Hillel Zeitlin’s Yavneh


Hillel Zeitlin was a Jewish philosopher, writer, and publicist who lived in Eastern Europe from 1871 until 1942.   Zeitlin called for the creation of a new Hasidic movement that would return to the Baal Shem Tov’s embodiment of love for Gd, Israel, and Torah. Zeitlin dreamed of establishing a community that would live according to the ideals he espoused, and he called that community “Yavneh.”
In 2012, when Rabbi Arthur Green published translations of numerous texts written by Zeitlin, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi wrote the Foreword, in which he discussed the importance of Zeitlin and his dream of creating Yavneh. As Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi explained:

Those who wish to live a committed and purposeful life in the presence of the living God have always known that they need a societal “container” in which inner ideals can be freely expressed and shared . . . and in which one does not need to apologize for one’s longing to live the life of one’s ideals.

Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era: The Religious Writings of Hillel Zeitlin. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Foreword at xix (Paulist Press 2012).
Until I again opened the Zeitlin book last night for that quote, I had not realized that Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi explicitly connected Zeitlin’s dream of a community called Yavneh to the emergence of Jewish Renewal, but he did… Foreword at xix …And though I had not known he connected them, I have been referring to my Shabbat at P’nai Or Philadelphia, which Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi founded, as “six hours in Yavneh.”
My experience led me to write the following text, which I dedicate to Hillel Zeitlin . . . may his dream of Yavneh continue to inspire Jews for thousands of generations . . .

Six hours in Yavneh,
Now my heart longs for more…

I want to find my own story wandering inside our ancient texts, and I don’t want to have to worry what emotion I display next, as I open my soul and reach for my Gd, surrounded by others who in prayer and song are reaching for the same Truth we all know is there, the Truth of the Unity, the ‘parent’ we all share, of Infinite Eternal Love and a Sukkah of Peace, that travels with us as we wander and protects us from grief while we watch for other wanderers who may have lost their way and invite them to travel with us…



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