Judaism Disrupted

A Spiritual Manifesto for the 21st Century

by Michael Strassfeld


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About this book

How do you hold on to faith in a modern world? The realities of the modern world challenge believers of all faiths. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld digs deep into the Jewish tradition to help us get to the root of the matter: to create connection — to our past, to our present, to each other. To connect with the unity underlying the universe that draws us all together.

Judaism is at a point of seismic change – and it’s not the first time. The second fall of the Temple initiated a radical change in the landscape of Judaism, from priestly offerings at the temple to rabbi-led prayer in the synagogue. This more recent seismic shift has been in motion for centuries, beginning in the Enlightenment. The complications of modern life have put us in a world of rapid, near-constant change. Judaism needs to respond with new radical change to stay relevant.

Judaism Disrupted is about the future of Judaism – starting now. Do the time-honored traditions of rabbinic Judaism meet our spiritual needs? Do we feel spiritually sated after a Shabbat service? Is there another way to be a Jew? It’s time for a new Judaism.

Strassfeld outlines a path that leads to a new Judaism – a new framework with practices that you can start putting into use right away to live a life of meaning. Judaism Disrupted is Judaism revitalized.

Advance Praise

Judaism Disrupted sketches the foundational principles for a livable, vibrant Judaism, connected to the Jewish past yet open to being perpetually transformed. Strassfeld’s open-hearted exploration of his own evolving relationship to Jewish tradition coupled with his rich and concrete discussion of how to root basic principles in ongoing practice makes this a book sure to interest and engage people with many different levels of Jewish knowledge and observance.”

Judith Plaskow, author, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology

“I can’t remember the last time I felt pulled to underline a book constantly as I was reading it, but Judaism Disrupted is exactly that intellectual, spiritual and personal adventure. You will find yourself nodding, wrestling, and hoping to hold on to so many of its ideas and challenges. Rabbi Strassfeld reframes a Torah that demands breakage, reimagination, and ownership. Not only did I learn so much from Strassfeld’s 11 principles; I was changed by them.”

Abigail Pogrebin, author, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew

“Michael Strassfeld brings a keen eye to contemporary Jewish life in Judaism Disrupted, honed through spiritual practice, professional experience, and a long engagement in Jewish thought and education. He has distilled his experience of the power and purpose of Jewish life into eleven guiding principles by which we might truly live with freedom, for connection and responsibility to each other; principles to guide spiritual practices meant to cultivate heart and mind to build a loving world. This is a clear-eyed statement of what Jewish life can and should be for a meaningful, livable future, beyond mitzvah to commitment, joy, social-justice, and love. May we all embrace such disruption.”

Rabbi Jonathan Slater, author, Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice and A Partner in Holiness on the teachings of R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev.

“In Judaism Disrupted, Michael Strassfeld once more reveals himself to be one of the most creative and spiritually sensitive teachers of our time. Drawing on his vast knowledge of traditional biblical, rabbinic, and Hasidic texts, and combining it with a keen sociological sensibility and sensitive psychological insights, he weaves a portrait of Jewish tradition that is relevant for our times. Strassfeld keenly understands the blessings of freedom and diversity inherent in Jewish tradition as well as present-day America to craft an aspirational vision of Judaism that speaks to the soul and stirs the mind.”

Rabbi David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University

“Michael Strassfeld has ‘traveled the distance,’ from his Orthodox Day School upbringing, through the innovative, late 60s Havurat Shalom founding, to his training as a Reconstructionist rabbi, and through it all maintained a deep love of the Jewish tradition and a desire to transmit this love to others.  Central to his reading of the tradition is that it has, does and will always change in response to the living needs of each generation.  In this latest book, he offers a bold, honest, creative vision of a Judaism for this very moment in American society: one that challenges fundamental rabbinic views about God, prayer and the entire legal tradition.  He argues that Jewish living should be based on core values and principles, not commandments given on high, and should serve to make us good people, not good Jews.  In these pages he teaches a truly refreshing Torah replete with traditional wisdom and inspired practices to help us become the most just, compassionate, and awake human beings possible.”

Rabbi Nancy Flam

Judaism Disrupted is a rare accomplishment! A book about Judaism that overflows with insight and wisdom for anyone seeking a meaningful, ethical, spiritual, and flourishing life! Drawing on a lifetime of studying, teaching, living, and loving Judaism, Strassfeld with imagination and awe wrestles, questions, and plays with an ancient inheritance uncovering and offering its life affirming depths in a most accessible way. Strassfeld understands well that one can only preserve a religious tradition by fearlessly reconnecting it to its purpose – to enchant and elevate our life. With the best of today’s innovators Strassfeld indeed disrupts…doing so in order to create anew.”

Rabbi Irwin Kula, is a seventh generation rabbi, President of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, co-founder of the Disruptor Foundation, and author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life.

“The great disrupter does it again. For half a century, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld has been a successful disrupter of religious laissez faire, insisting instead on being excruciatingly honest about the changing nature of the time and the need for Judaism to change along with it. In this, his latest book he again challenges all our old bromides and emerges with an optimistic assessment of Judaism as a religion of deep awareness, of freedom and search, and holiness and helpfulness, and of uncertainty striving for wholeness.”

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Professor Emeritus of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual, Hebrew Union College, NY