Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi and commonly called "Reb Zalman" is considered one of the major founders of the Jewish Renewal movement.
Born in Poland in 1924 and raised in Vienna, he was interned in detention camps under the Vichy French and fled the Nazi advance by coming to the United States in 1941. He was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in 1947 within the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic community while under the leadership of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, and served Chabad congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He subsequently earned an M.A. in psychology of religion at Boston University, and a doctorate from the Reform-run Hebrew Union College.
He was initially sent out to speak on college campuses by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but was expelled from Chabad for praising "the sacramental value of lysergic acid." With subsequent rise of the hippie movement in the 1960s, he moved away from the Chabad lifestyle.
While pursuing a course of study at Boston University (including a class taught by Howard Thurman), he experienced an intellectual and spiritual shift. In 1968, on sabbatical from the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, he joined a group of other Jews in founding a havurah (small cooperative congregation) in Somerville, Massachusetts, called Havurat Shalom. He eventually left the Lubavitch movement altogether, and founded his own organization known as B'nai Or, meaning the "Children of Light" in Hebrew, a title he took from the Dead Sea Scrolls writings. During this period he was known to his followers as the "B'nai Or Rebbe", and the rainbow prayer shawl he designed for his group was known as the "B'nai Or tallit". Both the havurah experiment and B'nai Or came to be seen as the early stirrings of theJewish Renewal movement.
In later years, Shachter-Shalomi held the World Wisdom Chair at The Naropa Institute; he is Professor Emeritus at both Naropa and Temple University. He has also served on the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Omega, the NICABM and many other major institutions. He is founder of the ALEPH Ordination Programs and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.