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Friday, January 16, 1998 | return to: national


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Jewish Science groups explore karma, reincarnation

by SARAH HOROWITZ, Bulletin Correspondent

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When he was a rabbinical student at New York's Tiffereth Israel in 1978, Roller came across a "flavor" of Judaism that astounded him: Jewish Science.

Founded in 1922 by Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein and with a name echoing that of Christian Science, Jewish Science is a movement that emphasizes a personal connection with God, using affirmations and meditation as well as the mind's power to heal the body. Jewish Science's view of the mind-body connection parallels that of modern psychologists like Alfred Adler.

Lichtenstein launched the movement in New York when he became concerned that a startling number of disaffected Jews were turning to Christian Science.

A Jewish Science service might include an affirmation like this one: "God's consciousness in me expresses itself in health, in calmness, in peace, in power and in happiness."

Roller, a Livermore resident, says Jews are often shocked to find out that these are Jewish sentiments.

"People say, `That's Jewish?'" he says.

Rather than the paternal God-figure traditionally encountered in Hebrew school, "Jewish Science views God as an energy or force penetrating the reality of the universe," Roller says. "God is the source of all reality, and not separate from but a real part of our world."

While Jewish Science shares some qualities in common with the Jewish Renewal movement, Roller feels a key difference is that Jewish Science doesn't model itself on the Chassidic movement.

"What we need here is an answer from within, from here in America."

In the United States there are currently eight Jewish Science groups, though none has had rabbinic leadership since Lichtenstein died in 1938. Roller and about a dozen others are creating a ninth Jewish Science fellowship in the Bay Area. The initial meeting place will be a Dublin office complex. Once the group is under way, meetings will be held in members' homes.

"The service will basically follow a similar outline to a regular service but with a lot more kavanah [good intent]: not necessarily dancing, but inner peace," Roller says, adding that he hopes the service will leave participants with a sense of "This is where I am. This is who I am."

As a teenager in Brooklyn, Roller rebelled against his Orthodox upbringing by studying Zen Buddhism. He returned to Judaism as an adult, was ordained in the Orthodox tradition and now believes that his role is helping others find joy in Judaism.

"Judaism is an ongoing river. We're not just a religion, not just a culture. We began as a tribe. And within a tribe there are different ways of doing things."

He is amazed by the enthusiastic response he gets when talking to unaffiliated Jews about Jewish Science.

"There was this spiritual hunger."

Many Jews don't realize that concepts like karma and reincarnation exist within Judaism, he says.

"They say, `I never heard about that in Sunday school.' You don't teach an elementary-schooler calculus," Roller says, alluding to the fact that Jewish education usually ends when a student is 12 or 13 -- too young to have much exposure to some of the concepts Jewish Science addresses.

"There are many roads to God. Judaism happens to have been down most of them."

Jewish Science's emphasis on the mind's healing power could be powerful in this post-Holocaust era, Roller says. "We need to get out of mourning."

He admits he doesn't have a spiritual map. "But maybe we can hold hands in the forest."

A local Jewish Science group is being launched. Information: (800) 440-7046.


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