A seminary for people of all religions? That was the idea that inspired Rabbi Joseph Gelberman after a long life of teaching within the Jewish faith. As a person who never seems to retire, he ended up establishing two such seminaries.
Gelberman was born and educated in Hungary, but later came to New York City where he graduated from the City University of New York and Yeshiva University. He worked as a therapist in mental health as well as serving as a rabbi at various synagogues in New York. He became a modern master of the Kabbalah teaching of Jewish mysticism.
In 1981 Rabbi Gelberman joined together with friends from other religions to form The New Seminary for which he became the first President. He was joined by Rev. Jon Mundy, a former Methodist minister and college professor. Father Giles Spoonhour, a Catholic priest engaging in church reformation initiatives and Swami Satchidananda, known as Sri Gurudev, a Yoga master out of the Hindu tradition also participated. The mission of the seminary was “to train interfaith ministers and spiritual counselors to serve the needs of the world community.” One of the basic principles of the seminary was affirming the truth of all faiths and religious paths. The people at the seminary see interfaith interactions as a way of discovering the work of God’s Spirit in the world and participating in the divine healing of the world through spiritual awakening. The grand vision had small beginnings as they first held classes in the basement of a building in Greenwich Village. Since the founding of the seminary 2,000 “interfaith ministers” have graduated, trained to perform interfaith religious services: designing rituals and worship services, teaching and counseling.
In 1998 Rabbi Gelberman stepped down as President of the New Seminary, but he was still eager to continue his teaching. So he took the vision of The New Seminary and internationalized it. He established the All-Faiths Seminary International, based in New York with branches in Canada, Japan, China and Europe. These schools have helped create a new type of religious leader able to work in different religious contexts as well as outside specific houses of worship.