Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: The Jewish Comics Anthology - Steven Bergson, Andy Stanleigh

Dan and Lex are joined by Steven Bergson and Andy Stanleigh, Editor and Publisher, respectively, of The Jewish Comics Anthology, Volume 1They are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for SCI: The Jewish Comics Anthology, Volume 2. We discuss the project, the intersection of Judaism, Hebrew culture, comics, and science fiction, and Steve and Andy provide a sneak preview of what will be included in this upcoming collection of Jewish sci-fi comics. To support their Kickstarter campaign and help take this book from idea to reality, click here!

If you would like to download this file as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Click the image above to visit the Kickstarter page for The Jewish Comics Anthology: Volume 2. And scroll through all the resources below if you're interested in immersing yourself further in the world of Jewish comics and Jewish Sci-fi!

[1] Order Volume 1 of the Jewish Comics Anthology by clicking the image below!

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

[2] Check out some of the beautiful images that will be featured as part of the yet-to-be-released Volume 2!

Image 1: Jake Allen, Frank Reynoso, Image 2: Adam Gorham, Image 3Weshoyot Alvitre Image 4: Shane Kirshenblatt

[3] Take a look at some of the Jewish graphic novels and science fiction works that were discussed in this episode by clicking the images below.


[4] Check out more Jewish Sci-fi by exploring these books!

[5] To learn about the historic relationship between Jews and comic books, check out either of these works.

[6] For another Judaism Unbound episode featuring guests who utilized Kickstarter on a project designed to contribute the Jewish world, see Episode 23: Hello Mazel - Noa Kushner, Yoav Schlesinger.


Judaism Unbound Episode 92: Reinventing Synagogue - Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, Blair Albom

Dan and Lex are joined by three guests, Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, and Blair Albom, [1] who have helped to shape Tribe, a Jewish organization co-founded by a partnership of two Reform synagogues that is devoted to meaning-making and community-building in New York City, serving (and led by) Millennials. [2] Matthew Gewirtz is Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ, and Ben Spratt is Associate Rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan; this episode is part of our series exploring Reform Judaism.

If you would like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: NyTribe.com

Image Credit: NyTribe.com

(0:01 - 15:09): To begin the episode, Blair Albom, a founding board member, provides an outline of what Tribe is and what its programming looks like. Ben Spratt tells the story of how Tribe came to be, and Matt Gewirtz analyzes the broader context of American Judaism (and societal changes in America more broadly) that demonstrated the need for his congregation to co-create the organization that would become Tribe. [3]

(15:10 - 34:13): Gewirtz explains why the end-goal of Tribe is not for attendees of its events to join his synagogue, but rather for them to connect to Judaism more broadly. The conversation then turns to the name "Tribe," as the guests and co-hosts explore what the term connotes for Jews today, along with the related concept of tribalism. [4] In doing so, they explore the ways that identity manifests differently today from how it has in past generations. [5] Shifting gears, Gewirtz considers the challenging relationship between religion and money.

(34:14 - 50:01): Albom outlines why there are elements of synagogue services that may feel less compelling today than they did for Jews in the past, along with the ways in which newly-considered forms of Jewish ritual (including via cell phone apps!) may prove more meaningful. Spratt explores how the synagogue might transform, and how the rabbinic role might transform, such that Jewish life would place greater value on experience, where members (or non-members) feel "needed, necessary, and seen." [6] To close the episode, all three guests reflect on our contemporary moment and provide their thoughts on the ways in which Jewish institutions should respond to it.

Tribe Gewirtz Spratt Albom Facebook.png

[1] Access bios for each of our three guests at these links: Matthew Gewirtz    Ben Spratt    Blair Albom

[2] Learn more about Tribe by visiting its website.

[3] Gewirtz invokes a variety of themes discussed by Irwin Kula on his Judaism Unbound appearance. Listen to his two-part episode by clicking the following links: Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula     Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula

[4] Lex compares and contrasts the name "Tribe" with a Jewish organization in Providence that has a similar name -- "Thrive." Check out Thrive's website by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Longest.png

[5] Gewirtz mentions the problematic nature of the statement "You don't look Jewish." For more on this, see Episode 33: JewAsian.

[6] Spratt discusses Apple's strategic choice to focus their brick-and-mortar stores on building an experience for their customers as an example for Jewish organizations to follow. Learn more about this by checking out this RetailDive article on that decision.


Judaism Unbound Episode 91: Is This The Fast That I Have Chosen? - Jonah Pesner

Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about social justice, Judaism, and the many ways that the two intertwine. They discuss the RAC's origins during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, its evolution, and the work it does today to bring about a world built on justice and equality. [1]

If you would like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

(0:01 - 19:29): To begin the episode, Rabbi Jonah Pesner tells the story of the origin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, [2] along with its important role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He also discusses how the organization grew and evolved over the following decades, during the tenure of Rabbi David Saperstein as the RAC's director, [3] emphasizing initiatives such as the Eisendrath Legislative Assistants program, the Machon Kaplan summer internships, and the L'Taken Seminars for high school students. [4] Pesner then looks back on his own childhood and how it formed his commitment to political activism, Judaism, and the ways they overlap.

(19:30 - 41:47): Pesner explores elements of the RAC's work that take place through the Reform Movement's network of synagogues, as well as elements that are organized outside of the realm of synagogue life. He and the co-hosts also consider the dangers that arise when social justice is understood as a means towards Jewish engagement, and not, instead, as a form of Jewish practice in and of itself. Next, he looks specifically at the issues that the RAC is currently working on, ranging from mass incarceration, to transgender rights, to economic inequality, to Islamophobia. [5]

(41:48 - 56:58): The conversation turns to particular texts from Jewish tradition that can serve as ancient anchors for contemporary justice work. Pesner cites the idea that "We were slaves in Egypt," which helps Jews understand why it is important to stand with refugees, along with chapter 58 of Isaiah, where the title quote of this episode can be found. [6] To close, the co-hosts and Pesner complicate matters a bit by examining situations, past and present, in which Jews have not always been on the side of justice and equality. [7]

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

[1] Check out Jonah Pesner's full bio by clicking here. Read a recent piece he wrote, on responding to the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, by clicking here.

[2] Learn more about the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at their website, www.rac.org.

[3] The bio of David Saperstein, Pesner's predecessor at the RAC, can be found here.

[4] Learn more about all three of these programs, along with a number of others offered by the RAC, by clicking here.

[5] Learn more about the Reflect, Relate, Reform initiative through this 2016 URJ.org blog post by Joy Friedman.

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three activists killed during Mississippi Freedom Summer Image Credit: Jewish Week

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three activists killed during Mississippi Freedom Summer Image Credit: Jewish Week

[6] Hear Dan and Lex's take on Isaiah 58, the Haftarah Reading for Yom Kippur's morning service, by listening to Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound - Morning Haftarah Reading.

[7] One historical event that reflects division among American Jews was 1964's Mississippi Freedom Summer. A disproportionately high number of Jews participated in that fight for civil rights, but many rabbis and Jewish communities in the South stood firmly against their movement. Learn more about that important moment, along with Jewish responses to it, by reading the books featured at this link.

Judaism Unbound Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin

April Baskin, Vice President of Audacious Hospitality for the Union for Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for an in-depth look at ideas of welcoming, empowerment, inclusion, and hospitality in contemporary Judaism. [1] We discuss how the Reform movement is working to create communities that better reflect the full diversity of the Jewish people, and the ways in which historically marginalized Jews, in particular, have so much to add Judaism, now and in the future.

If you'd like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: New York Jewish Week

Image Credit: New York Jewish Week

(0:01 - 18:14): To begin the episode, Baskin explains what it takes for congregations to become "audaciously hospitable." [2] First, she identifies the gap between congregations' perceptions of how welcoming they are and the experiences of those who feel unwelcome in the same spaces. She discusses three primary contexts for audacious hospitality work: "threshold moments" when individuals experience a particular community for the first time; outreach that occurs outside of the walls of a community (sometimes online); and efforts to make congregational policies more inclusive. [3]

(18:15 - 40:27): Baskin explores the different ways that hospitality work manifests with respect to two different groups: those who have historically been denied access and equal status in Jewish communities, and those who, while never denied access, feel uncomfortable in many Jewish spaces for other reasons. She also outlines six principles of audacious hospitality that the Union for Reform Judaism utilizes. [4] She then takes a look in particular at the ways in which issues of class can prove particularly challenging (or "spicy!") for congregations working to become more inclusive. 

(40:28 - 58:21): Baskin describes the beauty of her experience sharing a space with other Jews of Color, despite the fact that for some it may have felt exclusive. [5] She thinks more broadly about the value of affinity groups -- spaces specifically for some Jews but not all -- and argues that there may be room to deepen our investment in creating those environments. She then looks at the issue of intermarriage, along with the ways that the URJ's JewV'Nation Fellowship has worked on issues affecting interfaith families. [6] To close, she calls for a Jewish renaissance through the incorporation of all of the Jews into Jewish life who have, for more generations, been left unwelcome and unempowered.

[1] Access a full bio of April Baskin by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, which she serves as Vice President of Audacious Hospitality, by clicking here.

[2] Explore the section of the URJ website devoted to Audacious Hospitality by clicking here.

[3] Watch a panel on audacious hospitality, featuring Baskin, alongside actor Michael Douglas, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times, and restaurateur Danny Meyer, by clicking the video on the left.

[4] Access the full Audacious Hospitality toolkit, created by the URJ, by clicking here.

[5] Baskin speaks in particular about how empowered she felt when she learned about the work and leadership of Yavilah McCoy. Learn more about McCoy by clicking here.

[6] If you'd like to explore topics related to intermarriage in more depth, listen to Judaism Unbound's three-part series, entitled Intermarriage: The New Normal. Access any of the episodes that were part of that series by clicking the following links: Episode 15: Men, Women, and Intermarriage - Keren McGinityEpisode 16: Intermarriage and the Future - Paul GolinEpisode 17: Intermarriage - A Fact of 21st Century Judaism. You can also listen to Episode 73: Being Both - Susan Katz Miller, which was not part of that series but touches on a variety of important and related topics.

Judaism Unbound Episode 89: Reform Judaism Today and Tomorrow - Rick Jacobs

Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about what the Reform Movement looks like today and how its leadership is thinking about its future. The discussion explores the role of congregations in Jewish life, opportunities for growth and innovation in the Reform Movement, the principle of "audacious hospitality," and the changes that are on the horizon as we enter an age of digital technologies. [1]

If you'd like to download this episode, click here

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

(0:01 - 20:12): To begin the episode, Rabbi Rick Jacobs identifies the transitional moment in which not only Reform Judaism, but religion more generally, finds itself today. He then expresses the Reform Movement's commitment to both congregational life [2] and other forms of Judaism outside of synagogues. [3] Jacobs emphasizes the ongoing need for innovation in Judaism, both within synagogues and beyond their walls.

(20:13 - 41:42): Jacobs applies the lens of sustaining and disruptive innovation to Reform Judaism. In particular, he identifies how the ways that congregational leaders think can be conducive to Jewish innovation or present barriers. [4] He takes a look at the shifting role of Jewish denominations, questioning whether "denomination" is the best word to describe the movement he leads. Jacobs talks about the 23 congregations that have newly affiliated with the Reform movement, a phenomenon that can be overlooked in communal conversations about the shrinking, merging, or closing of congregations. 

(41:43 - 1:05:29): One of the defining phrases of Jacobs's tenure as President of the Union for Reform Judaism has been "audacious hospitality." Jacobs introduces this phrase and explains why it is crucial to contemporary Jewish life. [5] He also explores shifts that are occurring within Reform Judaism (and Judaism more broadly) due to the increased capabilities of digital technology. [6] To close the episode, Jacobs provides his insights on the central role of social justice to Judaism, reflecting on what that means for the intersection of Judaism and politics. [7]

[1] To access Rick Jacobs's full bio, click here. Visit the website of The Union for Reform Judaism by clicking here.

[2] Jacobs reflects on his organization's change in name from Union of American Hebrew Congregations to The Union for Reform Judaism. For more on the founding of the UAHC, and its evolution into the URJ, listen to Episode 87: Reforming Judaism and Episode 88: Reform or Revolution? which both feature Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

[3] In particular, Jacobs highlights Reform summer camps as an important development within the movement and beyond the scope of congregational life. Learn more about the founding and growth of the URJ's summer camps by reading A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish CampingAnd for some information on innovations in the Reform Jewish camping world, start here.

On the Other Hand Podcast.jpg

[4] Jacobs identifies the Riverway Project of Temple Israel of Boston as an example of innovative thinking that reconceptualizes past models of membership and belonging. Learn more about it by clicking here.

[5] Toward the beginning of this part of the conversation, Jacobs lifts up the legacy of Alexander Schindler, a predecessor of his as President of the URJ. To learn more about him, and the work he did to move the URJ toward increased acceptance of interfaith families, we recommend "A Patrilineal Jew Mourns a Great Rabbi," an article written by Susan Katz Miller, a past guest on Judaism Unbound. 

[6] Podcasts are, of course, part of the story of these new digital forms of Judaism. You can listen (and subscribe) to Jacobs's podcast, entitled On the Other Hand, by clicking here.

[7] For a piece by Jacobs that examines how one can imbue Jewish ritual with a commitment to social justice, see "How to Talk Politics at your Family Seder Without Killing Each Other." 

Judaism Unbound Episode 88: Reform or Revolution? - Daniel Freelander II

Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for the second segment in a two-part conversation about the history of Reform Judaism. [1] In today's episode, Freelander walks us through Reform Judaism's journey from the mid-20th century to the present, and we discuss where Reform, and Judaism in general, may be headed in the future.

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud. 
Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

(0:01 - 15:13): Daniel Freelander begins the episode by discussing the important developments in American Reform Judaism in the 1930s and 40s. [2] Among these shifts were an increased emphasis on Hebrew, increased participation and leadership by women, and the movement of many communities from urban centers to suburban areas. [3] The Reform movement's shifts helped it to double in size from around 300 congregations in the early 1930s to 600 in the early 1960s. In the 1970s and 80s, Reform ordained its first female rabbis, embraced patrilineal descent, and began to move towards greater acceptance of Gay and Lesbian Jews. Over the course of the 20th century, the Reform movement also shifts drastically from opposition to Zionism as the norm at the turn of the 20th century to an embrace of Zionism as predominant by the late 20th century.

Sally Priesand, the first female rabbi ordained in the United States.  Image Credit: Erte Studio, Maspeth, New York.

Sally Priesand, the first female rabbi ordained in the United States.  Image Credit: Erte Studio, Maspeth, New York.

(15:14 - 31:43): The conversation shifts to a focus on Judaism today. In particular, Freedlander gives his take on the conversation thread this podcast has confronted a number of times, regarding the capacity of Jewish institutions to change. In particular, he explores the extent to which existing institutions can catalyze large-scale change from the top-down, or whether new institutions (or non-institutions) may be best situated to do so from the bottom-up. [4] He addresses the different roles that rabbis, others working professionally in Jewish life, and lay-leaders can each play in creating the changes that are needed. He and the co-hosts then take a look at the role that music has played (and can continue to play) in instigating or accelerating cultural or religious shifts. [5] In particular, Freelander asserts that Reform Jews have largely moved from a musical aesthetic geared towards instilling awe to one centered on creating intimacy and community.

(31:44 - 46:08): Freelander speaks to the various ways in which Reconstructionist Judaism and Jewish Renewal have influenced Reform. He also explores the advantages and disadvantages of such a wide variety of institutional infrastructures existing independently from one another, as opposed to consolidating them into fewer, arguably stronger, institutions. To close the episode, Freelander advocates for a few ideas and practices of our Jewish past that may be worth reviving or amplifying today. [6]

[1] Access Daniel Freelander's bio by clicking here and learn more about the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which he serves as President, by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism, by visiting their website.

[2] The writing of the Columbus Platform in 1937, cited by Freelander, marks a few key ideological transitions in Reform Judaism. Read the full text of it by clicking here. For two other platforms published by Reform rabbis of later eras, see "Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective," published in San Francisco in 1976, and "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism," published in Pittsburgh in 1999.

[3] For a deep look at Jewish suburbanization in the mid-20th century, see Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, written by Lila Corwin Berman and published in 2015.

[4] For past Judaism Unbound conversations on institutional change in American Judaism, we recommend the following episodes: Episode 1: GenesisEpisode 4: Exodus IIEpisode 21: jOS 4.0 - A New Jewish Operating System?Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin KulaEpisode 77: Folk Judaism, and Episode 86: We're the Jews We've Been Waiting For.

[5] Freelander is an accomplished musician who has written and co-written many well-known Jewish melodies. For video of his melody for "Lo Alecha," co-written with Cantor Jeff Klepper, click the video above on the left. For video of Broadway stars Ben Platt (winner of a Tony Award) and Cassie Levy singing Freelander's melody for "Shalom Rav," see the video directly to the left.

[6] One of the ideas proposed by Classical Reformers that Freelander would like to revive is their emphasis on Jewish education for adults. For a recent article sharing this view from a perspective outside of the Reform movement, see Shmuly Yanklowitz's article, entitled "Adult Learning is the Number One Priority for the Jewish Future," and featured in eJewish Philanthropy.

Judaism Unbound Episode 87: Reforming Judaism - Daniel Freelander

Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for the first of a two-part conversation about the history of Reform Judaism. [1] In today's episode, Freelander tells the story of the first 100 years of Reform Jewish history, beginning in Germany and continuing into the first few generations of Reform in the United States. [2]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

(0:01 - 14:57): To begin the episode, Rabbi Daniel Freelander discusses the earliest post-Enlightenment reforms of Judaism that occurred in Germany, highlighting Israel Jacobson as a key figure in initiating those reforms. [3] Freelander lays out an important frame for the remainder of his overview of Reform Jewish history -- the three major eras of Reform Judaism, which he terms Moderate Reform, Classical/Radical Reform, and New Reform. He also outlines the earliest manifestations of Reform Judaism in the United States in the mid-19th Century.

(14:58 - 32:33): Freelander emphasizes the lack of centralized bodies in the early years of Reform Judaism, which resulted, he explains, in the first era of Moderate Reform being largely defined by lay leaders, not rabbis. Freelander presents two key figures, Isaac Mayer Wise and David Einhorn, whose different philosophies exemplified some of the ideological debates of the time, and he engages with the deep shifts to American Judaism that came about due to the massive immigration wave of East European Jews beginning in the 1880s. He then tells the story of the founding of Hebrew Union College, the first American rabbinical seminary, along with the infamous "Trefa Banquet" [non-kosher banquet] that occurred at its first ordination. [4] Freelander also analyzes forms of Jewish life in this period that manifested outside of synagogues, often in homes. 

The original edifice of the Hamburg Temple. Image Credit: Uni-hamburg.de

The original edifice of the Hamburg Temple. Image Credit: Uni-hamburg.de

Image Credit: The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

Image Credit: The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

(32:34 - 49:15): Freelander talks about the growing influence of rationalism and how it led to liturgical, calendrical, ritual, and other changes in Reform Jewish communities. He explains that Americans, unlike many others in the world, draw a hard distinction between nationality and religion, emphasizing how this was one reason that Reform rejected the conception of Jewish peoplehood at the time, in favor of the idea that Judaism was a religion. [5] To close this first section of the two-part episode, Freelander analyzes why the newly formed Conservative movement spoke deeply to Eastern-European immigrants in ways that Reform Judaism, at the time, did not.

[1] Access Daniel Freelander's bio by clicking here and learn more about the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which he serves as President, by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism, by visiting their website.

[2] To learn more about the history of Reform Judaism, we recommend Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, by Michael A. Meyer, and American Judaism: A HIstory, by Jonathan Sarna, whose guest appearance on Episode 11 of Judaism Unbound can be accessed by clicking hereAmerican Judaism: A History is also available as an audiobook at this link.

[3] Learn more about Israel Jacobson through his entry in the New World Encyclopedia. Learn more about the early years of the Israelite Temple, located in Hamburg and cited by Freelander as the first Reform congregation, by clicking here.

[4] For more on the "Trefa Banquet," we recommend "The Trefa Banquet and the End of a Dream," written by Michael Feldberg for MyJewishLearning.com.

[5] For a landmark text that declared Reform Judaism's rejection of Jewish nationhood, along with a number of other philosophical reforms, see the text of The Pittsburgh Platform, crafted in 1885 (though never officially adopted, it would prove to be particularly influential).


Judaism Unbound Episode 86: We're the Jews We've Been Waiting For

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker once published a book entitled We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For. In this conversation, Dan and Lex suggest a similar idea -- that we are the Jews we've been waiting for! They ask how we can create a Jewish world that is led not by a small set of elites, but by everyday folks.

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

(0:01 - 15:02): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex give a behind-the-scenes look into their decision-making process surrounding whether or not to release podcast episodes on Jewish holidays if those holidays fall on Fridays, when Judaism Unbound is usually released. [1] They also take a moment to reflect on recent protests by professional football players, who have been "taking a knee" during the national anthem to call attention to racial injustices that persist in the United States. [2] Dan and Lex explore parallels between the discourse about these protests and debates within Jewish communities around the extent to which Jewish institutions should weigh in on political issues. [3] [4]

(15:03 - 31:09): Dan and Lex reflect on their recent conversations concerning "elite Judaism" and "folk Judaism." They look back at observations made by Riv-Ellen Prell and Isa Aron [5] on this subject and consider the categories in more depth. They also ask how Jewish communities could help to create a culture of increased creativity, along with whether creating a "Jewish Catalog 2.0" and "Havurah Movement 2.0" might be valuable. 

Image Credit: AP/Mike McCarn

Image Credit: AP/Mike McCarn

(31:10 - 42:00): The conversation turns to B-Mitzvah. [6] Dan and Lex each articulate a desire for more expansive thinking about what B-Mitzvahs are, where they take place, at what age they occur, and more. To close the episode, they encourage listeners to think about how they could bring that expansive thinking to other Jewish rituals, considering what might be missing from the Jewish landscape.

[1] Judaism Unbound is now available for listening on Alexa, through TuneIn. Access our TuneIn page by clicking here. When speaking to Alexa, we suggest pronouncing it "Judah-ism," not "Judy-ism," for better comprehension.

[2] For an article by one of the athletes who participated in the NFL protest in its earliest stages (and has continued to since then), read "Why Colin Kaepernick and I Decided to Take a Knee," by Eric Reid, who plays Strong Safety for the San Francisco 49ers.

Image Credit: Riv-Ellen Prell

Image Credit: Riv-Ellen Prell

[3] For a detailed conversation on the ways in which politics and Judaism overlap, listen to Episode 75: The Myth of Apolitical Judaism, featuring Lila Corwin Berman. This subject received press attention recently when Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood criticized Donald Trump and made politics part of his Yom Kippur sermon. See press coverage here, read the sermon here, and watch it here

[4] Dan mentions Shai Held, a past guest on the podcast. Hear more from him by listening to Episode 49: The Prophetic Voice.

[5] Hear more from Riv-Ellen Prell by checking out Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then and NowHear more from Isa Aron by listening to Episode 85: B-Mitzvah Revolutions.

[6] B-Mitzvah is a gender-neutral term to describe Jewish coming-of-age ceremonies, largely held when individuals are 12 or 13 years old. It has gained popularity because it is a helpful term to use for individuals who do not identify with a binary gender.

Judaism Unbound BREAKING NEWS: Yom Kippur...In a Beer Garden? - Aaron Potek

Image Credit: Jessica Torch

Image Credit: Jessica Torch

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Aaron Potek, Community Rabbi for GatherDC, joins Dan to talk about a Yom Kippur event he recently co-organized. Garnering national news coverage in the Washington Post, The Forward, and Religion News Service largely due to its location in a beer garden, Potek outlines the thought process that went into this event, what it consisted of, and some of his thoughts about contemporary Judaism more broadly.

Read more about the event by checking out these articles that covered it:

Washington Post"An Orthodox rabbi and an Obama speechwriter walk into a bar -- on Yom Kippur"

JTA News: "Spending Yom Kippur in a beer garden"

Religion News Service: "Orthodox rabbi to host ‘alternative Yom Kippur’ service in beer garden" 

Judaism Unbound Episode 85: B-Mitzvah Revolutions - Isa Aron

Isa Aron, Professor of Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, joins Dan and Lex to re-think a ritual that has become one of the central moments of the Jewish life cycle -- the B Mitzvah. Aron explores why Bar Mitzvahs (and later, Bat Mitzvahs) became such a core part of the American Jewish experience, and we discuss ways in which we may re-vision them for the future. [1]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Image Credit: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Image Credit: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

(0:01 - 15:47): To begin the episode, Aron provides a historical overview of the B-Mitzvah. In particular, she emphasizes its evolution from a small occasion marking a particular moment in Jewish law to a life-cycle event at the core of many institutions' models of Jewish education. In this overview, she emphasizes Judaism Unbound's ongoing theme of Folk and Elite Judaism, through the work of Stuart Schoenfeld, [2] who pioneered the application of those ideas to the B-Mitzvah experience in America. She also distinguishes between "elites" as understood in a broader societal context and "elites" within Judaism in particular. [3]

(15:48 - 27:40): Aron deepens the conversation about Folk and Elite Judaism through the example of Kol Nidrei (a prominent prayer that is part of the liturgy for Yom Kippur). [4] She also discusses the ways in which folk rituals in one era can become elite rituals, controlled by Jewish authorities, in another. Moving back to the context of B-Mitzvah, she outlines all of the components that were added to B-Mitzvah in the 20th century, causing the ritual to become overloaded with content.

(27:41 - 43:54): Aron calls on synagogues to think seriously about how to revolutionize their B-Mitzvah rituals, highlighting a few that have already started to do so. [5] She also considers some of the reasons that large-scale shifts to the B-Mitzvah may not immediately gain a large following. To close the episode, Aron and the co-hosts think about other areas of Jewish life beyond B-Mitzvah that would benefit from revolutionary thinking. [6] [7]

Image Credit: The Ultimate Guide to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs -- For the full text of this article, visit bit.ly/2wYpy9N

Image Credit: The Ultimate Guide to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs -- For the full text of this article, visit bit.ly/2wYpy9N

[1] For Isa Aron's bio, click here. For an assortment of Aron's published works available for purchase on Amazon, click here.

[2] Read Aron's review of Schoenfeld's essay (entitled "Folk Judaism, Elite Judaism, and the Role of Bar Mitzvah in the Development of the Synagogue and Jewish School in America"), by clicking here.

[3] Aron references two works that have influenced her work. To purchase them, click the following links: Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life, by Charles Liebman, and The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, by Jenna Weissman Joselit. 

[4] For an in-depth exploration of Kol Nidrei, see "The Curious Case of Kol Nidre," published in 1968 in Commentary Magazine.

[5] Learn more about the B-Mitzvah program offered by B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, which Aron cites, by clicking here.

[6] For more conversation regarding the invention and re-invention of Jewish ritual, listen to Episode 5: Leviticus - Vanessa Ochs.

[7] Aron references Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point towards the episode's conclusion. You can order it on Amazon by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound


Dan and Lex give their thoughts on the Biblical readings associated with the holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). They provide historical context and bring their own contemporary twist to their interpretations!

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Judaism Unbound Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then and Now - Riv-Ellen Prell

Dan and Lex are joined by Anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell, author of Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism. Prell outlines the evolution, impact, and legacy of an important work called The Jewish Catalog, which was patterned after The Whole Earth Catalog and designed as a "Do-It-Yourself Kit" for living a Jewish life. She also discusses the broader political and social context within which it was published, comparing and contrasting the era of the late 60s and early 70s with the times in which we live today. [1]

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Image Credit: Riv-Ellen Prell

Image Credit: Riv-Ellen Prell

(0:01 - 18:51: In response to a question from Dan as to whether the project of Judaism Unbound resembles the projects of The Jewish Catalog and the havurah movement, [2] Prell provides an overview of the American context of the late 60s and early 70s, emphasizing the Baby Boomer generation that came of age during those years. She outlines some of the key characteristics and principles that came to define the activist work that occurred in this era and looks at some of the ways that Jews built communities based on those principles and on elements of the Judaism that they inherited (and hoped to re-invent). In the context of this background, Prell discusses the goals of the havurah movement and The Jewish Catalog for innovation in American-Jewish life. [3] In particular, she emphasizes the the aesthetics of The Jewish Catalog, giving her insights on what they reflected about its authors and the context in which they wrote. [4]

(18:52 - 30:32): Prell explores the extent to which The Jewish Catalog represented a radical form of transformation along with the ways that, while innovative, it did not seek to drastically re-invent Judaism itself. She asks whether the concept of "tradition" can, itself, be a radical one. She also comments on the central role that dynamics of authority play in all of these conversations, highlighting the term invoked in this podcast -- "unbound" -- asking, if there is an authority (God or otherwise) that Jews are bound to, or if, alternatively, Jews in 2017 are truly unbound. 

Image Credit: RareBookCellar.com

Image Credit: RareBookCellar.com

(30:33 - 53:35): In past episodes, guests (along with Dan and Lex) have reflected on the twin ideas of "folk Judaism" and "elite Judaism." [5] Prell explores and questions that duality, bringing expertise from her field of anthropology to that ongoing theme of the podcast. She also contrasts the era of the 60s and 70s with the context of our world in the 21st century. [6] To close the episode, Prell returns to the topic of the havurah, reflecting on its relationship to longstanding quest of American Jews to balance Jewishness and American-ness.

[1] For Riv-Ellen Prell's bio, click here. Order a copy of her book Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism by clicking here

[2] Learn more about The Jewish Catalog by reading this 2017 article, authored by Mark Oppenheimer and featured in Tablet, that reflects on its legacy, entitled "DIY Judaism."

[3] Prell explains that The Jewish Catalog's title, aesthetics, and framework were deeply influenced by The Whole Earth Catalog, and that it also drew from Our Bodies, Our Selves. Learn more about those influential works by clicking here (Whole Earth Catalog) and here (Our Bodies, Ourselves).

Judaism Unbound Long.jpg

[4] To read Marshall Sklare's critique of The Jewish Catalog, published in Commentary Magazine, click here. To read a wide variety of reader responses to it, including one from Rabbi Yitz (Irving) Greenberg, click here.

[5] For further discussion of the ideas of Folk and Elite Judaism, listen to Episode 77: Folk Judaism.

[6] Prell invokes recent debates about whether Gal Gadot, the star of Wonder Woman, is white, in comparing and contrasting the era of the 60s and 70s with our context in 2017. For an insightful article on this topic, we recommend "What Jews of Color Hear When You Say Gal Gadot Isn't White," written by Mark Tseng-Putterman and Rebecca Pierce and featured in The Forward.

Judaism Unbound Episode 83: The Exodus - Richard Elliott Friedman

Richard Elliott Friedman, scholar of the Hebrew Bible and author of the best-selling work Who Wrote the Bible?, joins Dan and Lex to discuss his newest book, The Exodus. [1] He argues that the story of the Exodus outlined in the Torah represents a real historical event, experienced not by the whole Israelite nation writ large, but by a particular segment of it -- the Levites. 

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Image Credit: Qualcomm Institute, UC-San Diego

Image Credit: Qualcomm Institute, UC-San Diego

(0:01 - 17:33): To begin the episode, Friedman [2] summarizes the two-fold argument that he makes in The Exodus. [3] His first point is that the Exodus from Egypt described in the Torah was a real historical event (though the number of people involved were much smaller than described). His second is that the Levites were the ones who made that Exodus -- not the entirety of the Israelite nation. In his summary, he discusses linguistic, archaeological, [4] and genetic [5] forms of evidence that support his conclusions.

(17:34 - 33:34): Friedman explores the Bible's emphasis on welcoming the stranger (or "alien"), linking it to the Levites' experience of oppression in Egypt before leaving. He then pivots to the "why it matters" portion of the book's title, discussing how the example of the Exodus demonstrated the value of looking back at historical events and gleaning lessons from those past experiences. He also explains why it is of fundamental importance to him as a scholar to seek the truth, even in the face of those who strongly disagree.

(33:35 - 46:13): Often in scholarly conversations about the Exodus, the story of Joshua's conquest is discussed as well. Because the latter story is understood to be ahistorical by almost all scholars, some have interpreted that as a sign that the Exodus itself may not have happened as well. Friedman provides several counter-arguments to this line of thinking. [6] He goes on to lay out his approach to the question of how individuals today should relate to elements of the Bible that seem to them morally wrong. To close the episode, Friedman reflects on the role that God plays (and, for some, doesn't play) in contemporary Judaism, and how meaning can be found in stories one regards as fact or fiction, which he illustrates in contrasting the fictional story of the Garden of Eden with the historical events of the Exodus, both of which he finds personally meaningful.

[1] To hear more from Richard Elliott Friedman, listen to his previous two appearances on Judaism Unbound. Episode 27: Who Wrote the Bible? and Holidays Unbound Episode 3: Passover II - Did the Exodus Really Happen?

[2] Learn more about Friedman by visiting his website, which includes a full bio and a variety of other resources.

[3] Order a copy of The Exodus on Amazon by clicking here. Purchase the audiobook by clicking here.

[4] Some of the archaelogical evidence Friedman references includes scholarship by Scott Noegel, on ways in which Israelite material culture resemble Egyptian archaeological finds. Read an article by Noegel on this subject, entitled "The Egyptian Origin of the Ark of the Covenant," by clicking here.

[5] For the genetic study Friedman references, see "Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries"

[6] In this conversation, Dan mentions the Merneptah Stele, a famous archaeological discovery from the 13th century BCE that mentions the name "Israel" (it is the earliest textual reference to the Israelites that has been discovered). Learn more about it by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 82: The Happiness Prayer - Evan Moffic

Evan Moffic, author of the new book The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today, joins Dan and Lex for a discussion of how a text that is over 1,000 years old aligns closely with the findings of positive psychology. The conversation moves beyond positive psychology into an exploration of the shifting role of American synagogues and even, of all things, the Chicago Cubs' recent World Series victory. 

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

(0:01 - 18:22): What is the "Happiness Prayer?" [1] Author Evan Moffic, who is also the rabbi of a Reform synagogue in the Chicago area, begins the episode by giving us an overview of his recent book about a wisdom text from the Talmud that begins with the words "eilu d'varim" ("these are the things") and is included in many Jewish religious services. [2] This text provides the framework for his book, which argues that each of the elements of the prayer can be put to use towards the goal of achieving happiness and human flourishing. [3] Moffic distinguishes between "happiness" and "pleasure," and he uses the case study of the Chicago Cubs' World Series championship to illustrate elements of the science of positive psychology that have been especially influential in his outlook and in his work.

(18:23 - 30:10): Moffic expands on a number of elements of the Happiness Prayer. He discusses why visiting the sick and honoring one's father and mother, in particular, can be conducive to happiness even though there are challenges associated with each. He suggests a few principles that would be worthy additions to the prayer in our own time, including mastery of a skill and self-reflection. He also gives his perspective on the topic of "unbundling" Judaism, which arises frequently on Judaism Unbound. [4]

(30:11 - 53:00): Does the Happiness Prayer have something to offer even to those who are not themselves Jewish? Does Judaism writ large have something to offer those who are not Jewish? Moffic advances an argument that, in both respects, the answer is yes. [5] He then talks about the ways that Jewish denominational movements have shifted, along with how individual Jews are engaging with them. To close, he outlines a few of the challenges faced by today's synagogues, as well as important purposes that they still serve for many.

[1] Purchase a copy of The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today, by clicking here.

[2] For the text of the "Happiness Prayer," in both Hebrew and English, click here.

[3] For more on human flourishing as the potential primary goal of Judaism, listen to Episode 53: Death and Rebirth and Episode 54: Judaism's Job, both featuring Irwin Kula.

[4] Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism

[5] Lex references language on Moffic's website that demonstrates an interest in connecting spiritually even with those who are not Jewish. In particular, Moffic's website tagline is "Jewish wisdom has been inaccessible for too long. Whatever your background or faith, here you will find ancient truths to live by." Visit his website by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 81: Diaspora Boy - Eli Valley

Artist and writer Eli Valley joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about his newly-released book Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel. [1] Valley brings the insight and passion that is well-known to readers of his comics to the episode, as we discuss the politics of American Jewish life, Israel, and more, all through the lens of his provocative comics. [2]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Image Credit: Loubna Mrie, Haaretz

Image Credit: Loubna Mrie, Haaretz

(0:01 - 11:11): Valley begins the episode by discussing the process by which he creates his comics. He also compares and contrasts the modalities of comics and opinion pieces, which he has also published in the past.  Through a conversation about Valley's "The Incredible Hulk" comic, he [3] and the co-hosts explore the unique power that comes from the visual medium of comics. Valley also provides his perspective on an issue that arises in much of his work: the large disconnect between many Jewish institutional leaders and the broader population of American Jews.

(11:12 - 29:26): Through the example of Israeli politicians that he has depicted in his comics, Valley describes his experiences being criticized by those who read his comics merely for quoting statements uttered in public by Jewish leaders. He then provides a few examples of comics of his that embody a few of the key messages he often is looking to convey. First he mentions "Code-Name Evangelator," [4] which comments on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent preference for Evangelical Christians, when contrasted with liberal American Jews. [5] Following that, he describes the recurring character of Stuart, an old, curmudgeonly Jewish turtle that helps to illustrate some of the generational and political divides present in American Jewish life. [6] He also re-visits an issue that came up in the 2016 Presidential election, where Bernie Sanders's Jewishness was compared, often negatively, to that of Joe Lieberman's. He explains why those comparisons were often quite offensive, and why they help to summarize some of the most important divides in the Jewish world. [7]

Image Credit: Eli Valley

Image Credit: Eli Valley

(29:27 - 45:49): Valley reflects on the ways in which his family influenced him growing up. He also explores a question posed by Dan regarding parallels between the goals of his comics and the goals of the Biblical Prophets. He brings up the organization IfNotNow as filling a similar role, holding Jewish institutional leaders accountable for their actions related to Israel, American politics, and more. [8] To close, Valley looks back on a counter-intuitive genre of comics that has been very influential for him. Terming them "B-horror" or "B-noir," he explores some of the reasons that their "knock-off" nature, lacking some of the rules present in mainstream comics, may actually have helped them operate more creatively and effectively on occasion.

[1] To purchase Diaspora Boy in paperback or e-book formats, click here.

[2] For a recent article on Valley and his book, we recommend this recent piece in Haaretz, by Debra Nussbaum Cohen.

[3] To read "The Incredible Hulk," originally published in 2008, click here.

[4] To read "Code-Name Evangelator," originally published in 2011, click here.

[5] For more on Benjamin Netanyahu's relationship to Evangelical Christians, read this piece from The Times of Israel, entitled "Netanyahu: Evangelical Christians are Israel's Best Friends."

[6] For the first ever Stuart the Jewish Turtle comic, click here. For his later appearances, click here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle goes to South Africa"), here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle Occupies Wall Street"), or here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle Feels the Bern").

Image Credit: Eli Valley

Image Credit: Eli Valley

[7] For an article discussing the contrasting Jewish reactions to Joe Lieberman's Vice-Presidential run and Bernie Sanders's Presidential run, see "Why Bernie Sanders Isn't Beating Joe Lieberman on Jewish Pride." To hear from Dan and Lex on this subject, listen to Episode 14: Putting the "American" in American Judaism

[8] Learn more about IfNotNow by visiting IfNotNowMovement.org.

Judaism Unbound Episode 80: Feeling the Burn

Dan and Lex deepen their exploration of how Burning Man might expand our thinking about 21st century Judaism. They look at the concept of pilgrimage as it manifests at Burning Man and in Jewish life, and they return to the question whether Judaism is best compared to an operating system or an app, as well as exploring other potential analogies. [1]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

(0:01 - 16:17): To open the episode, Dan and Lex connect their conversations about Burning Man in Episode 78 and 79 [2] to prior conversations on the podcast, emphasizing ideas from Episode 18: How We Gather and Episode 21: jOS 4.0. [3] They also take a look at the concept of pilgrimage, embodied in the annual event of Burning Man, and ask whether the experience could represent a new form of observing the holiday of Sukkot.

(16:18 - 30:14): Carrying forward the question of Burning Man's relationship to Sukkot, they explore the extent to which the shared hardship of being located in the middle of a desert plays a role in the value of Burning Man. They also dive deeper into the human need of pilgrimage (being part of a really large group that feels "bigger than myself"), and they ask what it is about large-scale gatherings that seems to consistently provide meaning for human beings. They also ask why it is that, of all the various "pilgrimages" people could choose, tens of thousands of them have chosen to meet that need through Burning Man. [4] Relatedly, they ask if the large-scale gatherings that manifest through services on the High Holidays are meeting a similar need for some Jews.

(30:15 - 48:05): The two co-hosts wrestle with a basic fact of religion: it is impossible to fully preserve or replicate rituals of the past without a process of natural change occurring. How would it look if, instead of trying to preserve every element of Jewish life, we identified particular ideas, practices, and teachings that are most important to preserve, and permitted some of the tertiary pieces of Judaism to fall by the wayside, as they have in past eras? To close, they re-visit the question of whether Judaism is (and whether Judaism will be) an operating system or an app in people's lives. To do so, they play with an analogy comparing clothes you put on in the morning and take off at night to glasses through which you see the world at all times.

[1] You can now access Judaism Unbound on Amazon Echo, through TuneIn.

[2] Access the previous two episodes at the following links: Episode 78: Burning Man, Episode 79: Burning Mensch

[3] Access Episode 18 and Episode 25 at the following links: Episode 18: How We Gather, Episode 21: jOS 4.0

[4] For an article providing an in-depth look at Jewish life at burning man in 2009, we recommend this piece featured in JTA.

Judaism Unbound Episode 79: Burning Mensch - Joel Stanley

We continue our exploration of Burning Man and potential connections to re-imagining Judaism with an interview with Joel Stanley, who serves as Senior Director of House Programs at Moishe House. Joel has attended Burning Man every year for over a decade. Joel joins Dan and Lex to explore the ways in which Jewish organizations may be able to learn from Burning Man, as well as some of the ways he has sought to do that work in his own context of Moishe House.

(0:01 - 15:45): To begin the episode, Joel Stanley talks about some of the strengths of Burning Man, including its spirit of adventure and its emphasis on emotional growth and exploration. He also looks back at our conversation with Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, including the description they gave of various religious themes that secular organizations are occasionally capturing quite effectively. [1] He argues that Burning Man succeeds in helping its attendees engage with four of those six themes, and he expands on some of its other strengths as well.

(15:46 - 29:10): What role does the outdoors play, in particular, in inducing certain forms of meaning at Burning Man? Does the difficulty of spending extended time outside, including the experience of dust storms, create a shared sense of overcoming hardship that is particularly important to the success of the event? [2] Stanley takes on these question and goes on to discuss the ways in which Jewishness at Burning Man may be successful precisely because it is not the central reason that people are there. [3] Pivoting, he talks about his immersion in Moishe House, first as a resident and currently as a staff member. He gives his thoughts on ways in which Moishe House mirrors Burning Man's radical inclusivity and advocates for that principle to become the norm in other Jewish spaces. [4]

(29:11 - 43:37): Stanley compares and contrasts the role of schedules at Burning Man and in Jewish spaces. Burning Man does have a schedule, but so much of what happens at the event is not part of the schedule -- and that is understood by most to be a good thing. Could Jewish organizations, which frequently schedule every moment of their events, learn from this lack of structure? To close the episode, Stanley calls for Jewish communities to learn not only from Burning Man, but also from other meaningful experiences that are having an impact on large groups of people. [5] [6] [7]


[1] To learn about these six themes from ter Kuile and Thurston, listen to Episode 18: How We Gather.

[2] For an article that looks at the role that hardships play at Burning Man, we recommend "Burning Man Sucks! 10 Reasons to Stay Home" (the title is a bit tongue in cheek -- it's written by folks who attend every year).

[3] For an in-depth look at Burning Man from a Jewish perspective, we recommend the 2013 article "Sleeping in the Dust at Burning Man," written by Ron Feldman and featured in Tikkun Magazine.

[4] Stanley expands on the ways in which Moishe House and Burning Man relate to one another in this talk, entitled "Cross-pollinating Burning Man & Moishe House." You can view it by clicking the video on the left. To learn more about Moishe House in particular, listen to Episode 19 of our podcast, featuring its Founder and Executive Director, David Cygielman.

[5] Stanley cites an article entitled "A Brief History of Who Ruined Burning Man," which looks at the tendency, since Burning Man's beginnings, to cry out in frustration "Burning Man isn't what it used to be!" Read it by clicking here

[6] Stanley refers to an organization called Wilderness Torah a few times in the episode. To learn more about their work, visit WildernessTorah.org.

Image Credit: Oshman Family JCC

Image Credit: Oshman Family JCC

[7] The name of this episode was inspired by an event that has taken place at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto each of the past two years. Learn more about it in this article, entitled "Palo Alto JCC turns Burning Man into Burning Mensch," featured in J: The Jewish News of Northern California. Hear more from the director of the Oshman Family JCC, Zack Bodner, in Episode 61: Wandering in the Wilderness (featuring Tova Birnbaum as well) and Episode 66: Jewish? Community? Center?

Judaism Unbound Episode 78: Burning Man - Jon Mitchell, Allie Wollner

What is Burning Man? [1] Why might it be particularly relevant for those who are thinking about the present and future of Judaism? Dan and Lex are joined by guests Jon Mitchell [2] and Allie Wollner, [3] longtime "burners" who help us think about those questions and many others. This episode is the first in a three-part series on Burning Man, which will continue with Judaism Unbound's next two episodes.

(0:01 - 15:42): To begin the episode, Mitchell and Wollner walk listeners through what exactly Burning Man is. [4] They also talk about some parallels between the yearly ritual of Burning Man and elements of Jewish tradition. Going even further, they engage with the question whether Burning Man might be meeting Jews' spiritual needs even more effectively than events like High Holiday services. [5] Wollner gives an overview of Milk + Honey, [6] a camp at Burning Man that identifies as "Jew-ish," hosting hundreds of Jews (and hundreds of others) every year.

(15:43 - 33:15): What are some of the elements of Burning Man that make it particularly meaningful? The two guests take on that question while providing further details on the evolution of Burning Man over time. They also look at the growth of Burning Man in Israel, how dynamics of class relate to the annual experience, [7] and the role that art and creativity can play in Burning Man's contributions to the broader world.

(33:16 - 42:09): Mitchell discusses one of the most straightforward parallels to Judaism that exists at Burning Man -- its Temple, a central structure designed for attendees going through experiences of grief and release. [8] Wollner expands on how and why it is such an emotionally powerful place for many who flock to it. To close the episode, Wollner returns to the topic of Milk + Honey, encapsulating a few of the reasons that it proves meaningful for its camp members (called "honeys"), and Mitchell encourages listeners to check out Burning Man for themselves in the future! [9]

[1] For a video that provides a general overview of Burning Man, watch "18 OMG Things You Didn't Know About Burning Man" (available below).

[2] Jon Mitchell is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. For his bio, click here. For a reflection he wrote about his Jewish observance at Burning Man a few years ago, read this piece he wrote, entitled "Who By Fire?"

[3] Allie Wollner is a writer, educator, and community builder. For her full bio and website, click here. For two articles she has written about her experiences at Burning Man, check out "Seife: A Story of Redemption and Soap" and "Ritual Principles of Milk + Honey, Purveyors of Radical Shabbat Since 2008." 

[4] For more information about Burning Man, visit its website. To read its ten core principles, click here.

[5] Wollner mentions a master's thesis, written by Becca Grumet on Judaism at Burning Man. Entitled "Doing Jewish at Burning Man: A Scholarly Personal Narrative On Identity, Community, and Spirituality,"  you can access it by clicking here.

[6] Learn more about Milk + Honey by visiting its website.

[7] For a piece exploring the economics of Burning Man (its emphasis on gifting and de-commodification along with the economic forces that affect who is able to attend), click here.

[8] For an essay exploring the Temple at Burning Man from a religious studies perspective, we recommend "Temples on Fire: Deserts, Dust, and Destruction" by Sam Berrin Shonkoff.

[9] For a video that shows you a bit of what Jewish life at burning man looks like, see "Jewish Life at Burning Man," by JTA's "The Wandering Jew." (Available on the right).


Judaism Unbound Episode 77: Folk Judaism

Who determines what "counts" as genuine Judaism today? Those who serve in official leadership capacities of the Jewish world, or can ordinary Jews (the "folk") determine for themselves what what forms of Jewish life are "authentic" and what Judaism fundamentally "is"? In this episode, Dan and Lex wrestle with this basic question while looking back on a fascinating series of conversations with guests over the past few weeks. [1]

(0:01 - 15:05): On past episodes of Judaism Unbound, Dan and Lex have frequently discussed top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to Judaism. Here, they expand on that them by introducing the language and lens of "folk Judaism" and "elite Judaism." To what extent have we conflated the idea of Judaism writ large with particular forms of elite Judaism that are produced and facilitated by "leaders" (that is, people in positions of formal authority) of the Jewish community, as opposed to the less formally-empowered Jewish "folk." They also explore ways in which representations of Judaism in pop culture and the Jewish camping movement relate to the idea of folk Judaism, [2] along with critiquing the frequently heard aphorism that "Jews might do all sorts of things, but 'Judaism' stands for X."

(15:06 - 29:08):  Can Judaism accurately described as one collective people in 2017? [3] Dan and Lex ask whether we will see a schism (or schisms) in Judaism in the coming years, or even if such a split has already occurred. Would a fracturing of Jewish collective identity (often understood through the lens of "peoplehood") be a tragedy, or would it be a natural development in a period of transition? They also revisit a major theme of their conversation with Lila Corwin Berman -- whether such a thing as apolitical Judaism exists, and, if it does, whether it is desirable. They also ask whether the idea of peoplehood is an inherently conservative concept.

(29:09 - 48:13): Is the death of a Jewish institution (or even an entire version of Judaism) necessarily a tragedy in every case? Through the example of a project called Jews in the Woods, [4] Dan and Lex explore whether there are actually some important positive results that can come from the death (and occasionally, re-birth) of Jewish institutions. They also look at heretics in the Jewish tradition, and ask whether there might be ways to reclaim the idea of heresy in a positive sense. [5] To close, they look back at their conversation with Susan Katz Miller, asking how folk Judaism relates in today's world to elements of folk Christianity. [6]

[1] This episode reflects on the previous five episodes. To access them, click the following links: Episode 72: The Power of Popular Culture - Randi Zuckerberg, Episode 73: Being Both - Susan Katz Miller, Episode 74: Beyond Jewish Identity - Ari Y. Kelman, Episode 75: The Myth of Apolitical Judaism - Lila Corwin Berman, Episode 76: The Project of Jewish Education - David Bryfman

[2] When discussing pop culture, the TV show Transparent, and its treatment of a wide variety of American-Jewish issues, comes up. For more on the role that Judaism and Jewishness plays on Transparent read this Washington Post article, entitled "Better-than-ever 'Transparent' transitions into a study of American Jewish-ness."

[3] For a piece that suggests Jewish peoplehood may not be an enduring phenomenon, see this article by past Judaism Unbound guest Shaul Magid, entitled "Letting Go of Jewish 'Peoplehood.'"

[4] In discussing the death and rebirth of Jewish institutions, Lex refers to a New Voices article about Jews in the Woods. Entitled "Is Jews in the Woods a Casualty of its Own Success?" , you can access it by clicking here.

[5] In their discussion of heresy, Dan and Lex refer to Elisha ben Abuya, a famous heretic mentioned in the Talmud. For a novel that provides a window into that character in Jewish history, read Milton Steinberg's As a Driven Leaf.

[6] Dan and Lex discuss whether things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are best thought of as elements of folk religion that Christians engage with or, alternatively, as a genuine part of Christianity in our time. For an article reflecting on this from a Christian perspective, see "What We Tell Our Kids About the Easter Bunny," by Pastor Mark Driscoll.

Judaism Unbound Episode 76: The Project of Jewish Education - David Bryfman

What are the goals of Jewish education, and what should they be? David Bryfman, Chief Innovation Officer of The Jewish Education Project, joins Dan and Lex to discuss the challenges ahead as we consider how to recalibrate education to shifting Jewish realities. [1]

Image Credit: ELI Talks

Image Credit: ELI Talks

(0:01 - 15:40): Our conversation with David Bryfman with a look at the goals of Jewish education over the past few decades. Bryfman considers how the goals of Jewish education today and in the future might be realigned. [2] He provides an overview of his role at the Jewish Education Project, assesses some widespread problems that manifest in contemporary Jewish education, and proposes new ways of thinking that would assist in re-conceptualizing solutions to those problems. He also examines the ways in which Jewish education interacts with Jewish advocacy, and when the two should be kept distinct from one another. [3]

(15:41 - 31:07): Who drives the agenda(s) of Jewish education? Bryfman argues that many of those who are dictating the direction of Jewish educational curricula are not themselves educators. Over the course of that discussion, he explores some economic factors that affect Jewish education as well. Bryfman goes on to emphasize the importance of explicitly laying out the value-proposition of Jewish education, [4] and he suggests that there is room for growth and experimentation in the realm of adult Jewish education.

(31:08 - 43:16): Responding to the suggestion that Abraham Joshua Heschel's participation in the civil rights march at Selma in 1965 was an especially effective moment in the history of Jewish education, Bryfman suggests that there is an important distinction to be made between moments of learning and education. [5] [6] He closes the episode by providing some practical considerations that Jewish institutions might take into account in their work. These include the empowerment of high school-aged students as full-fledged board members, the elimination of "Young Adult" or "Next Gen" designations, and a re-investment in serious research regarding the transformation of Jewish life that is currently underway.

[1] Learn more about David Bryfman by clicking here. Learn more about the Jewish Education Project, where he serves as Chief Innovation Officer, by clicking here.

[2] Purchase the book Experience and Jewish Education, which Bryfman edited, by clicking here.

[3] Bryfman suggests a shift in thinking from the language of "surviving" to that of "thriving." For a few other pieces that expand on this idea, read these articles: "From Surviving to Thriving: The Coming Revitalization of Congregational Education" (Bill Robinson) and "Jewish Education: From Survive to Thrive" (Maya Bernstein), both featured in eJewish Philanthropy.

[4] Bryfman, in his emphasis on the articulating Jewish education's value-proposition, cites Irwin Kula. To hear from Kula on the value-proposition of Judaism, along with a variety of other related questions, listen to Judaism Unbound's Episode 53: Death and Rebirth and Episode 54: Judaism's Job, in which Kula is the featured guest.

[5] Michael Lerner gave a eulogy at Muhammad Ali's funeral, which David Bryfman mentions as a particularly significant moment in recent Jewish memory. View Lerner's eulogy by clicking the video on the left.

[6] For more on the Jewishness of Jon Stewart, which Bryfman mentions, we recommend this 2010 article, written by Danielle Berrin.