The gospel according to Shlomo Kalo

Shlomo Kalo’s book Behold, He is Coming (1996) concludes with the words: “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’—until the day our sons shall return to their own borders, until the day when those who banished God will return to him joyfully and with a loving heart. Behold, he is coming.”

A spiritual teacher who influenced many Israelis, Kalo passed away last Saturday. Born in 1928 in Sofia, Bulgaria, Kalo survived the Nazi forced labor camp of Somovit and came to Israel in 1949. His staunch refusal to appear in the public arena made him an enigmatic figure who is still misunderstood even by those who follow him.

Although he was a Jew, Kalo’s unique spiritual path was influenced by Buddhism and a touch of Sufism. The New Testament also appears to have strongly underlined his entire worldview, however. His teaching of self-denial—almost to the point of asceticism—was based first and foremost on the New Testament. Thus, for example, he understood Jesus’ call “to give up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name” (Mt. 19:29) a demand that his followers break free from the chains attaching them to this world. Those unwilling to do so are not worthy of freedom, love, or everlasting life.

Time and again, Kalo refers to Jesus as the incarnation of God who is love. He was also not afraid of saying that the Jewish people have been left without a shepherd to protect them because they rejected Jesus—this act exposing them to persecution, suffering, and exile amongst the nations.

Asaf Inbari, author of New Age: The Fall of the Secular State (1999), counted Kalo amongst those responsible for transforming the spiritual face of Israel. In 1979, Kalo formed a group of followers named Daat (Hebrew acronym for “know yourself always”). The group’s symbol—“Y” (composed of “V” and “I”)—signified their motto of “Victory over the ego.” To liberate themselves from bondage to the ego and selfish desires, writes Inbari, they practiced sitting in silence, abstained from sex, and constantly intoned: “Absolute purity.”

Although not religious, Kalo sought to live in accordance with Jesus’ teaching as the way to achieve salvation. From Jesus’ short prayer at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39), for example, he learned that entry into the kingdom of God demands submitting oneself to God and abandoning all arrogance and pride. Only acceptance of these conditions grants one the privilege of being chosen. While writing some 80 books and personifying his teaching in his life, Kalo’s explicit call for the Jewish people to embrace the divine Jesus failed to create a meaningful movement.

About the Author
Ph.D. in Jewish history. Born in kibbutz; author of the book Flesh of our Flesh: Jesus of Nazareth in Zionist Thought (Carmel, 2008). Freelance writer for the monthly magazine Israel Today.