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Rabbi Zalman was a 'spiritual mentor'

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Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a longtime professor of religion at the University of Manitoba and spiritual revolutionary, has died in Boulder, Colo.

The man better-known as "Reb Zalman," a less formal title he preferred, was 89.

He was born in Poland in 1924 and raised in Vienna, where he became immersed in both traditional Judaism and secular modernism by attending a Zionist high school.

After fleeing the Nazis, he arrived in New York City when he was 17. He entered the Lubavitch Yeshiva and was ordained in 1947.

He went on to earn a master's degree in the psychology of religion from Boston University in 1956 and a doctor of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College in 1968.

He came to Winnipeg in 1956 and became a professor of religion and head of the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba.

Rabbi Neal Rose, a colleague at the U of M, said his old friend was a constant learner. "He always brought the insights of what he learned to the work he was doing at the university. He was always fascinated by how people do their religion so he had a lot of connections with religious communities and leaders in Winnipeg and Manitoba," he said.

"He was a larger-than-life figure. He had a great influence on the students of the day, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. He was a highly charismatic guy who was always interested in people and available for people."

Zalman was the father of Jewish Renewal, an innovative approach to spiritual practices.

He was also known for his liberal attitudes toward alternate paths of spiritual awakening, ranging from LSD to yoga, women being ordained as rabbis and the acceptance of homosexuals.

After finishing at the U of M, Zalman went on to teach at Temple University in Philadelphia and then moved to Colorado.

Rose said Zalman published extensively, particularly in the latter part of his life, but his primary strength was as an oral teacher.

"Zalman was our spiritual mentor for me and my wife and for all of our kids, he was their uncle. He was like my family," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 A6

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