Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’


Some Things are Meant to Be—and Maybe Now is Your Time….

Posted on: January 22nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring


Last April, I read an Alban weekly newsletter about a collection of essays on Protestant seminary education, called Keeping the Faith in Seminary Education. This volume was edited Ellie Roscher, a Protestant, female millennial with personal seminary experience. Having worked for many years on rabbinical and continuing Rabbinical education, I was naturally intrigued by the topic. And I also know that Protestants and Jews have some of the same struggles in creating vibrant religious communities, so a collaboration on this kind of project would likely generate some new ideas. I didn’t know Ellie, but thought that there was no downside to tracking her down and learning more about her project. Yes – I admit that I was already thinking then about perhaps editing a book with her on rabbinical education.

Hayim Herring-WordCloud

Coincidentally or providentially, it turned out that she was moving back to her hometown in Minneapolis. Shortly after she arrived, we met in person. I can’t say that I expected that she would agree at our very first meeting to be involved in co-editing and writing a part of a book. But I guess that some things are meant to be, and not only Ellie, but her publisher, Andrew Barron of Avenida Books, also quickly came on board.


So here is your chance: especially in light of the Pew Study, if you are a rabbinical student, rabbi, or educator of rabbinical students or rabbis, we want to hear your unmediated voice on the nature of rabbinical education. Please click here to find out how you can potentially contribute an essay to a volume that needs to be written—I hope that I’ll catch you at one of those moments of interest, just like Ellie’s volume found me. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.


Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring


P.S.-for Ellie’s version of the story on our collaboration, visit her blog. And—first we wrote our own recollections of our meeting and only then did we read one another’s posts. Uncanny how similar and still distinctive they are!



What’s on Your “Not to Do” List?

Posted on: September 7th, 2012 by Hayim Herring

What’s on Your “Not to Do” List?

check list

Some people are natural born list makers. And for those who are spiritually inclined, there is a Jewish spiritual practice of making a list each day of personality attributes that require work and reviewing them each evening. It’s like creating a spiritual “to do” list, certainly a timely practice before Rosh ha-Shanah.

In essence, this is what good leaders do. They set goals for themselves and then review their progress on a regular basis. And we can’t expect other people to set the most meaningful goals for us. It is our job to lead our lives and not someone else’s.

After reading a blog post by international management consultant Peter Bregman, titled, Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning, I realized that we actually should be keeping two list: things that we want to focus on and things that we want to let go of. Bregman calls this first list, “Your Focus List” (the road ahead) and he calls the second list “Your Ignore List” (the distractions). I completely agree with Bregman’s suggestion, but I would call the first “to do” list, “Where Do You Want to Go” and I would call the second “not to do list”, “What Are You Willing to Leave Behind to Get There?” Bregman suggests that the first list might have questions like, “What are you trying to achieve” and “What makes you happy?” The second list would have questions like, “What are you willing not to achieve” and “What gets in the way of your being happy?”

Bregman notes, “some people already have the first list. Very few have the second. But given how easily we get distracted and how many distractions we have these days, the second is more important than ever. The leaders who will continue to thrive in the future know the answers to these questions and each time there is a demand on their attention they asked whether it will further their focus or dilute it.”

In the spiritual realm, the practice is to review these lists daily because they take constant focus and attention. And the same is true in the world of leadership. Good food for thought as we approach the holidays.


Rabbi Hayim Herring

Personal Confessions: Spirituality Lost and Found

Posted on: May 4th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Before we leave the topic of spirituality, we’re going to take a look at a critical factor in creating spiritual communities: the Rabbi. I’ve tried not to be blatantly biographical, but I’m making an exception in talking about spirituality. Why? I can generalize about congregations, but I can’t generalize about “rabbis and spirituality,” because each rabbi has a unique path and story.

I wonder, is spirituality a generational issue?  I don’t remember my rabbi, of blessed memory, using that word when I was growing up in the ‘70’s. Nor do I remember him often mentioning God (I could be wrong on that last score but don’t believe so.)  I attended The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) from 1976 to 1985 (undergrad and reb school), and again don’t remember the words spirituality or God mentioned all that much.

I loved my education at JTS and remain grateful for it to this very day. But the approach to Jewish living in those years generally excluded discussions about God, faith and spirituality from the curriculum, except in the most abstract academic manner, although some of us frequently discussed those issues well into the night as students, especially over Shabbat evening meals. We had no or few role models to raise these issues with and we really felt that not too many of our faculty members concerned themselves with the exploration of their own life of faith, or if they did, they didn’t seem very willing to share these issues with us. In fact, I would even say that our education undermined the cultivation of spiritual feelings.  Pretty sad, considering that many of us entered school with a serious belief in God, even if it wasn’t the most sophisticated theological understanding of the Divine.
I can’t detail my encounters with spirituality during 10 years of Congregational life, seven years of Federation life and seven years of Foundation life. And of course, a lot in life has happened during these years outside of work.  While I periodically experienced spiritual moments in all of these iterations, I felt that I was undergoing a slow, spiritual death.  In retrospect, I don’t fault my work environments much, although none of them were conducive to intentionally cultivating spirituality. 

What I realized is that I had allowed myself to drift from my own spiritual moorings to the point of cynicism. As spirituality became more of a buzzword, I felt that spirituality was another form of narcissism clothed in religious vocabulary.

For whatever the reasons, I am grateful to say that I have felt the resurgence of spiritual feelings.  For me, that means paying greater awareness to those around me, to what I do and how I do it, to learning from those who have spent more time on doing their own spiritual work and reading more about spiritual masters.  Prayer feels richer, relationships feel deeper, the meaning of everyday moments is greater, and my questions about existential meaning are more insistent.  So that has been my path of spiritual enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment.

What’s your story?

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image from, Image Zen

Rabbi – Where’s the Spirit in Spirituality?

Posted on: April 21st, 2009 by Hayim Herring

A rabbi’s spiritual leanings (or lack thereof) ultimately determine whether or not a congregation achieves some dimension of spirituality. (Please refer to the last post for a rich variety of understandings of “spirituality.”) The congregational context in which the rabbi works will either contribute toward the creation of a spiritual community or help to undermine it.  In other words, while the rabbi must lead in the creation of a spiritual community, ultimately it is the partnership of a core group of congregants and rabbi who help to develop and sustain this kind of community.

Most congregations are structured to sap the spiritual energy of rabbis (and cantors for that matter). Think about it: when was the last time you remember a congregant saying to a rabbi, “Rabbi, your SQ (spirituality quotient) could use a little more zip. Have you taken your spiritual temperature lately?”

What are some of the structural barriers in congregations which conspire against the creation of a spiritual community?

The conversation on the prior post on dimensions of spirituality was incredibly rich, and thanks for your insights. So please respond to the following questions (in addition to any other comments):

The next time, we’ll focus on the barriers that clergy erect in fostering spirituality, so stay tuned!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Photo from  Orbital Joe

Spirituality and Pornography: Hard to Define

Posted on: April 13th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

One of the primary goals of the synagogue or minyan (prayer quorum), is to create a spiritual community. Pardon the comparison, but in thinking about how to define the term spiritual, I remember the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said of pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced [by it] but I know it when I see it.” Words like spiritual and spirituality are vague words as well, but while challenging to define, you know them when you feel them.

However, I think that we have to hold ourselves accountable to some precision in defining these words. Otherwise, spirituality risks becoming a trite term – the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. So here is my attempt to simplify a complex subject. Spirituality has two components.  The first one is separation and the second is elevation. Or to understand the term as a mathematical equation: spirituality = awareness (or separating out one moment from another) + positive action (or elevating our choices). 

Although not all choices are equally consequential, every moment of our lives presents us with choices. Living life spiritually means having a constant awareness of the mundane and the extraordinary; that is, we separate ourselves from animals, which act by instinct, because of the awareness we bring to our choices and then intentionally choosing the more elevated path for each choice before us. We use this ability to discipline our baser instincts so that the phrase, “I’m only human,” isn’t an excuse for mediocre behavior but a stimulus for us to strive to do that which is good, beautiful, wise, compassionate, just and caring.

Living spiritually is not something that comes naturally to most people, and needs cultivation and practice from the time of childhood.  And, living a spiritual life requires the reinforcement of a community of people who share similar aspirations. In the ideal world, over time, rabbis should become experts at cultivating a community of spiritual individuals.  That takes a tremendous amount of personal practice and periodic time away from the congregation.  It requires the ability to discern what is ultimately important and to keep in perspective what feels critical at the moment.  It also takes a congregation which values the rabbi’s ability to cultivate spirituality.

In this post, all I want to do is try to simply define what I mean by spirituality.  In the next post, I’ll comment on some of the challenges in developing a spiritual community. But please comment on this definition and help bring clarity to a vague but essential issue for rabbis and congregations.

Thank you!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Image from  alicepopkorn