What is Carlebachian Judaism? What are its unique features? Who are the Carlebach Chevre? Where are Carlebachian congregations flourishing? Why are people on dating sites such as JWed (Frumster) and SawYouAtSinai identifying themselves as “Carlebachian”? To date, almost no academic research has been published on such questions.
Carlebachian Judaism is drawn from the legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) and is based on his innovations in songs, stories, and teachings. Reb Shlomo performed at approximately 4,000 concerts, and produced about twenty-seven albums. He created a genre of storytelling intertwined with song, and innovated experiential modes of applying Hasidic values to modern life challenges. He gave rabbinic ordination or semi-ordination to about fifty students and inspired thousands of followers. With his enthusiasm and charisma, Reb Shlomo generated a religious rejuvenation for the heart and soul of Judaism. As American history Professor Mark K. Bauman recently summed it up, Shlomo was “the twentieth century’s most prolific and influential composer of Jewish music” and “a key ambassador of spirituality, especially to Jewish youth.”
Some people find it difficult to understand Reb Shlomo.
A thoroughgoing traditionalist, with Orthodox yeshiva education and rabbinical ordination, he outraged the Orthodox; a man for whom “pluralism” was an alien, ill-fitting concept, he was an implicit pluralist – teaching and singing everywhere, honoring rabbis of every denomination and encouraging others’ unorthodox paths. But it is precisely this open ended pluralistic and perhaps self-contradictory feature about Reb Shlomo that today is making the Carlebachian legacy attractive to some people. The legacy he created seems to some people to be “all encompassing, a kind of prototype for felling the divides, for blurring the borders”. Shlomo was able to blend in with many different types of communities because he reflected sundry images to diverse audiences.
Here is a sampling of their responses to the question of “What 'Carlebachian' means to me”. Luke Ford, age 49, was born in Australia in 1966, moved to California with in 1977, did a Reform conversion to Judaism in 1993 and an Orthodox conversion in Los Angeles in 2009. Luke chose to identify himself as “Carlebachian” because “Carlebach means Judaism with joy. Carlebach-style is about the only style of davening that I consistently enjoy!” Elyakeem, age 43 from New York: What 'Carlebachian' means to me: “Heart. Colorful. Good food. Set yourself up for inspiration”. A typical explanation is offered by Yosh, age 67, who grew up in New York and now lives in Jerusalem. Yosh defines himself as 'Carlebachian' because “Love and joy is central to my understanding of Judaism. I am ritually traditional and halachically influenced but not strictly bound”. Sixty five women on JWed.com above age 42 selected “Carlebachian” as their identity. Of these 48 are located in the United States and 15 in Israel, and 3 in the UK. The rationale of women who answered the question of “What Carlebachian means to me” emphasizes the spirited Neo-Hasidic flavor and the musical traditions. One chose Carlebachian because this is “A joyful, loving, creative approach to Torah-based living”. Another described “Sharing Shlomo's love, kindness, stories, music, davening < = praying> & spirit with others”. A third woman explained, “I believe I have spirit and love for Judaism that Shlomo inspired”.
Here are some representative quotes. Tamil, age 43, London, explained that as “Carlebachian” she meant that she is “observant with a spiritual, creative, dynamic, fun approach”. Stacey, age 48 from Skokie, IL: “I chose Carlebachian because I have the spirit and energy of a Carlebachian. I am a very spiritual woman”. Devorah, age 58 from New York: “Carlebachian is the closet category to me that is here on this site... Connecting to the Torah that Shlomo gave over and of course the music he brought down... the Carlebach Shul & its chevre, continuous learning, chassidus focus, a non-judgmental lens”. Several women noted the impact of Reb Shlomo on their lives: “Reb Shlomo Carlebach had a profound effect upon my relationship with prayer, and Torah Judaism. With Reb Shlomo Ahavat Yisrael <= love of the Jewish people> was reality, Shabbat was heavenly, Tefillah was restored as direct access with Divinity”. Some of the older women emphasized their being part of a Carlebachian Movement or tradition: Fay, age 66, Modiin, Israel: “I was a chassidah <= devoted disciple> of Shlomo Carlebach. I daven his nusach. I live on his Moshav (= settlement Mevo Modiim) and am part of the Shlomo chevra (= circle of friends)”. Kaisha, age 66 from Berkeley, California: “Reb Shlomo practiced a fabulous egalitarian orthodox-renewalism that evolved into an entire movement of Neo-Chassids. I am part of this California Carlebachian tradition and open to evolution along with my future marriage partner”. A basic component of the self-identity is congregational and a person may choose this as a basis for “religious affiliation”. Thus for example, Mindy, age 59 from Jerusalem explained her choice of “Carlebachian”: “The shul I attend and I'm on the board - davening (= praying) with song and dance. I prefer the Carlebach nusach (= liturgical style) and all that is derived from it”.
In sum, the JWed.com identifications are a clear indication of the vibrant nature of “Carlebachian Judaism” as a distinct phenomenon that shapes the self-understanding of people who identify with the specific brand of Judaism promoted by Reb Shlomo and his followers. It is suggested to define this as “Neo-Hasidic Carlebachian Judaism”.
G. Carlebachian Neo-Hasidic Judaism
Neo-Hasidism has been defined as a “deliberate and conscious attempt to draw inspiration, tools and cultural capital from early Hasidic texts and practices in order to bring about a contemporary spiritual revival”. Reb Shlomo imported and explicated Hasidic traditions such as Breslav, Chabad, Modzitz, and Piacsezno, and presented Hasidic heritage in a way that would appeal to 20th century American Jewish sensitivities. Similar to Martin Buber and Elie Wiesel, he recast Hasidic stories by adding inspirational meanings palatable to the modern ear. Like Abraham Heschel, he presented teachings that spoke to the existentialist needs and spiritual thirst of a generation of Jewish baby boomers. But, unlike Buber and Heschel, Reb Shlomo’s teachings did not become part of an academic curriculum of 20th century Jewish philosophy. His teachings were often spontaneous and primarily experiential. Reb Shlomo’s goal was to reveal the “Fragrance of the Tree of Life” and thus compensate for the “Dryness of the Tree of Knowledge”. He explained his didactic rationale as a method of aiming directly at the heart, and justified this by distinguishing two paradigms in the Biblical Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life as opposed to the Tree of Knowledge. The latter has information which enters the head but not the heart and soul. Contrastingly, “Tree of Life Torahs” transform a person’s life and communicate a longing for Godliness and an understanding of holiness. By listening to these stories, a person can empathize with the love and devotion that the tsaddik < = righteous> role model had attained. Reb Shlomo’s purpose is to create a live musical and sensual experience and to feel how we can use this to fix the world.
Reb Shlomo redesigned Hasidic modes of celebration such as the farbrengen. An event was not called a concert or party but a farbrengen, to imply congenial Hasidic camaraderie with inspirational songs, joyous dancing, and meaningful stories. Shlomo often inserted Yiddish expressions. His favorites, such as “mamash,” “gevalt,” “heilige,” and “nebech”, became part and parcel of the modern Carlebachian mode of speech and a linguistic part of a nostalgic Neo-Hasidic identity.
Prof. Shaul Magid notes that Reb Shlomo created a Neo-Hasidism that could be accepted in all Jewish denominations because it did “not demand any reordering of fundamental principles”. Magid defines Reb Shlomo’s Neo-Hasidic innovation as combining “Hasidism’s rebellious inner voice” with American counter-culture in such a way that it becomes “the substance of his new American Jewish piety”:
In many ways he was also an outsider to Hasidism but somehow absorbed its spirit as if he had been raised in its bosom. This homelessness enabled him to construct a new spiritual home in which at least two generations of Jews have found a comforting, and comfortable, residence. He contributed to the building of a post-denominational Judaism liberated from the confines of ideology and religious institutions.
The use of the term “Neo-Hasidic” for Reb Shlomo also implies a relationship to the 18th century founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov. On the jacket album of Reb Shlomo’s fourth record in 1965, In the Palace of the King, Sophia Adler compared Reb Shlomo to the “heroic figure of the Baal Shem Tov” in that he offers “a Hassidic spark of divine fire to melt estrangement and soul weariness”. Three decades later, in an Austrian TV production in February 1994, Rabbi Carlebach actually played the star role as the Baal Shem Tov, and his daughter Neshama was cast as Edel (Hodol), the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. The telecaster explained to his German speaking audience that the Baal Shem and Reb Shlomo had in common that “they both create joy in the world and joy about God”.
The title of a “Modern Day Baal Shem Tov” is a complimentary honorific sobriquet that elucidates Reb Shlomo’s social and religious impact by situating him in the Hasidic tradition and yet identifying his pioneering path as a rejuvenation for existing forms of Judaism. Reb Shlomo emulated the Baal Shem Tov “consciously and unconsciously”, and like the Baal Shem Tov appealed to the masses with a revivalist message. Both leaders focused on lifting up the downtrodden and inserting emotion into prayer, feeling into ritual, and empathy into life. Similar to the Baal Shem Tov, Reb Shlomo discerned goodness in the simpleton and uncovered holiness behind sordid exteriors. He praised and befriended even the lowliest person, the prison inmate, and the street corner beggar. Everyone was a “holy brother and sister”. This approach to life is reflected in his stories about the hidden thirty-six righteous saints and Elijah the Prophet incognito. The practical result was that many people who didn’t quite fit into existing denominational settings found a new home in Carlebach’s Neo-Hasidic form of empathetic Judaism. Reb Shlomo would refer to himself as the “Rebbe of the street-corner.” In a telling confession towards the end of his life, Reb Shlomo expressed his request that he be remembered merely as “a simple Jew”: Should your children and grandchildren ever ask who Shlomo Carlebach was, tell them that he was neither a saint nor a sinner, but merely a simple Jew who loved the Creator, the Torah, and his fellowman and whose only ambition was to draw them together. Reb Shlomo’s healing restorative religious impact was also perceived as similar to that of the Baal Shem Tov. Thus, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, one of Reb Shlomo’s leading followers in the Jewish Renewal Movement in the Pacific Northwest, explained the power of Shlomo’s influence: Reb Shlomo, like the Baal Shem Tov, was a healer who opened the hearts of ordinary people to the ecstatic and miraculous experience of God’s Holy Presence. Through his profound niggunim < = songs> and his transformative stories and teachings, he breathed new life into a broken and fragmented Jewish world. Reb Shlomo’s contribution in spirituality and ethics was summed up poignantly by Prof. Jonathan Sarna: Carlebach’s work reflected, embodied, and advanced many of the central tenets of Jewish spirituality: a stress on the inner life and experiential religion; love for all human beings, particularly the oppressed and the downtrodden; gender egalitarianism; and the embrace of Hasidic and mystical forms of wisdom and worship, with a heavy emphasis on singing and dancing. But what made Reb Shlomo’s Neo-Hasidic approach most unusual was the result of his interactions with counter-culture icons of the 1960s like Stephen Gaskin, Timothy Leary, and Sufi Sam. It was through such encounters that he developed creative Jewish outreach ideas as alternatives to the non-Jewish spirituality. In addition, Shlomo’s personality trait of unconditional love for humanity enabled him to befriend non-Jewish spiritual leaders such as Yogi Bhajan, Swami Satchidananda, and Pir Vilayat Khan. Such exchanges provided an opportunity for Shlomo to proclaim a universalistic spirituality which when coupled with a radical post-Holocaust forgiveness created a Utopian vision of worldwide love, joy and peace.
Carlebachian Neo-Hasidic Judaism continues to permeate the non-Orthodox world as well. A fascinating case in point is the recent “aliyah to Reform Judaism” of Reb Shlomo’s renowned singing daughter, Neshama Carlebach. When Neshama was hosted at the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial in San Diego December 14, 2013, she announced that she is “making aliyah to Reform Jewry”. This proclamation was listed as one of the “Top Ten Reform Movement Moments of 2013”. In essence, Neshama set about to redefine the universalistic aspect of her father’s “outreach”. Thus, for example, upon being scheduled to lead a Reform congregational service in Florida with songs made popular by her father, Neshama explained her mission as going beyond denominational definitions:
Although I love Reform Judaism, I don't like to define myself by a particular stream of Judaism. I want to reach out and personalize spirituality and prayer through my songs and discussions with the congregants.
Today, the Carlebach legacy spells different messages to diverse communities. For devoted followers he is the saintly Rashban, an honorific acronym implying a reverence reserved for leading Talmudic scholars. For others, his name is anathema. Shlomo was even excised from the official accountings of both Chabad and the Lakewood Yeshiva where he had been educated. Critics contend that he didn’t observe proper boundaries and was overly lavish with his hugs, kisses and unconditional love for all. In retrospect, it would seem that paradoxically, Shlomo’s greatest strengths were also his weaknesses. His magnanimous behavior was legendary, yet could be ruinous. He would respond generously to someone in need even if he was left penniless. He operated in a realm beyond time to the chagrin of punctual people. His non-judgmental welcoming enabled many an outcast to find an empathetic ear, but it also took a heavy toll on his time and organization. And finally, his hugging and affectionate gestures “saved” many lonely souls, but it also deterred, and sometimes offended, those who didn’t appreciate his actions. For many others around the world, Shlomo remains an inspirational figure. In the words of sociology professor Sam Heilman, Carlebach communities elevate him and his approach “to a kind of mythic status” as the modern Jew’s counterpart to Hasidic rebbes “that the Haredi world has enshrined” – “Like these rebbes, he is frequently resurrected in stories, songs, aphorisms, and teachings that are meant to shape the attitudes and religious character of those who invoke his memory”. There are those who prefer to emphasize Reb Shlomo’s universalistic message. This is portrayed in the Broadway musical, Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rockstar Rabbi, which bills him as a “modern-day troubadour” who “ignited the spirit of millions around the world with his soul-stirring melodies, transformative storytelling, and boundless love”. Similarly, Sojourn Records advertises Reb Shlomo’s music as an inspiration to broken-hearted and lonely souls: He sought to remind people that they are never alone, that there is one G-d who loves them, and that every person has a unique and important mission to discover for themselves. He was able to uplift the spirits and lives of the most broken, distraught people worldwide; people of all faiths and cultures. These universalistic messages are made possible by what can perhaps be labeled as Neo-Hasidic Empathetic Judaism. They echo a trend in New Age Religions to focus on “healing and personal growth” as part of what has been labeled a “psychologization of religion”. By reinterpreting Hasidic teachings to address contemporary concerns, and by dramatizing them with song and stories, the Carlebachian message creates a new psychological world-view that is universalistic in its appeal. To sum up, Reb Shlomo’s new form of Neo-Hasidic Judaism, although rooted in Orthodox Judaism, attained a unique contour when it interlaced with the spiritual questing of his generation. The Neo-Hasidic identity that evolved became the basis for a Carlebachian Judaism that is manifesting itself around the world in distinctive musical, liturgical, and religious innovations both on the communal and individual levels.
For more explanation of what is written here see Natan Ophir (Offenbacher), Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy (Urim Publications, Jerusalem 2014). For the website see www.CarlebachBook.com.
 For a description of the Rabbinic ordinations and the letters of semi-ordination see Ophir, Carlebach, pp. 363 ff.
 Mark K. Bauman, Jewish American Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic (Santa Barbara, California: 2011), pg. 119.
 Robert L. Cohen, “Jewish Soul Man,” Moment, Aug. 1997, pp. 58–64, 83.
 Compare Ronit Tzach in Yediot Aharonot, Seven Day Magazine, Feb. 4, 2005, pg. 34. Cited in Shmuel Barzilai, Chassidic Ecstasy in Music (Frankfurt am Main: 2009), pg. 152.
 Prof. Shaul Magid uses the metaphor of a mirror. See Shaul Magid, “Carlebach’s Broken Mirror,” Tablet Magazine, Nov. 1, 2012, TabletMag.com, http://www.tabletmag.com; http://bit.ly/1mUmldy.
 Often, the user name is not the real name.
 The responses quoted here were edited slightly for clarity or to eliminate grammatical errors. The “user names” are usually not the real names of respondents.
 See Tomer Persico, “Neo-Hasidic Revival: Expressivist Uses of Traditional Lore,” Modern Judaism (2014) 34 (3): pp. 287-308.
 See http://bit.ly/1okojCO, segment 0:35–3:54 for a recording from Reb Shlomo in the Ruach Retreat, June 20, 1992 in Gilboa, New York, in the northern Catskills.
 Compare Shaul Magid, “Jewish Renewal Movement” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. (Farmington Hills, Missouri: 2005), vol. 7, pg. 4873.
 Shaul Magid, American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society, (Bloomington, 2013), pp. 234-235.
 Sophia Adler, "Hasidic Music and Shlomo Carlebach", jacket cover, In the Palace of the King, LP album produced by Vanguard Records, 1965. Sophia Adler and her husband Fred lived in Westbury, New York, and were supporters of the Carlebach Shul.
 For details see Ophir, Carlebach, pp. 392-393.
Shaul Magid, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and His Interpreters: A Review Essay of Two New Musical Releases,” Musica Judaica Online Reviews, Sept. 6, 2010, pp. 18–21.
 Meshulam H. Brandwein, Reb Shlomele: The Life and World of Shlomo Carlebach, trans. Gabriel A. Sivan (Efrat, Israel: 1997), pg. 13. See also Moshe Liebert, “President’s Message, Carlebach Shul,” Kol Chevra, vol. 5, 1998, pg. 32.
 Skype interview with Hanna Tiferet Siegel, June 1, 2012.
 Sarna, American Judaism, pp. 348–349.
 See Natan Ophir, “Reb Shlomo’s Dramatic Encounters with Spiritual Leaders from Far Eastern Religions”, 6th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality, Tel Aviv University, April 23, 2014.
 Marvin Glassman, “Yom Kippur services to feature Neshama Carlebach,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 29, 2014.
 The acronym Rabbenu Shlomo Ben Naphtali is used by devoted Carlebach Hasidim. See for example, the facebook page of Kesher Rashban where one of the photos describes Rashban as the continuation of the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) and an exponent of the Hasidut of Ishbitz and Breslov. Created in Dec. 2007, Kesher defines itself as the largest online archive for Reb Shlomo’s Torah and Songs – see https://www.box.com/rashban.
 Compare Samuel C. Heilman, Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 2006), pg. 291.
 On the “psychologization of religion and sacralization of psychology” see Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Leiden, 1996/Albany, N.Y., 1998.
 See Natan Ophir, “Psycho-Spiritual Innovations in the Neo-Hasidic Renewal of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Reb Shlomo Carlebach,” 4th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualties, March 20, 2012, Haifa University, http://www.spirituality.haifa.ac.il/4th_conf/files/short-book-english.pdf