Rabbi Jacob Staub is a Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 1983 and where he was instrumental in establishing a program in Jewish Spiritual Direction in 1998. He continues to direct that program and he himself serves as a spiritual director from his home office in West Mount Airy, as well as his RRC office in Wyncote. He also meets in those two offices with people planning ceremonies.
If you are interested in contacting with him, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-896-5590.
The Sanctity and Uniqueness of Every Individual
Each of us is created uniquely, and yet we are all created in the image of God. The religious and spiritual journey is most luminous when we each actualize and manifest our unique divine spark. Thus, the most important value in every conversation and interaction is discerning the holiness in the other person. Jacob is committed to listening deeply and actively, in order to see you as you are, rather than imposing a series of expectations and judgments upon you. Every ceremony is unique. Every relationship in spiritual direction follows the unique lead of the client.
Spirituality is the realm of one’s internal life in which you reach upward and inward to deepen your awareness of the transcendent and immanent dimensions of reality, so that you develop a greater sense of your place in the greater universe and a deeper sense of the sanctity of all existence, particularly as it infuses all of your actions in the world.
Prominent in Jacob’s outlook is that there is more than one way to be spiritual. There are many spiritual “types”: Some people are spiritual when they study, think, argue for the sake of heaven. Some manifest their spirituality by praying, feeling deeply, chanting, observing rituals. Others are spiritual activists, connecting with the greater mystery by working to improve the world or by acting lovingly and generously. Yet others connect with the Holy One by iconoclastically exposing all spiritual paths as false, incomplete, or idolatrous. Nobody is a pure type. We are each combinations—combinations that vary as we move from day to day and month to month.
There is no hierarchy here. Each individual path is to be treasured and nurtured.
Approach to Religious Traditions
Jacob approaches the spiritual heritage of Judaism and all religious traditions with a combination of reverence and questioning. There is so many ways that our lives can be enriched and made meaningful by tapping into the treasure chest of beliefs and practices by which previous generations experienced and expressed their relationship with holiness and mystery. When we immerse ourselves in their symbol systems and see the universe through their eyes, we can be transformed. When we have an experience of the grandeur of the cosmos or the poignancy of love, there is often no need to grope for new ways to express ourselves.
On the other hand, there is much in our inherited traditions that is outdated and even offensive to our contemporary sensibilities: beliefs about gender roles; beliefs about the authority of human interpreters of allegedly divine commandments; preconceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity; prejudices against people who are not members of our own group. I believe that in every divine-human encounter, what the human hears is filtered through the lens of her or his cultural and historical context, so that reports of divine revelation or inspiration tell us more about the human recipient than the divine revealer.
It is thus the responsibility of every generation to listen for the ineffable divine voice ourselves—to be open to the beliefs and practices of our communities and our ancestors, but to reconstruct what needs to be reconstructed in order to express what we believe to be our deepest insights and greatest ethical principles.
This is the point from which I begin when I work with people to construct a life-cycle ceremony or when I sit with an individual in spiritual direction to discern where holiness and divinity is manifesting itself in her or his life.