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Kedumah: An Interview with Zvi Ish-Shalom, PhD

Professor Zvi Ish-Shalom, PhD, provided me with an opportunity to peruse his forthcoming book The Kedumah Experience: The Primordial Torah due to be released by Albion-Andalus Press in October, 2017.  I asked Zvi a few questions about Kedumah to better understand the teaching, practice, and history.
—Michael Kaup, Managing Editor
Kedumah Cover ImageMichael: What is Kedumah? 
Zvi: Kedumah is a Hebrew word that means "primordial" or "ancient." The word is found in ancient Hebrew texts and it points to the mystery at the heart of reality. I have adopted this term as the name for a specific set of teachings and practices that I have been sharing with groups for the past few years and that is outlined in my forthcoming book.
M: What is The Kedumah Institute?
Zvi: The Kedumah Institute is a nonprofit organization established to support the Kedumah teachings and its school of contemplative practice. You can check it out at
M: What kinds of practices do you teach in Kedumah?
Zvi: Our main practice is inquiring into the truth of who and what we are as human beings, and into the truth of reality more broadly. In Kedumah, we learn how to engage this process in an embodied and multi-dimensional manner, one that is both deeply rooted in ancient wisdom and also fully an expression of the current cosmology. Our approach is psychologically, relationally, and somatically informed, and emphasizes authentic and embodied nondual realization, grounded wakefulness in ordinary life and in interpersonal relationships, and practical tools to live our truth in a fully human and integrated way. 
M: I understand from what you write in the preface to the book that these teachings arose from experiences in your twenties. How has your understanding and relationship to these experiences changed over time?  
Zvi: Kedumah is a teaching that is attuned to the emerging reality maps and responsive to the rapidly changing nature of human experience in our time. As I mention in the preface, it is also an expression of my personal journey of spiritual awakening that began with a series of intense mystical experiences in my early twenties. Those early experiences were significant because they connected me to modes of being through which Kedumah is now able to flow. I spent many years integrating those experiences, and in the process they deepened and expanded and opened up portals of inner experience that continue to unfold to this day.
M: How has your time as a professor at Naropa affected Kedumah?
Zvi: Naropa holds an ancient lineage of wisdom that is steeped in direct knowledge of the nonconceptual primordial nature. On the vibrational level, I think that Kedumah is deeply informed by this wisdom stream. Kedumah arose in the context of my teaching at Naropa, in direct response to many of our students who expressed a longing for a spiritual path that makes sense to them given the realities of our time. For many of our students, and for me personally, it doesn't make sense to join an old-school religious institution and get into what can feel like clunky and outdated modes of relating to truth. But we also want something real and authentic, something with depth and substance. Kedumah is one response to this dilemma. 
M: How does this relate to your tradition, that in which you were formally raised and instructed?
Zvi: I draw heavily from the Jewish wisdom stream in my teaching of Kedumah, as it is the tradition I am most familiar with and in which I was immersed when I had my early experiences of spiritual awakening. However, while I use many concepts and principles from Jewish tradition, Kedumah does not affiliate with and has no allegiance to any particular religion or tribe. Thus, while Kedumah is rooted in the same revelatory wisdom that first inspired and animated Judaism, it is not affiliated with Judaism in any formal sense. Maybe one way to understand it is that Kedumah relates to Judaism in a similar way that Shambhala relates to Buddhism.  

M: I understand you are ordained in a long line of Hasidic Rabbis. Has Kedumah been present within the tradition?  Or is this a new or revitalized look at something that has been present, but unemphasized?
Zvi: Yes and yes. Kedumah is always-already present. It is the vast space within which all phenomena arise. Certainly in the Jewish mystical tradition there were some people who were experientially intimate with this nonconceptual truth. At the same time, this kind of realization, and how to embody and integrate it into ordinary life in the context of our time, could not have been addressed by the ancients. They were relating to a different reality map that required different technologies. So you can say that Kedumah is both ancient and radically new at the same time. 

M: How does this relate to what you call in the book "Rabbinic Judaism"? Or to a broader practice of Jewish Mysticism?  Kabbalah?
Zvi: Kedumah uses teachings and principles of Rabbinic Judaism, Jewish Mysticism, and Kabbalah in its approach to spiritual evolution and awakening. However, since Kedumah does not accept the binding nature of Jewish law, the authority of scripture, or hold any allegiance to tribe, it is operating from an altogether different paradigm than is Rabbinic Judaism. One way to understand Kedumah is as a radically new kind of Judaism, one that is universal and post-religious. Another way to understand Kedumah is as something altogether distinct from Judaism. A more accurate understanding is that it is both at the same time. I explore the relationship between Kedumah and Judaism in more depth in the appendix of the forthcoming book, so you can have a look there for more details. Ultimately, Kedumah is not concerned with how it is defined: its only concern is to expand our range of perception and to more fully embody our human potential. 

M: How have others responded to Kedumah who are more institutionally inclined or more formally inclined towards Rabbinic Judaism?
Zvi- I don't think such folks know much about Kedumah, since it has not been shared publicly yet. I'm sure I'll find out in the next few months once the book is released. However, while at first it may sound provocative to a traditional mindset, when understood correctly there is nothing in Kedumah that is at odds with traditional Jewish practice or belief. I think that traditionally observant Jews may find the approach outlined in Kedumah to be helpful since it describes ways to approach traditional practice with more depth and awareness. Likewise, serious practitioners of other traditions have also found Kedumah to be a powerful adjunct and support for their path, since it works to fine-tune the inner sense organs in a way that can enhance any practice. To be sure, also secular folks who identify as "spiritual-but-not-religious" or who are aligned with the emerging post-religion, post-ethnic, non-hierarchical, and non-binary paradigm, may find in Kedumah an approach that resonates with their innermost heart.   
M: Professor Zvi, thank you so much for your answers, and for giving us this introduction to Kedumah. I look forward to The Kedumah Experience: The Primordial Torah's upcoming release, take a look at some advanced praise! 
"This book is a treasure of the most profound Jewish mysticism ... which also, through Zvi Ish-Shalom's expert presentation, makes available for people of our time of all religious traditions."—Father Thomas Keating, founding teacher of the Centering Prayer movement and author of Open Mind, Open Heart.

"Captivating and touching ... readers from all backgrounds will find in this beautiful book a compelling invitation to explore the nature of the their experience."—Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, president of Nalandabodhi, founder of Nītārtha Institute, and author of Rebel Buddha and Emotional Rescue.

“An exciting, inspiring, and ground breaking book. In these pages, Zvi frees the Torah from its social and cultural limitations so that, with him, we my see and appreciate the full measure of its sacred and universal truth. This book is important both for Jews, “practicing” and otherwise, and also for all people who are engaged in the spiritual quest.”—Reginald A. Ray, University Professor, Naropa University and Co-founder of Dharma Ocean Foundation. Author of Secrets of the Vajra World and Touching Enlightenment.

"This book is a lucid journey through the portals of human consciousness via a sparkling synthesis of Kabbalah and other forms of mystical praxis. An innovative, creative, and masterful combination of theory and practice that will inspire both beginner and expert alike."—Shaul Magid, Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies, Indiana University/Bloomington and author of American Post-Judaism