Rabbi Robert dos Santos Teixeira, M.P.I.A., M.A., M.S.W., L.M.S.W., began his formal study of Judaism at a Catholic seminary, of all places, under the direction of the late Rabbi Hayim Goren Perelmuter, a student of Gershom Scholem, and furthered it by taking courses at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. Upon learning of his Portuguese Jewish roots, study gave way to observance, and after several years of living a Jewish life, he converted, under the supervision of Rabbi Geoffrey Spector of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Throughout this time he worked as an editor and writer of educational materials, authoring the high school textbook Religions in North America. After moving to New Orleans he stepped away from educational publishing and pursued a lifelong interest in metaphysics. For the next eight years, he immersed himself in the study of Tarot, which sharpened his nonphysical senses.
It is estimated that he read some 3,500 people, people from all walks of life, from every continent. Most of his readings took place outdoors at Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter, in front of Saint Louis Cathedral.
“My workplace was a carnival,” he says. “People shared with me every conceivable concern; at times my readings were brief therapy sessions. Without question, Jackson Square was the greatest spiritual and clinical internship of my life.”
Inspired and fulfilled by the therapeutic dimension of his work as a reader, he went on to become a social worker. He has experience working with the homeless as well as the mentally ill and chemically addicted (MICA). At the present time, he provides psychotherapy for those who have HIV.
After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, he and his partner, Dr. Zafir Buraei, settled in New York City, where he met the New Yorker Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, a ninety-seven year old Holocaust survivor and recognized kabbalist and yogi, known as the Father of Modern Hasidism, who invited him to study for the rabbinate. The suggestion filled him with reservations, which disappeared after he came across an article about the New Yorker Rebbe entitled, “Rabbi Fuses Kabbalistic Wisdom With New Age Channeling.” “At that moment,” he says, “I knew he was my Rebbe and I should take the path before me.”
On 28 June 2007 / 12 Tammuz 5767, a Beit Din presided over by the New Yorker Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, ordained him to the rabbinate. Two weeks earlier, the Rebbe had said to him, “Continue to be a seer. Different life times have come together. In this life, you are coming out of the wilderness.”
After his ordination, he went on to serve as an intern at the historic Actors Temple, near Times Square, where he currently serves as Assistant Rabbi. Through his rabbinic work he hopes to resurrect the tradition of the Seer and to recover feminine as well as sensual images of the Divine within Judaism.
The Blood Cried Out: My Journey to Judaism
(Spiritual Autobiography of Rabbi Robert dos Santos Teixeira)
As I stood in the surprisingly tepid waters of the mikveh, the rabbi pressing my kippah onto my wet head, I repeated the first of the prescribed blessings, “Barukh atah Ado-nai Elo-henu melekh ha'olam asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al ha'tevillah,” that is, “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the immersion.” Minutes later I received my Hebrew name, Shmuel ben Avraham. I was a Jew!
“Siman Tov U Mazel Tov,” sang the rabbi and the two witnesses, clapping their hands. Yom Ha-Shoa, which had been observed the day before, was fresh on the rabbi’s mind. His eyes filled with tears as he expressed his hope that I would honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the Shoah, the Holocaust, by making a contribution to the Jewish people. The conversion ceremony itself was the culmination of a journey no one would have predicted, or even imagined.
Forty years earlier, water had offered me new life and membership in a community. I have no memory of that event, but on a couple of occasions I saw film footage of it, captured by my maternal grandmother’s Kodak 8 Movie Camera. Like all infants, I cried at my baptism, as the water trickled onto my face. When the priest asked, “Robert, do you renounce Satan?” one of my godparents answered on my behalf, “I do renounce him.”
How, then, could my faith, nurtured by a devoutly Catholic family and informed by years of parochial education, have been so thoroughly abrogated? How could the erstwhile seminarian have come to deny his master? It must have been due to the machinations of Satan. I now belonged to the “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9, 3:9) after all. My conversion to Judaism beckoned for an explanation: If not Satan, who or what had caused me to wonder, to question, to doubt, to disbelieve, and to eventually discard?
Please click here to download a PDF of the remaining of this text.
The New Yorker Rebbe
(Biographical Sketch of Grand Rabbi Joseph Gelberman)
Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York have something in common. Each was or is home to a Hasidic spiritual master, a grand rabbi, a rebbe. There’s the Bostoner Rebbe, the Clevelander Rebbe, the Pittsburgher Rebbe, and the New Yorker Rebbe.
Grand Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, the New Yorker Rebbe, the Father of Modern Hasidism, was born on 27 April 1912 / 10 Iyar 5672 in Nagyecsed, Hungary1. His father, David, and his mother, Esther, who gave him the name Hayyim, immersed him, the ninth of seventeen children, and his sixteen brothers and sisters in the teachings of Hasidism2.
“My background was totally Hasidic,” he says. “My father, bless his soul, was a Hasid, and his father was a Hasid. All my masters in the yeshiva were Hasidim.”3 At seventeen, he made his way to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where he undertook a course of yeshiva study,4 and in 1930 he was ordained to the rabbinate.5 The Satmar rabbi from his hometown gave him semicha.6
Soon after, he married, and less than a year later his wife, Yolan, gave birth to a baby girl, Judith.7 In 1939, in response to rising anti-Semitism, he came to the United States in hopes of finding a pulpit, which would have enabled him to bring his family from Europe.8 “One day,” he said, “the letters stopped, and no one answered the telephone.” 9 Tragically, his wife and daughter, his family, indeed, much of his hometown, had been rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where most of them perished.10 Seven of his siblings miraculously survived.11 This tragedy marked a turning point in his life.
He began to scrutinize his Orthodox worldview. “Judaism is called the Etz Hayyim, ‘the Tree of Life,’” he writes. “The Orthodox pictures this tree with a circle around it, suggesting ‘only this is Judaism,’ that is, only the Orthodox way is Judaism. The circle is like an enclosure, and its implication is clear: if you are inside this circle you are Jewish. If you are outside, you are not. I never left the circle, though it was uncomfortable for me. Instead I began to explore my roots, to expand the circle. I asked, ‘Who am I? How much of Jewish tradition can I keep and still be a modern man living in this century?’”12
He also journeyed inward, studying psychology (as well as other subjects) at City College of New York, Yeshiva University, and Columbia University, and went on to become a psychotherapist.13 And he traveled far beyond himself. Having experienced the consequences of people viewing one another as “the other,” he began searching for what unites people, what enables people to see one another as “us.” His search led him to appreciate the spiritual threads that run through the great religious traditions of the world, which kindled his interest in both interfaith dialogue and Eastern spirituality. The Rebbe once admitted, proudly, “I’ve been a Yogi for 45 years and a Kabbalist for 75 years.”14
In 1968, the New Yorker Rebbe together with Sri Swami Satchidananda, Brother David Steindl-Rast, and Eido Tai Shimano established the Center for Spiritual Studies, where each month spiritual leaders from different faith traditions would come together to study and talk.15 Joined by Roshi Prabhasa Dharma (Gesshin), Father Robert Beh, and Murshida Taj Inayat, the three participated in a historic interfaith worship service, the Yoga Ecumenical Service, in 1977.16
In 1979, the Rebbe opened the New Seminary, the first interfaith seminary in the world, which has ordained nearly two thousand men and women as interfaith ministers. The seminary gained Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), in 2001.
In time, the Rabbinical Studies Department of the New Seminary evolved into the Rabbinical Seminary International, which has been described as a school of ministry in the neo-Hasidic tradition. Indeed, the New Yorker Rebbe has said of himself, “I am a modern Hasidic rabbi.”17 A graduate of the seminary, among other things, is expected to serve as “a spiritual guide for people searching for a greater spiritual consciousness in Judaism.”18 Alumni, with the blessing of the Rebbe, are now in the process of re-envisioning the seminary’s mission.
The Rebbe is the author of several books, including I Believe; Israel, As I Saw It; Kabbalah As I See It: An Introduction to the Joy in Jewish Mysticism; Kabbalah in Motion: Journeys into Consciousness; Kabbalah: The Mystic Path to Health, Awareness, Power, and God (in nine lessons); Our Quest for Love; Pearls and Wisdom; Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing; Spiritual Truths: A Companion to Meditation for Everyday of the Month; Thanksgiving Haggadah; The Quest & Other Essays; and Zen Judaism: Teaching Tales by a Kabbalistic Rabbi. He is also the creator of the New Kabbalah Cards, twenty-two cards that are used as “an oracle system based upon the life principles of the Kabbalah.”
The New Yorker Rebbe, now ninety-seven years of age, serves as rabbi of the New Synagogue and as president of All-Faiths Seminary International, both of which he founded. He remains an active teacher, sharing his light and wisdom with literally everyone he meets. His own aphorism, “Never Instead, Always In Addition,” continues to infuse his work and that of his Hasidim.
1 Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing, page 17. Here, the name of the Rebbe’s hometown is spelled Nageyched, which I am guessing is the Yiddish pronunciation. Other sources give the spelling Nagyecsed.
2 Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing, page 17.
3 Kabbalah: The Mystic Path to Health, Awareness, Power, and God (in nine lessons), page 6.
4 In a telephone conversation with the Rebbe (on 30 April 2009), he told me that he was seventeen years of age when he went to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to study at a “Hasidic yeshiva.”
5 In a telephone conversation with the Rebbe (on 30 April 2009), he told me that he was eighteen years of age when he was ordained.
6 In a telephone conversation with the Rebbe (30 April 2009), he once again told me that one of the three rabbis who gave him semicha was the Satmar rabbi from his hometown whose surname was the same as the Satmar Rebbe at the time, Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979). In an earlier conversation (25 July 2008), the Rebbe told me that this rabbi was the Satmar Rebbe’s son or nephew.
7 Kabbalah: the Mystic Path to Health, Awareness, Power, and God (in nine lessons), dedication page. The names of the Rebbe’s father, mother, wife, and daughter appear in the dedication. In a telephone conversation with the Rebbe (on 30 April 2009), he told me that after he received semicha he got married and “nine months later” his wife gave birth.
8 Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing, page 18.
9 The Rebbe spoke these words in public at a Yom-Ha Shoa observance at the Actors Temple, New York, New York, on 17 April 2009.
10 Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing, page 18.
11 The New York Times article, “Economy & Business; Far From Corner Offices, Scrimping and Improvising,” by Amy Cortese, 16 December 2002. The author states that the Rebbe “lost his first wife and child, as well as his father, mother and 12 of his 19 brothers and sisters, at Auschwitz.”
12 Kabbalah As I See It: An Introduction to the Joy in Jewish Mysticism, page 3.
13 Physician of the Soul: A Modern Kabbalist's Approach to Health and Healing, page 18, and Kabbalah: The Mystic Path to Health, Awareness, Power, and God (in nine lessons), back cover.
14 Daily Breeze article, “Rabbi combines yoga with Hebrew mantras and teaches that ‘God is in each of us,’ Founder of nation’s first interfaith institution comes to Torrance to demonstrate his latest teaching, a blend of Jewish mysticism and yoga,” by Sandy Cohen, 23 October 2004.
15 Webpage: Lotus, Light of Truth Universal Shrine, Interfaith Pioneer, http://www.lotus.org/docs/interfaithpioneer.htm.
16 Webpage: Integral Yoga Magazine, http://www.iymagazine.org/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=33&products_id=85.
17 Kabbalah: The Mystic Path to Health, Awareness, Power, and God (in nine lessons), page 6.
18 Webpage: Rabbinical Seminary International, http://www.rabbinicalseminaryint.org/rsi.htm.
This biographical sketch of Grand Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, the New Yorker Rebbe, was written by Rabbi Robert dos Santos Teixeira, LMSW, A Seer of Israel, who was privileged to receive semicha from the Rebbe on 28 June 2007 / 12 Tammuz 5767.