Halachic Information About Nehirim Retreats
Not only are Nehirim retreats transformative, fun, and inspiring; they are also diverse. We have attendees from all walks of life, a wide variety of gender and sexual identities, and a broad range of Jewish observance. We are particularly pleased that we have had Orthodox and halachic Jews join us every year, and we make as serious an effort to include halachic Jews as we do to include non-observant ones; our director and our engagement associate are both shomer shabbat and shomer kashrut, and we know personally the issues that can arise.
This page is intended to provide halachic information for those considering attending Nehirim retreats. If you don’t see your question answered, please ask.
Davening (prayer): On Friday night, all of Nehirim davens together. Kabbalat Shabbat is non-traditional, and may include the use of instruments. We attempt to conclude the Kabbalat Shabbat portion of the service before sundown. Maariv is traditional and is led by a man with no musical accompaniment. On Saturday morning, we usually offer two services: a non-traditional Renewal-style service and a traditional egalitarian shacharit. In the traditional serviceÂÂÂÂ there is mixed seating and full participation by women. The traditional service does a triennial kriyah, and does the full davening including mussaf.
Shabbat Mincha and Maariv include traditional egalitarian options. Sunday morning minyan is community-led, and standards are decided by those who come. Over the years, we have found that this blend best reflects the needs and desires of Nehirim attendees. Naturally, we welcome your feedback.
Currently we do not offer a complete Orthodox service on our retreats. Orthodox participants are welcome to come on retreat and are encouraged to explore comfortable davening options that suit their needs. For example, our retreat sites have ample natural beauty locations for a deep personal prayer experience. In the past retreat participants have created impromptu Orthodox services. The Nehirim community understands and respects their decision to do so. Lastly, Nehirim is organizing a Frum retreat will specifically cater to Orthodox members of the Jewish GLBT community.
GLBT: As a GLBT organization, Nehirim’s “bottom line” is a celebration of the unique gifts of GLBT Jews. Naturally, many of our attendees are struggling with how to reconcile their sexuality with their religious hashkafa. We honor and support those journeys. We are committed to providing a safe space for all our participants, which means that differing paths must be respected and honored without expressions of judgment or criticism. As an organization, we are opposed to efforts to demonize, erase, or deny the existence of sexual and gender diversity. Nehirim is about living a full spiritual and emotional life, embracing of both sexuality and religion.
Shabbat: Not all Nehirim programs are Shabbat-observant, but there is always at least one program option in each time slot that is. Some teachers use instruments, electricity, and writing implements on Shabbat; we ask our teachers to indicate this in advance. Except for Kabbalat Shabbat, which may include a guitar or drums, all of the “all-participant” programs are shomer shabbat; we do not use electricity or amplification at meals, and ask that all participants respect shabbat in public spaces. There is an eruv at Isabella Freedman which is checked every Friday. There is no eruv at other Nehirim sites.
Nehirim also understands that observant Jews might keep Shabbat differently from one another. We ask that you let us know in advance what Shabbat accommodations you might need. We will do our best to work with you so you can feel comfortable with your level of observance on retreat. We also encourage you to bring or ask for anything on retreat that will allow you to relax on retreat. A popular example, ask for tape to tape light switches if you are sharing a bathroom.
Kashrut: Nehirim’s Kashrut policy varies by retreat.
Nehirim East and Nehirim Women’s Retreat: Isabella Freedman has an on-site Orthodox mashgiach, and is regularly rented out by Orthodox organizations. Dairy products are not cholov yisrael. Additional kashrut information may be obtained on the Isabella Freedman website.
Nehirim West and Community Gathering: We offer two options. (1) The host site provides vegetarian meals cooked on non-kosher equipment. (2) We can provide catered, sealed kosher meals upon request.
Please be sure to note your request for hechshered kosher food when you register, as last minute requests cannot be accommodated. You may also wish to bring snacks with you. There is an extra charge for ordering kosher food.
Queer Shabbaton New York: All food is hechshered kosher and not prepared on Shabbat. Please contact the retreat director for more information.
Other Nehirim Shabbatonim and Retreats: Please contact the retreat director or email us.
Other: As part of our commitment to pluralism, we do not ask our attendees to adhere to anything other than the American customs of tzniut, or to any particular mode of religious expression. We are a diverse community; some men wear kippot and others do not. Most (though not all) women dress in ways other than the Orthodox standard. At meals, some people will likely do the full benching after every meal, but the community may only do a single line of chant, or a full benching, or an abbreviated benching; we try to include all options. We do a halachic kiddush together, but also respect people’s desires to do their own if they wish.
Concluding Remarks: In general, Nehirim may be the most religiously diverse spiritual gathering in the Jewish world. United as members of sexual or gender minorities, we embrace a very broad range of religious and social identities. We have had orthodox participants at every one of our retreats, and most of our staff continues to integrate observance of Yiddishkeit into their lives; we know the issues! If you are halachically observant, we hope this page has been useful to you, and hope you will join our diverse community.