This website is the place where I share my ideas on Jewish contemplative prayer,Jewish monasticism,and on living Jewishly when you are far from community centres.
(wide lens photo of my "cave" hermitage in Granada)
I am a Jew with a history.
As a young man I was a Christian monk-a Discalced Carmelite in Oxford and Durham. After only two years in that Order, I lacked the perseverance to continue and decided to leave. That was in 1976. My Novice master told me that I would one day return to what he believed was my true calling....a contemplative lifestyle.
He was right. But it did not happen quite as he might have envisaged it!
In 1992, I converted formally to Judaism under the auspices of the Beit Din of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain.
After many years in various relationships and after having been a school music teacher in UK and South East Asia, I became partially deaf and at the same time began to see the changing circumstances of my life as a call to return to the contemplative and monastic life of my youth.
But as a Jew this was not a possibility...there were no Jewish monasteries for me to enter, nor accepted procedures for people who wanted to live as Jewish hermits. Faced with that situation...I decided to try “to be what I wanted to find” and to try to encourage other Jews with a similar vocation by my (faltering but heartfelt) example.
I have been living as a solitary “Dedicated Jewish Contemplative” (my term for a Jewish monk) since 2003 and though I have financial difficulties as I am living solely on my dwindling savings......... I have found my path and I am happy doing what I believe I was called to do all along.
Many Jews feel that what I do is not authentically Jewish. Most often that is because they don’t accept my view that what I do is actually a form of community action from a dedicated though isolated member of the Community of Israel. They often see the words “solitary” or “contemplative” or “monastic” and the blinds come down with a crash or a thud. Sometimes that is because they were not aware that there is actually a monastic and an eremitic tradition in Classical Judaism if one chooses to look.
I did choose to look...... and I discovered potential models for such a way of life in the Nazirite and Levitical traditions of the Torah, in the retreat practices of the prophets in the Writings, and most especially in the descriptions of thriving Jewish monastic communities of Therapeutae in antiquity. Then I discovered the writings of the Jewish Sufi Pietists (Avraham and Obadiah ben Maimon and Bahya ibn Pekuda) and the example of mystics like Yitchak Luria, the Besht, and Menachem Mendel of Kotsk who all lived in silent contemplative solitude for many years.
At that point I started this blog to encourage others like me to come out of the contemplative closet!
The website began with “The Cave of the heart” (2005) and the “Dedicated Jewish Contemplatives article” (2007)
The "Cave of the Heart" (in Hebrew: M'arat ha-Lev) is a short pamphlet (kuntres) which I wrote in 2005 to share my thoughts and describe my lifestyle to provoke discussion. Its second half contains a simple method of receptive prayer and some reflections on Jewish contemplative practice generally. You can find the text of this kuntres on the sidebar in installments, under the header "The Cave of The Heart"- or you can view the entire booklet HERE.
In October 2007 I wrote an article called "Dedicated Jewish Contemplatives" to promote the renewal of the Jewish monastic and eremitic traditions. The article was originally written for use in an adult education course led by Rabbi Lionel Blue at Leo Baeck College, and as requested, it contains a detailed account of my current lifestyle (As it was written before the financial crisis: That lifestyle is a little more spartan now but otherwise basically the same!) You can read the original article HERE.
It might be a good place to start if you are new to this website.
All the other subsequent articles on this website are accessed by the INDEX on the sidebar.
The Community of Jewish Contemplatives
Since 2008 a small group of like-minded Jews have formed a global community online. We have our own private website and share prayer intentions and reflections on contemplative prayer there. We invite contemplative Jews and would-be-“Jewish Contemplatives” to come along with us there as full members or as supportive readers. You can read more about that community HERE and HERE.
The “Community of Jewish Contemplatives” also has a “Fan” Page on Facebook which allows members of “all religions and none” (including Jews of course!) to endorse our work and to join with us in the prayer intentions posted there. You can find it HERE.
There are no comments enabled on this blog but you can reach me via the email contact address on my profile if you want more information on joining the Community or wish to share responses to what you have found here.
I hope you enjoy your visits to this website.
Norman R Davies
September 26 2010