contemporary Jews largely unaware of them. This is a major reason why so many spiritually sensitive Jews have sought spiritual expression in other faith traditions. It is an important part of ALEPH's mission to make the "hidden" treasures of Judaism known and accessible to these seekers. What is Four Worlds Judaism?
What is ALEPH's position on so called messianic Judaism? ALEPH has a policy of respect for other spiritual traditions, but objects to deceptive practices and will not collaborate with denominations which actively target Jews for recruitment. Our position on so-called "Messianic Judaism" is that it is Christianity and its proponents would be more honest to call it that.