Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today - Benay Lappe

Is being "welcoming" and "inclusive" enough? Is pain a necessary prerequisite to the successful implementation of radical, new, Jewish ideas? Benay Lappe, the founder of SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva [1] and recipient of the 2016 Covenant Award for exceptional Jewish educators (considered akin to the "Nobel Prize for Jewish education"), [2] returns to Judaism Unbound as a guest co-host to tackle these questions, and many others, with Dan and Lex. [3]

Image Credit: Rabbi Benay Lappe

Image Credit: Rabbi Benay Lappe

(0:01 - 11:53): Our guest co-host, Benay Lappe, begins by describing the evolution of Jewish communal attitudes toward LGBTQ people, beginning with blatant exclusion, then progressing to what she calls (and critiques) as "Inclusion 1.0." Dan opens a discussion of whether the model of "inclusion" is also harmful because it defines the primary goal as the maintenance of current institutions -- not the invention of new ones (if necessary for true flourishing).

(11:54 - 21:31): Lex makes a distinction between those who are marginalized due to elements of their identity, those marginalized due to their beliefs, and those marginalized due to issues of practice (most prominently intermarriage). [4] Dan, Lex, and Benay discuss the extent to which individuals are willing to put aside core elements of their identities, beliefs, or practices in order to feel accepted by and connected to Jewish communities, especially when they do not believe there is any other way to feel connected to Judaism and to experience a rich Jewish life. Perhaps, they wonder, some of the enthusiasm for Judaism Unbound stems from its raising the possibility of another way.

Image Credit: DigitalTrends.com

Image Credit: DigitalTrends.com

(21:32 - 32:16): Benay suggest that, in order for individuals to really put forth groundbreaking new Jewish ideas, they may need to have experienced a great deal of pain. She even goes so far as to say that their work "has to be a matter of life or death." Continuing, she presents a frame that distinguishes between individuals who are LGBT and individuals who are "queer," explaining how it is possible to be one but not the other. [5]

(32:17 - 44:40): Dan synthesizes a number of the issues and reflects on the life of Steve Jobs (his 5th yahrzeit -- the anniversary of his death -- occurred in early October), and how it relates to the questions about innovation and scale that we have been discussing.

[1] Learn more about Benay Lappe's work by visiting SVARA's website.

[2] Read about why Benay Lappe was selected for the prestigious Covenant Award by visiting the Covenant Foundation's announcement.

[3] Tune into Benay Lappe's first appearance on Judaism Unbound by listening to Episode 3: Exodus. (Benay was the first-ever guest on Judaism Unbound.)

[4] Lex mentions a recent article by Jay Michaelson, in which Michaelson argues against attending High Holiday services. Read that piece (from The Forward) by clicking here (and also, stay tuned for an upcoming episode of Judaism Unbound featuring Jay Michaelson).

[5] To learn more about Benay Lappe's vision for the Jewish future, you can view her ELI Talk (available by clicking the video to the right)



Bonus Episode: UpStart Unbound

UpStart Unbound is our first-ever collaborative podcast episode, recorded in front of a live studio audience in Silicon Valley. [1] UpStart has been the premier accelerator of Jewish innovation over the last decade, and we wanted to explore together the idea that the over 40 organizations [2] that UpStart has helped move from idea to organization could be viewed as prototypes that are field-testing some big ideas about the future of Jewish life. The episode was recorded as part of the UpStart Lab, an annual gathering of innovators from across the country. 

(0:01-2:05): Dan gives a short introduction of UpStart and the special UpStart Unbound collaborative crowd-sourced podcast recording event, which was recorded with a live audience on September 20, 2016, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in Silicon Valley. Dan explains that the event included three components: initial framing and thoughts from a distinguished panel; responses and further thoughts from leaders of innovative organizations currently part of UpStart's accelerator program; and contributions from members of the audience, which included Bay Area lay leaders and supporters of Jewish innovation. 

(2:06-16:23): Dan introduces the opening panel: Aaron Katler, CEO of UpStart; Aaron Britt, who at the time of recording was Senior Editor and leader of the communications team at IDEO.org, which uses human-centered design to create products, services, and experiences that improve the lives of people living in poverty; and Lana Volftsun, philanthropic adviser, founder of White Light Strategies, and member of the board of Slingshot, a collective fund that provides support for a subset of innovative Jewish organizations featured in the Slingshot Guide. Dan invites the panel to think about the organizations that UpStart has accelerated over the last ten years as prototypes "of some kind of new approach to Judaism that we are grappling toward." Aaron Britt explains that a prototype is a "minimum viable expression of an idea" that is put into the hands of users for the purposes of learning. Themes that emerge from the panel include surprising discoveries that have come from being willing to just try things out, the level of risk tolerance of the Jewish community, and the question whether "failure" should be more celebrated in the world of Jewish innovation, seen as a source of learning, which is the dominant attitude toward failure in the worlds of design thinking and Silicon Valley.

(16:24-44:19): Jewish innovators--members of UpStart's accelerator program's three current cohorts--add their views and talk with Dan, Aaron Britt and Lana. The participants in this part of the conversation included Shanel Melamed, executive director of 30 Years After; Alex Jakubowski, founder and executive director of Kahal: Your Jewish Home Abroad; Lizzi Heydemann, founder and rabbi of Mishkan Chicago; Sarah Waxman, founder of At the Well; Rebecca Milder, founding director of the Jewish Enrichment Center; Jane Shapiro, a founding faculty member of the Orot Center for New Jewish Learning; Fred Margulies, co-founder of Pushing the Envelope Farm; David Winitzky, founder of the Jewish Plays Project; and Jeff Kasowitz, co-founder and executive director of the Jewish Studio Project. Topics that arise include empowering people to express their own voices; organizations figuring out how to show instead of tell; the extent to which innovators are driven by creating what they themselves need or whether they actively seek to discover what others need; whether new organizations are being pushed to scale too quickly, potentially inhibiting the process of research and development and refining their "product"; and what can give Jews permission to "play" with Judaism and to look at it the way that artists look at the materials of art.

(44:20-48:56): Members of the audience are invited to add their thoughts and questions and ideas into the mix, such as the effect of the rapid pace of change in our technological age; how to harvest the best ideas from organizations that did not successfully turn them into organizations; and how to be more honest about failures and struggles without being afraid of losing funding.

(48:57-60:45): Dan, Aaron Katler, Aaron Britt, and Lana Volftsun offer closing remarks. Dan asks whether the frame of entrepreneurship may cause us to overemphasize scale, as opposed to a frame of R&D or art, which would focus on quality; Aaron Britt re-emphasizes the value of failure; Lana offers words of encouragement with regard to finding the right funders; and Aaron Katler emphasizes the great opportunities that are out there and suggests that innovators try to "solve for the opportunity," not the problem.

[1] Due to time constraints, the 90-minute live event was edited down to a 60-minute podcast. You can watch the full unedited version of the event by clicking on the video link to the right. You can also visit the UpStart Unbound page on UpStart's web site by clicking here.

[2] Click the links to see the full list of organizations currently in UpStart's accelerator program and the list of alumni of the program. Previous Judaism Unbound guests who are UpStart alumni include David Cygielman (Moishe House), Sarah Lefton (BimBam), and Noa Kushner and Yoav Schlesinger (The Kitchen). Benay Lappe (SVARA) is a member of a current UpStart cohort.

Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua Lesser

Rabbi Joshua Lesser, of Bet Haverim (House of Friends), a Gay- and Lesbian-founded synagogue in Atlanta, joins Judaism Unbound for a discussion on being Jewish and Queer, reflecting on the history of Queer Jews in American Jewish life, the positive shifts that have taken place over the past few decades, where there is still work to be done, and the significance of the Queer experience for other Jews who may feel less than welcome in many Jewish spaces. [1] [2]

Image Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

Image Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

(0:01 - 14:13): Lesser speaks about his upbringing in Atlanta, particularly his education and experiences in an Orthodox Jewish day school. He also discusses how the landscape of LGBTQ issues has evolved in the Jewish community over the last three decades, both in Atlanta and on a national level. [3]

(14:14 - 25:58): Lesser expands his discussion of LGBTQ-Jewish histories, emphasizing unique gifts that LGBTQ people can bring to Judaism. He offers a critique of the language of "inclusion" and "welcoming," [4] suggesting that as between the "center" and the "margins" of contemporary Jewish life, the margins may actually be more appealing.

(25:59 - 34:26): Lesser addresses the topic of normativity as it applies to gender and sexuality, discussing in particular the tendency of synagogues and other Jewish organizations to center upon families with children, which can cause those who do not have children -- whether by choice or not -- to feel marginalized. 

Credit: Amazon.com

Credit: Amazon.com

(34:27 - 45:08): Lesser then discusses his work with SOJOURN - The Southern Jewish Resource Network, serving LGBTQ Jews in the South as part of a consideration of whether greater openness to marginalized Jews may lessen the impetus to develop powerful new approaches at the "margins." [5] In closing, Lesser looks at what contemporary trends might mean for present-day synagogues, especially those that have historically centered themselves around LGBTQ Jews.

[1] Learn more about Rabbi Lesser's Gay- and Lesbian-founded congregation -- Bet Haverim in Atlanta -- by visiting their website

[2] To learn from one of Rabbi Lesser's former congregants, Sandra Lawson, listen to our previous episode of Judaism Unbound, featuring her as our guest.

[3] Rabbi Lesser references the book Twice Blessed, by Christie Balka and Andy Rose, as a particularly influential one in his life. Published in 1989, it featured essays from Gay and Lesbian Jews, reflecting on their life experiences. A worthy read, this book features an essay by Lex's uncle, Eric Rofes, entitled "Living as All of Who I am: Being Jewish in the Lesbian/Gay Community." You can order the book here.

Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

[4] In discussing the language of "inclusion" and "welcoming," Lesser alludes to the work of Rabbi Benay Lappe. Lappe was the first-ever guest on our Judaism Unbound podcast, and you can listen to that episode at this link. She is also co-hosting next week's episode (Episode 36) with Dan and Lex, which expands on the conversation that took place in this episode, along with Episodes 33 and 34. 

[5] SOJOURN (The Southern Jewish Resource Network) is an organization that Rabbi Lesser founded for LGBTQ Jews in the Southern United States. To learn more, visit their website.

Episode 34: The Snapchat Rabbi - Sandra Lawson

Sandra Lawson, described in a recent article as "an African-American lesbian who converted to Judaism, eats vegan, and is now studying to be a rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College," joins Dan and Lex in a discussion on the present and future of Judaism. She offers her take on issues ranging from race, sexuality, and intermarriage to the future of synagogues and  emerging forms of digital Jewish life. [1] 

Image Credit: Sandra Lawson

Image Credit: Sandra Lawson

(0:01 - 11:38): Lawson tells her personal Jewish story and what led her to become a rabbi. [2] She also outlines the work she is doing today, beyond rabbinical studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, including what she has done to blend the seemingly disparate worlds of Torah and Snapchat. [3]

(11:39 - 23:03): Lawson discusses the broad set of American Jews who are interested in Judaism but not currently involved in Jewish institutions, looking both at barriers standing in the way of their involvement and at possible paths forward that could create compelling forms of Judaism for this cohort. She also explores the issue of intermarriage as it related to her experience at the LGBT-founded Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. 

Image Credit: Sandra Lawson, Snapchat

Image Credit: Sandra Lawson, Snapchat

(23:04 - 36:31): Lawson explores the contemporary landscape of digital forms of Judaism, from social media to the recent phenomenon of Pokemon Go. She also shares her thoughts on conversion and proselytizing. [4]

(36:32 - 46:46): In closing, Lawson examines questions of economics and affordability in contemporary Judaism. To what extent has the financial cost of 21st Century Judaism become overwhelming for many who might otherwise be interested in participating? To what extent are non-financial barriers standing in the way?

Image Credit: TheRealWeeklyShow.Wordpress.com

Image Credit: TheRealWeeklyShow.Wordpress.com

[1] To learn more about Sandra Lawson, check out these two recent pieces published by Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). The first is a June 2016 article about her, and the second features her as one of "10 Jews You Should Follow on Snapchat."

[2] In telling her own story of conversion and the choice to enter rabbinical school, Lawson credits her connection to Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, along with its rabbi, Joshua Lesser. Stay tuned for next week's episode of our podcast, where Lesser will join us for a conversation on Judaism and LGBTQ Jews.

[3] There are many articles online about the dangers of Pokemon Go for Jewish life, but one that expounds the opportunities it provides for innovative ideas in Jewish education can be found here (courtesy of DigitalJLearning Network).

Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound - Afternoon Haftarah Reading

In honor of Yom Kippur, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle the Book of Jonah.


Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound - Afternoon Torah Reading

In honor of Yom Kippur, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle Leviticus 18 and 19.


Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound - Morning Torah Reading

In honor of Yom Kippur, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle Leviticus 16, which outlines the ancient scapegoat ritual.


Episode 33: JewAsian - Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt

Whitman College's Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt (Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of Students, respectively),  join Judaism Unbound for an episode on their book, entitled JewAsian. [1] The book discards the idea that provides an in-depth exploration of two important groups of people: couples made up of one Jewish partner and one Asian partner (the Asian individuals may or may not be Jewish themselves) and the children of such relationships. Kim and Leavitt discuss their findings with co-hosts Dan and Lex, along with a wide variety of related topics as they relate to the ever-shifting landscape of contemporary American Judaism.

Image Credit: TheJC.com

Image Credit: TheJC.com

(0:01 - 12:44): Kim and Leavitt begin the episode by providing an overview of their book. They discuss the two populations they studied -- couples with one Jewish and one Asian member and children of couples with one Jewish and one Asian member -- and briefly summarize some of their findings.

(12:45 - 24:46): Our two guests explore some of the ways that multi-racial Jewish families (or individual members of those families) have felt isolated or marginalized in Jewish spaces. They consider the ways in which we discuss Jewish authenticity or the idea of "looking Jewish," alongside other related issues. They also explore the positive impact that proudly Jewish and Asian public figures (like Rabbi and Cantor Angela Buchdahl) and couples (like Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan) can have as role models to JewAsian children and families. [2]

(24:47 - 36:30): Dan and Lex ask Kim and Leavitt about their findings as related to questions of religious and cultural syncretism. To what extent did they find examples of cultural "fusion" in these families? To what extent are their Jewish practices often indistinguishable from those of other American-Jewish households?

(36:31 - 46:28): Our two guests close by examining the lenses through which American-Jewish institutions (and American-Jewish demographers) understand themselves. [3] Specifically they elaborate on some reasons that quantitative, sociological studies have played a larger role in the past few decades of Jewish demography than studies like their own that are smaller and qualitative. They also consider ways that Jewish communal organizations could best connect with Jewish millennials, a cohort that often understands Jewishness as one identity among many others. [4]

[1] If you would like to purchase a copy of JewAsian you can do so at this link. You can learn more about the book and its authors by liking their Facebook page.

[2] Check out this article by past Judaism Unbound guest Paul Golin about the occasion of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl lighting the Menorah at the annual White House Chanukah party in 2014. For video of that occasion, click the video directly below.


[3] In analyzing Jewish demography, our guests refer to Gary Tobin. Click here for a provocative 2008 article he wrote on questions of race and intermarriage. He, along with his wife Diane Tobin, also helped to establish Be'chol Lashon, one of the leading Jewish organizations working on issues of relevance to Jews of color. Access their website by clicking here.

[4] In closing, Professor Leavitt mentions an earlier block of Judaism Unbound episodes on intermarriage. Listen to one or multiple of these episodes by clicking the following links: Episode 15: Men, Women, and Intermarriage - Keren McGinity   Episode 16: Intermarriage and the Future - Paul Golin   Episode 17: Intermarriage - A Fact of 21st Century Judaism

Bonus Episode: Rosh Hashanah Unbound - Day 2 Haftarah Reading

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle Jeremiah 31, the Haftarah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Bonus Episode: Rosh Hashanah Unbound - Day 2 Torah Reading

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle Genesis 22, which tells the story of the binding of Isaac.

Bonus Episode: Rosh Hashanah Unbound - Day 1 Haftarah Reading

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10, which tells the story of the birth of Samuel (or perhaps someone else?!).

Bonus Episode: Rosh Hashanah Unbound - Day 1 Torah Reading

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, Dan and Lex are looking at the four major Biblical readings associated with the holiday. They ask how these texts can apply to 21st century life, and they provide a variety of answers, including many that incorporate historical understandings of the Bible gleaned from Biblical source criticism. In this "mini-episode," they tackle Genesis 21, which tells the story of Hagar and Ishmael's banishment by Abraham and Sarah.


Episode 32: The Art of Judaism

How can the methodology of an artist shape or re-shape Judaism in new ways? How can we begin to understand Judaism as a material of art in and of itself? In this final episode of Judaism Unbound's series on the role of art in Judaism, Dan and Lex ask explore the relationship between contemporary Judaism and the creative impulse. [1]

(0:01 - 15:05): We start off the episode by discussing the role of the creative impulse in Judaism. We look back at the historical precedent of the Impressionists, asking how the lessons of their work could apply to contemporary Judaism. [2] We also compare and contrast the phenomena of "skill" and "art," arguing that the Jewish community has primarily oriented itself towards "skill" in recent generations. [3]

(15:06 - 26:25): Dan outlines three different dimensions to the role of art in Judaism, that correspond to the ideas of "Jewish-themed art," "the aesthetics of the Jewish experience," and "Judaism as the material of art itself." Lex discusses the different kinds of people who are best situated to lead the way in each of those three realms, tying the conversation to our idea of the "knowledge vs. chutzpah curve," first outlined in Episode 6 of our podcast. [4]

(26:26 - 40:49): We ask what conditions would help ensure a Jewish ecosystem where artistic, creative impulses can most thrive? How could the Jewish artists (in each of the above three realms) that already are out there connect with and learn from each other, elevating one another's work (and Judaism) in the process? We close by tying the discussion into our next block of episodes, focusing on sectors of the Jewish world that have historically been marginalized.

[1] To listen to the previous three episodes in this series, visit these links: Episode 29 (Featuring Amichai Lau-Lavie) Episode 30 (Featuring Nina Paley) and Episode 31 (Featuring Aliza Kline).

This space, Brown RISD Hillel's Hillel Gallery Project serves as the main foyer and dining area of their building, while simultaneously doubling as an art gallery, featuring exhibitions like this one. Image Credit: www.jessxchen.com

This space, Brown RISD Hillel's Hillel Gallery Project serves as the main foyer and dining area of their building, while simultaneously doubling as an art gallery, featuring exhibitions like this one. Image Credit: www.jessxchen.com

[2] Impressionist art was viewed by many people (including some prominent art critics) as amateur-ish, uninteresting, and occasionally as vulgar. Most famously, the critic Louis Leroy coined the very name "impressionism" as an implication that their art is not genuine, but merely an "impression" of real art. To learn more about Leroy (and the widespread, negative opinion of impressionism he represents) visit this link.

[3] Lex discusses a case study of the Brown RISD Hillel Gallery Project, an initiative of the Hillel that serves both Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design. Learn more about it here.

[4] For a fuller explanation of the "knowledge vs. chutzpah" curve, check out Episode 6 of our podcast.


Episode 31: Designing OneTable - Aliza Kline

Aliza Kline, Executive Director of OneTable [1] and former Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh, [2]  joins Judaism Unbound for the third episode in a four-episode series on Judaism's relationship to art and artists. She explores the ways in which design thinking can play a crucial role in successful Jewish institutions, along with some of the unique contributions of the two organizations that she has directed to contemporary Judaism.

Image Credit: ELI Talks

Image Credit: ELI Talks

(0:01 - 13:22): Kline begins the episode by discussing the beginnings of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh[3] She outlines what a mikveh is, what needs they have traditionally been able to fulfill, and some new needs that Mayyim Hayyim set out to meet in the lives of individuals and communities today. 

(13:23 - 25:03): She elaborates on ways that Mayyim Hayyim connects with people on both an individual and a communal level, and then segues into a discussion of OneTable, the organization she new directs. She also hones in on the ways that particular forms of design thinking play into OneTable's relationship to the concept of Shabbat dinner. [4] [5]

Image Credit: OneTable.org

Image Credit: OneTable.org

(25:04 - 45:44): Kline continues by putting forth her argument for why Shabbat dinner can be a meaningful, important part of people's lives, even for those who are not particularly religious. In closing, she explores what it means to make Judaism your own, and gives her own answer to one of the ever-present questions of our podcast -- Why be Jewish?

[1] To learn more about OneTable, take a look at their website, OneTable.org.

[2] Explore what Mayyim Hayyim has to offer on their website.

[3] Anita Diamant is one of the people who played a pivotal role in the establishment of Mayyim Hayyim. To hear from Diamant about that process in a bit more detail, along with a wide variety of other topics, listen to Episode 12 of Judaism Unbound which featured Diamant as our guest.

[4] Explore the concept of design thinking in more depth at www.WhatIsDesignThinking.org. Watch their video by clicking the link directly to the right.

[5] If you would like to create a Shabbat dinner with OneTable yourself, you can learn how to do so at this link.

Episode 30: Seder Masochism - Nina Paley

How might Judaism, atheism, and art blend together into a deep exploration of the meaning of a key Jewish practice today? Celebrated comics artist and animator Nina Paley, creator of the highly regarded animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues and the animated feature film-in-progress Seder Masochism [1],  joins Dan and Lex to discuss a wide variety of issues that have arisen as she has taken on the Passover seder in her current project. This episode is the second in a four-episode series on the role of art and artists in contemporary American Judaism.

Image Credit: www.alchetron.com

Image Credit: www.alchetron.com

(0:01 - 12:17): Paley describes her own Jewish background, growing up with parents who were atheists but who, for one reason or another, still valued the experience of the Passover seder. She identifies herself as a "born-again atheist" and explains the ways in which her recent study of the Book of Exodus has left her uncomfortable. We discuss how her current film project, Seder Masochism, came to be. [2]

(12:18 - 27:04): Paley explains her opposition to copyright and what she terms "permission culture." [3] She then explores what it means for her (and her parents before her) to identify as both Jewish and as an atheist. We discuss Paley's previous feature-length film, Sita Sings the Blues, and consider whether there are relevant similarities between American Hindus and American Jews. [4]

(27:05 - 42:52): We return to the topic of art, exploring the extent to which prohibitions on graven images have had a detrimental effect on the quantity and types of art produced by the Abrahamic religions over time. We also return to the subject of Passover seders, examining their evolution over the course of history and how the Rabbis may have been struggling with the same concerns that Paley is struggling with today in making the film.. 

[1] Though she has not compiled all of her videos into a feature film yet, Paley has shared much of her still-in-progress work on Seder Masochism on her blog.. It is available to view online. Visit this link to view many of the short clips that will become part of Seder Masochism. Click the video link on the left for one particularly provocative clip, entitled "This Land Is Mine" (not advisable for young children).

[2] To view Sita Sings the Blues in its entirety, you can visit this Youtube link (available for free due to Paley's opposition to permission culture). It has been viewed by over 1,000,000 people!

[3] To learn more about Paley's opposition to copyright and permission culture, you can view her TEDx Talk on the subject, entitled "Copyright is Brain Damage" (available by clicking the video directly to the left).

[4] For an interesting article on the similarities between Hindus and Jews, read this piece by Gabe Weinstein in New Voices Magazine

Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie

What role do art and artists play in contemporary Judaism? Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder, Executive Director, and Spiritual Director of Lab/Shul [1], joins Dan and Lex to kick off a unit of episodes exploring that question in detail. He speaks about his own experiences leading an artist-driven community, and he takes on a variety of related questions on issues ranging from technology, to pluralism, to literature, and more. [2]

(0:01 - 10:18): Lau-Lavie begins by describing the beginnings of Lab/Shul, including its evolution from a project called StorahTelling. [3] He also introduces two paradigms -- "artists are the new rabbis" and "rabbis are the new artists" -- in explaining what Lab/Shul means when is talks of itself as "artist-driven." He also questions the utility of the phrase "Jewish art" as it is often employed.

(10:19 - 24:12): We explore the twin questions of "Why do Jewish?" and "Why be Jewish?" and go on to examine some of the important similarities between the realms of religion and art. Lau-Lavie offers an alternative perspective on the story of the Golden Calf, including (perhaps surprisingly) why he thinks he probably would have contributed to its construction had he been at Mount Sinai. He also discusses some of the innovations he has implemented in his community that could be successfully utilized in other contexts. [4]

(24:13 - 34:20): Lau-Lavie describes ways in which he has incorporated contemporary technology into his work with Lab/Shul, spotlighting the use of screens in worship services and a weekly call-in for individuals who wish to say Kaddish (the memorial prayer for a recently deceased loved one, also said annually on the anniversary of their death). [5] He also explains why it is important for his community to actively identify as "God-optional."

(34:21 - 43:16): Lau-Lavie connects his discussion of the importance of being "God-optional" to broader notions of pluralism. He closes by looking back at his own personal narrative and exploring the impact that Stefan Heym's novel The King David Report played in his life, opening him up to an awareness of the immense multi-vocality of Jewish tradition.

[1] Lab/Shul's website can be accessed at www.labshul.org for those interested in learning more about its wide variety of initiatives.

[2] Lau-Lavie delivered a JDOV Talk, entitled "The Transmission of Our Sacred Legacy in 5 Simple Steps." You can view it by clicking the video on the right.


[3] If you are interested in seeing what the methodology of StorahTelling looks like in action, click the video below.


[4] On a few occasions, Lau-Lavie uses the term "B-Mitzvah." This term is a gender-neutral option that incorporates "Bar Mitzvah" (for male-identifying people), "Bat Mitzvah" (for those who identify as female), and can also be utilized to refer to a coming-of-age ceremony for individuals who are transgender or genderqueer. Saying "Bar or Bat Mitzvah" would not incorporate the experiences and identities of those who identify outside of the gender binary, and as a result, the term B-Mitzvah has been gaining popularity in many corners of the Jewish world.

[5] To learn more about Lab/Shul's Kaddish ritual, which takes place via phone, visit this link.

Episode 28: The Secret Book of Kings

In an act of role reversal, Lex enters the role of solo host of Judaism Unbound and welcomes Dan onto the show as this week's featured guest! In this episode, Dan discusses a newly published book entitled The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes, which he has been working for three years to bring to English-speaking readers. [1] Together, Dan and Lex explore why this book's publication represents an important moment for American Judaism, along with ways in which its themes tie to many ideas that have previously been discussed on Judaism Unbound. [2] 

(0:01 - 9:54): We welcome our "guest" Dan Libenson onto the show, and he gives us some background about the process that led to the publication of The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes in English. He explains his desire for a new look at the "mythology" of the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel and talks about how The Secret Book of Kings begins the process of tuning that longing into reality.

(9:55 - 20:33): Dan describes the Bible as a work of art. Being careful to avoid spoilers, he then alludes to ways in which The Secret Book of Kings looks at the Bible through a contemporary feminist lens. To give further perspective into the storytelling strategies of The Secret Book of Kings, Dan and Lex compare it to other contemporary re-tellings of well-known narratives (The Da Vinci CodeWicked, and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs). [3]

(20:34 - 34:35): We consider the ways in which The Secret Book of Kings both authentically includes elements of Biblical narratives and re-tells them in innovative, interesting ways. We also explore two interweaving themes of the book -- the power of storytelling and the multiplicity of historical narratives. In doing so, Lex suggests a analogy to contemporary tensions around the curriculum of the AP US History exam[4]

(34:36 - 45:04): Lex explores the idea, stemming from a recent piece in Lilith Magazine, that Judaism is about "relationship with" as opposed to "adherence to" Jewish texts, history, culture, etc. [5] Dan concludes by arguing both that Judaism has generally been an incredibly multi-vocal tradition and that its multi-vocality has been a great strength. [6]

[1] To learn more about The Secret Book of Kings, learn more about its author, explore some interesting questions for discussion, and expand your learning by exploring books and audio and video resources about Biblical history, head to the book's companion web site, which was created by the Judaism Unbound team, at www.secretbookofkings.com.

[2] Purchase The Secret Book of Kings on Amazon at this link.

[3] Learn more about The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, named in 2012 as one of the top 100 picture books of all time, by clicking here.

Bestselling author Yochi Brandes

Bestselling author Yochi Brandes

[4] Explore the recent controversy over how we tell the story of the history of the United States through our AP US History exam in this CNN article.

[5] This quotation comes from a recent article in Lilith Magazine by Amelia Dornbush, entitled "Why I Hate the Phrase 'Jew by Choice,'" which you can read by clicking here.

[6] If you missed last week's episode with Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, based on his book Who Wrote the Bible?, it is worth listening to in tandem with this episode on The Secret Book of Kings. Listen to it by clicking here. If you enjoyed that episode and would like to learn more from Friedman, consider purchasing his 27-episode online course for $19.95 on Coursecraft at this link.