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]

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. 

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. 

(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]

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]

(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.

Judaism Unbound Episode 75: The Myth of Apolitical Judaism - Lila Corwin Berman


Is it possible for Judaism, or its institutions, to ever be apolitical? Is it even desirable? Lila Corwin Berman, the Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History and Director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, joins Dan and Lex to engage with those questions, as well as questions about Jewish peoplehood, intermarriage, and the funding of Jewish institutions.

Image Credit: Lila Corwin Berman

Image Credit: Lila Corwin Berman

(0:01 - 15:34): To begin the episode, Corwin Berman outlines one of the major theses of her book Speaking of Jews--the influence of the language of sociology on understandings of Judaism in the 20th century. She discusses key terms that gained prominence as a result of this trend, including "the Jewish community" and "Jewish peoplehood," [2] [3] and she examines why increasing rates of intermarriage posed a challenge to sociological definitions of Jewishness and Judaism. 

(15:35 - 31:25): Are there ways in which the early 20th century, as it was experienced by American Jews, may be ripe for renewed conversation and exploration today? [4] Corwin Berman examines that question, along with the question of whether the post-war period of American Jewish life was or was not a particularly exceptional one. She then introduces the issue of Jewish institutional funding, questioning the premise, claimed by many organizations, that they can ever truly be "apolitical." [5] 

(31:26 - 48:00): After explaining why an "apolitical" Judaism may not be possible, Corwin Berman discusses why, even if it were possible, it would not be particularly desirable. [6] She critiques the tendency of many who advocate for Jewish spaces that do not actively participate in the realm of politics. [7] To close, she brings attention to the increasing prevalence and importance of endowment funds in the Jewish community, along with the ramifications of that shift. 

[1] Lila Corwin Berman's bio can be accessed by clicking here. To purchase a copy of Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity, click here. To purchase a copy of Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, click here.

Image Credit: Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood Conference

Image Credit: Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood Conference

[2] Corwin Berman helped organize a 2016 conference entitled "Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood," which took place in Philadelphia. For video of many of the conference's sessions, click here.

[3] Click here to purchase the book Jew by Cynthia Baker, and click here to purchase Jewish Peoplehood: An American Innovation by Noam Pianko (each were referenced by Corwin Berman during this episode).

[4] Jefferson Cowie's The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics is a work mentioned by Corwin Berman that expands further on these questions. Purchase it by clicking here.

Image Credit: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Image Credit: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

[5] Corwin Berman published two pieces in The Forward about Jewish institutions, their funding, and their expressed desire to exist as apolitical actors, in the first months after Donald Trump's election. Click the following links to access each of them: "Donors Beware: Jewish Organizations Can Spend Your Money Pretty Much However They Please" and "The Cowardly Reasons Jewish Organizations Won't Speak Out Against Trump Appointees: And Why We Must Demand That They Do"

[6] In discussing many Jewish leaders' desire for apolitical Jewish institutions, Corwin Berman references a February 2017 article by Jane Eisner, entitled "Be Careful How You Offer Sanctuary." Access it by clicking here.

[7] Lex references a 2015 piece he co-wrote with Lonnie Kleinman, regarding the movie Selma and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Entitled "'Selma': It's Not About the Jews and That's Okay," you can access it by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 74: Beyond Jewish Identity - Ari Y. Kelman


Jewish communal conversations often take for granted that the goal of Jewish education and other endeavors is to develop or enhance "Jewish identity," but what does that term really mean? Stanford professor Ari Kelman, a leading scholar of Jews and Judaism in contemporary America, joins Dan and Lex to explore the language and concepts that are most helpful in thinking about American Judaism today. [1]

Image Credit: Stanford Graduate School of Education

Image Credit: Stanford Graduate School of Education

(0:01 - 11:47): To begin the episode, Kelman questions the value of the phrase "Jewish identity," which is pervasive in many Jewish conversations, [2] and he suggests alternatives to that framework that could prove helpful in understanding Jewish life today. He then explores the divergent perspectives operative in contemporary Jewish life, citing recent developments with respect to the issue of intermarriage as an example of that diversity. [3]

(11:48 - 25:46): In addition to taking on the question of Jewish identity, Kelman takes on the idea of Jewish ethnicity. He argues that ethnicity may be less resonant for younger generations of Jews than it was (or is) for older generations of Jews. He also discusses the term "tradition," which has proven particularly resonant for Jews he has studied, and argues that the ideas of preservation and innovation may not entirely conflict with one another. [4] He then discusses the potential ramifications of the fact that an increasing percentage of individuals raised in interfaith families identify as Jewish. [5]

(25:47 - 44:03): Kelman considers the connection between what we have discussed and American Jews' relationship to Israel. [6] He also revisits the issue of intermarriage, in particular discussing how the increasing prevalence of Jewish intermarriage, along with the common nature of close friendships between Jews and others, combine to create a situation where Jewish communal institutions no longer serve Jews alone.

[1] Click here to access Ari Y. Kelman's bio. For those interested in learning more from Kelman, his books are available at the following links: Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary (co-written with three other authors), Is Diss a System?: A Milt Gross Comic Reader, Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in the United States

[2] Hear more from Kelman on the question of Jewish identity by reading this article, featured in eJewishPhilanthropy, entitled "Jewish Identity Ain't What it Used to Be."

[3] Kelman mentions two recent pieces related to intermarriage, which diverge sharply from one another in their conclusions. To read these for yourself, click here (for Steven M. Cohen and Sylvia Barack Fishman's piece for the Jewish People Policy Institute) and here (for Amichai Lau-Lavie's "Joy: A Proposal"). 

[4] In exploring the concept of tradition, Kelman cites Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's analogy of cultural preservation to the preservation of a coffee cup. To explore her ideas further, including this analogy, check out her book, entitled Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage.

[5] Kelman cites the work of Ted Sasson in examining the ramifications of this increase. Read his thoughts in this Tablet article, entitled "New Analysis of Pew Data: Children of Intermarriage Increasingly Identify as Jews"

[6] Explore Kelman's past work on the question of American Jews and their relationship to Israel by reading his 2007 study, entitled "Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel." For an updated look at American-Jewish politics around Israel and Palestine, Dov Waxman's 2016 book, entitled Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel is of great interest.

Judaism Unbound Episode 73: Being Both - Susan Katz Miller


Dan and Lex are joined by writer and journalist Susan Katz Miller, author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family[1] In their conversation, they explore the growing phenomenon of families raising children in Judaism along with another religious tradition (families who are "being both") and consider the unique gifts these families may bring to Jewish life and to the wider world, as well as the challenges and barriers they face.

(0:01 - 14:21): Katz Miller begins by telling the story of her own background as both a child of an interfaith relationship and someone who is part of an interfaith relationship herself. She explores the issue of patrilineal descent and the impact on Jewish communities and individuals when the Jewishness of individuals with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother is called into question. [2] Katz Miller then gives a window into a number of institutions around the United States that have developed specifically to serve families raising children in multiple religious traditions. [3] She also introduces some of the ways in which these families have unique contributions to make, both to Jewish life and to the world more broadly. 

(14:22 - 27:04): Katz Miller continues by exploring a variety of barriers to participation in Jewish life faced by "Being Both" families. [4] We discuss some of the fears that may be driving the Jewish institutions that have erected these barriers. 

(27:05 - 44:48): In an increasingly interconnected world, how do we begin to understand Jewish-Muslim, Jewish-Buddhist, Jewish-Hindu, and Jewish-Other relationships? Katz Miller looks at issues unique to these families, along with challenges of Jewish-Christian families that others may not face. She also talks about how LGBTQ clergy have often proven quite supportive of "Being Both" families, and considers possible reasons why. In conclusion, Katz Miller explores some of the ways that "Being Both" families, more than simply being "not-harmful," may actually yield children who are particularly well-positioned to transcend religious and ethnic boundaries. [5]

[1] For Susan Katz Miller's biography, click here. To purchase Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, click here

[2] To learn more about the issue of patrilineal descent in contemporary Jewish life, click here.

[3] Learn more about these interfaith institutions by visiting their websites: Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, Interfaith Community (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut), The Chicago Interfaith Family School

[4] For a New York Times article on many of the questions discussed in this episode, entitled "Being Partly Jewish," click here.

[5] Katz Miller has written two pieces recently on the issue of interfaith marriage. Read them at the following links:  Recent pieces: "4 Reasons We Should Stop Calling People 'Intermarried'" and What do Interfaith Families Want from Rabbis?

 

Judaism Unbound Episode 72: The Power of Popular Culture - Randi Zuckerberg


Randi Zuckerberg is an entrepreneur, investor, public speaker, and media personality, passionate about the intersection of technology and our modern lives. She is also deeply passionate about her Jewish identity. In this episode of Judaism Unbound, Randi Zuckerberg joins co-hosts Dan and Lex for a conversation about the digital world, popular culture, and how the two intersect with Jewish life today.

Image Credit: Randi Zuckerberg

Image Credit: Randi Zuckerberg

(0:01 - 14:56): Randi Zuckerberg outlines the mission of her work at Zuckerberg Media, [1] which she founded after leaving Facebook, and explores the role of the digital world as it relates to Judaism. [2] After discussing how technology has enhanced her experience of Shabbat, Zuckerberg also introduces her own family's radical practice of Shabbat, which makes the day special by permitting family members free access to junk food, unlike other days of the week. She also talks about her experience in the Wexner Heritage program, [3] along with insights on how her Jewish life in New York City may differ from that of Jews living in smaller communities.

(14:57 - 28:57): Zuckerberg gives a brief window into the work of Hello Mazel, a project she helped create, which is facilitated by The Kitchen in San Francisco. [4] She also explains why the primary issue she works on at Zuckerberg Media, the representation of tech-savvy women and girls in popular culture, is so vital to our world. [5] Broadening the point, she and the co-hosts look at the impact that Jewish representation in popular culture has already had after many decades of American Jews playing prominent roles in books, on television, and in film. She also explores the distinction between platforms and content, highlighting the importance of bridges between platform-heavy Silicon Valley and content-heavy New York City.

(28:58 - 42:13): How could a re-invented Judaism be reflected in popular culture? How could popular renditions of Judaism help in creating a re-invented Judaism? Zuckerberg wrestles with these questions, along with Dan and Lex.  She also mentions a few human needs that Judaism could potentially look to meet more effectively in the coming decades, including rest and belonging. To close, she tells a story about her experience singing the song "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold) in front of the President and Prime Minister of Israel, along with the conflicting emotions she worked through afterwards. [6] [7]

[1] For Randi Zuckerberg's bio, click here. To learn more about the work she does with Zuckerberg Media, click here. To purchase a copy of her book Dot-Complicated, click here.

[2] Engage further with the role that Judaism plays in the digital world (and vice versa) by viewing Lex's ELI Talk on the subject (video available on the right).

[3] Learn more about the Wexner Heritage Program, in which Zuckerberg participated, by clicking here

[4] To learn more about Hello Mazel, listen in to Episode 23 of Judaism Unbound, featuring Noa Kushner and Yoav Schlesinger of The Kitchen.

Image Credit: The H & H Company

Image Credit: The H & H Company

[5] Learn more about Zuckerberg's work to increase the representation of tech-savvy girls in popular culture by reading this article in The Hollywood Reporter, entitled "Randi Zuckerberg Turning Girl-Power Children's Book Into Animated TV Series."

[6] For an article reporting on Zuckerberg's rendition of "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" at a Shabbat dinner gathering of the World Economic Forum, click here.

[7] The episode closes with a reference to Yehuda Amichai's poem "The Place Where We are Right." You can read it by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 71: What's Judaism For?


What's the point of Judaism? What's it for? In this episode of Judaism Unbound, Dan and Lex examine that question and try to provide some answers to it. In doing so, they discuss and debate the role of rabbis in contemporary life, explore the idea of "religion," and reflect on recent conversations with Rebecca Sirbu, Rami Shapiro, and Shulem Deen.

(0:01 - 15:01): The episode begins, appropriately, with the question included in its title. What's Judaism for? Dan and Lex outline some reasons why this overlooked question may actually be a particularly important one to be asking today, and they also provide some speculative answers to it. [1] They highlight the "rhythm" that Judaism creates for daily, weekly, and yearly life, a system of ritualized behaviors designed to reinforce values, and a commitment to bettering the world at-large as possible "what-fors" that Judaism provides to its adherents. They also return to Irwin Kula's frame of "human flourishing," engaging in dialogue about what that phrase means in a Jewish context. 

(15:02 - 31:05): Often, Jews answer the question "What is Judaism for" by discussing the forms of belonging and community that Judaism can provide. [2] Dan and Lex explore that "what-for" here, looking in particular at the distinctions between Ultra-Orthodox and Non-Orthodox forms of belonging. They then pivot a bit by asking a different (and related) question: What are rabbis for? [3] In other words, how is the role of rabbi changing today? Continuing, Dan and Lex open up a broader, big-picture conversation about what the term "religion" connotes in the 21st century. [4]

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

(31:06 - 48:46): Dan and Lex carry forward their discussion of religion, looking at various political and sociological implications of the term. To close, they discuss (and debate!) a few key questions: should we be looking towards a future where Judaism is a "post-religious" entity? Alternatively, should we look to maintain the idea that Judaism is a religion?  Does "religion" refer primarily to entities that relate to the idea of God, or is the idea of "religion" broader than that? 

[1] A related conversation to this one can be found in Episode 69: Holy Rascals, featuring Rami Shapiro, where Shapiro expounds upon some of the "strengths" and "weaknesses" of Judaism when compared to other religious traditions.

[2] For a deeper look at the Ultra-Orthodox world, including the unique ways in which it fosters bonds of community, listen into Episode 70: After Ultra-Orthodoxy, featuring Shulem Deen.

[3] For another perspective on the present and future of rabbinic authority, listen in to Episode 68: Rabbis Without Borders, featuring Rebecca Sirbu.

[4] If you are interested in exploring the question of whether Judaism is a religion, along with what "religion" even means, we recommend Leora Batznitzky's book, entitled How Judaism Became a Religion. If you'd prefer to listen to Batznitzky speak about it, check out this podcast episode of New Books in Jewish Studies featuring her.

BREAKING NEWS - Intermarriage: Changing the Rules - Amichai Lau-Lavie


Image Credit: Christopher Duggan

Image Credit: Christopher Duggan


Amichai Lau-Lavie, the founding spiritual leader of Lab/Shul, made national headlines by authoring Joy: A Proposal, which outlines his choice to begin performing interfaith marriages. Hear directly from Lau-Lavie as he engages in a conversation with co-hosts Dan and Lex about marriage and the rapidly shifting landscape of American-Jewish life. Joy can be accessed at Amichai.me/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Welcome_Book_2017.pdf.

Judaism Unbound Episode 70: After Ultra-Orthodoxy - Shulem Deen


Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return, a National Jewish Book Award-winning memoir that tells the story of his exit from ultra-Orthodox Judaism, joins us to understand the people who do and do not leave ultra-Orthodoxy, the needs and hopes of those who do leave, and the roles formerly-Orthodox people might play in the rest of the Jewish community and in re-imagining the Jewish future.

Image Credit: LeFigaro.fr

Image Credit: LeFigaro.fr

(0:01 - 13:56): To begin the episode, Deen tells the story of his own departure from the ultra-Orthodox world. [1] He discusses coming of age as a Skverer Hasid in New Square, New York, an all-Hasidic town of approximately 7,000, and he outlines the factors that eventually led him to leave the community. He also explores the ways in which the forces of early marriage and a lack of secular education create a "structure of dependency," whereby individuals have a very difficult time leaving their communities even if they might desire to do so.

(13:57 - 30:13): Deen continues by providing a window into an important organization called Footsteps, which provides resources to those who are transitioning away from ultra-Orthodox society. [2] He then explores the basic human needs that ultra-Orthodox society actually does meet very well, for a large portion of its constituents (he emphasizes purpose and community). He also critiques the tendency of many in the Jewish world to ask him and other formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews, "Why didn't you join X" -- with X representing the denominational group of the person asking the question. [3]

(30:14 - 57:45): Many people assume that formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews largely discard Judaism entirely when they leave the communities of their upbringing. Deen questions that assumption, citing a wide variety of ways in which he personally connects to Jewishness and Judaism, along with organizations that have had particular success in reaching formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews (he cites Romemu, a Jewish Renewal synagogue in New York, in particular). [4] He closes by providing his thoughts on Jewish peoplehood [5] and calling for the non-Orthodox Jewish community to take greater interest in providing assistance to those who are suffering in ultra-Orthodox society. [6]

[1] Shulem Deen's bio can be accessed here, and his award-winning book All Who Go Do Not Return can be purchased here. An audiobook is available narrated by Shulem Deen himself.

[2] Learn more about Footsteps by visiting their website.

[3] Click here to read a piece Deen wrote in Zeek Magazine, entitled "Why I Am Not Modern-Orthodox."

[4] Learn more about Romemu's offerings by clicking here.

[5] Lex references a portion of a past episode, featuring Yehuda Kurtzer, where Kurtzer put forth his "Bnei Brak Test" for Jewish peoplehood. Revisit that conversation by listening to Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer.

[6] In particular, Deen advocates for broader support for projects like Yaffed: Young Advocates for Fair Education. Learn more about the work that they are doing to improve educational curricula in ultra-Orthodox schools by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 69: Holy Rascals - Rami Shapiro


Writer, philosopher, and mystic Rami Shapiro brings a wealth of knowledge about Judaism, along with a lifetime of experience immersed in interfaith spaces, to this episode of Judaism Unbound. In this conversation, he discusses a variety of important issues with Dan and Lex, including the strengths and weaknesses of Judaism, religion as a means to an end, and alternative conceptions of God, beyond the supernatural.  [1]

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

(0:01 - 14:50): To begin the episode, Shapiro outlines what he means by the phrase "holy rascal," and discusses his journey toward becoming one himself. [2] He then compares and contrasts "identity Judaism" with "purposeful Judaism." [3] Continuing, he explains why he sees Judaism as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. [4] Through his analysis of the Golden Rule, Shapiro identifies the ends toward which Judaism is a means. To provide further detail on the way that his Jewish philosophy manifests, he explores the practice of "keeping kosher" in 2017.

(14:51 - 27:21): In addition to deep knowledge and commitment to Judaism, Shapiro is well-versed in a wide variety of other global religions. He brings that expertise to the table through a frame we have used in the past on Judaism Unbound: what is Judaism particularly good at? What "jobs" is it less well-suited to do than some other prominent religions? Shapiro discusses the important role of doubt and questioning in Judaism, along with how that can and should contribute to our broader world. [5] He contrasts that strength with Judaism's comparative paucity of material devoted to the idea of surrender, which is a strong feature in many other religions.

(27:22 - 46:18): Is religion similar to language? Shapiro thinks so, and outlines a variety of ways in which the two parallel one another. He also provides a window into his theology, which differs markedly from more familiar conceptions of God as a supernatural being. [6] Is "God" even a useful term in our contemporary world? [7] Is Jewish liturgy in need of drastic, foundational shifts to its language and content? To conclude the episode, Shapiro emphasizes another (perhaps unexpected) element of Judaism he finds beautiful: the blessing stated after going to the bathroom!

[1] Learn more about Rami Shapiro by clicking here.

[2] Deepen your understanding of the concept of a "holy rascal" by listening to Shapiro's audiobook: How to Be a Holy Rascal: A Magical Mystery Tour to Liberate Your Deepest WisdomYou can also check out HolyRascals.com.

[3] Shapiro's blog post "Why I Can't Be an Orthodox Jew: A Critique of 'Jewish Conservatism: A Manifesto'" helped to initiate the conversation about "identity Judaism" and "purposeful Judaism." Read that post by clicking here.

[4] Shapiro talk on ends vs. means for Judaism

[5] Shapiro cites Israeli writer Amos Oz as the main inspiration for his framework of "argument and doubt." Learn more about Oz, and his idea that Judaism is a "civilization of doubt and argument," by clicking here.

[6] Shapiro references past Judaism Unbound episodes that look at the concept of "God-optional" communities. Learn more about Lab/Shul, which has pioneered that framework, by listening to Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie.

[7] Shapiro mentions a teacher of his, Sherwin Wine, who did reject the idea of God entirely. To learn more about Wine, a figure who looms large in the history of Humanistic Judaism, click here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 68: Rabbis Without Borders - Rebecca Sirbu


What does "rabbi"  mean in today's world? What should it mean? Rebecca Sirbu, Director of Rabbis Without Borders and founder of RabbiCareers.com, joins Dan and Lex to tackle these questions. Our conversation covers rabbinic education, shifts in the nature of rabbinic authority, the diversity of roles that the term "rabbi" can encompass, and more. [1]

(0:01 - 14:10): Rebecca Sirbu outlines what Rabbis Without Borders is and does. [2] She explains why the organization focuses on rabbis in particular, and not other Jewish professionals or Jews in general, and she gives a few examples of rabbis who are actualizing the work that RWB hopes to see in the Jewish world. [3]

(14:11 - 27:39): What does the term "rabbi" mean in 2017? In what ways should the role of rabbi evolve to meet the needs of today's world? Are today's "brick-and-mortar seminaries" creating the kinds of rabbis we need? Sirbu takes a look at these questions and also discusses the decreasing role that traditional authority figures play in communal life across religious and secular contexts, analyzing how this general shift affects rabbis in particular. 

(27:40 - 47:23): While many Jews and others assume that "real rabbis" work in synagogues, almost 50% of active rabbis are working outside of a pulpit. Sirbu elaborates on the wide variety of areas in which rabbis work. She then tells the story of the founding of RabbiCareers.com, a digital resource designed to connect rabbis who are looking for jobs to organizations that are looking for rabbis. [4] To close the episode, Sirbu brings her expertise to a conversation we began with Barak Richman in one of our first episodes, regarding restrictions by denominational movements on the rabbis that affiliated congregations can hire. [5]

[1] To visit the Rabbis Without Borders website, click here. To visit the website of CLAL, the organization of which Rabbis Without Borders is a part, click here.

[2] Sirbu discusses the work of CLAL early in this episode. Hear from Irwin Kula, the President of CLAL, by listening to Episode 53 and Episode 54 of our podcast.

[3] One of the rabbis Sirbu mentions is Geoffrey Mittelman, founder of Sinai and Synapses. Learn more about that organization's work to offer a worldview that is both "scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting" by visiting its website

[4] Interested in finding a rabbi? Are you a rabbi, interested in finding a job? In either case, check out RabbiCareers.com!

[5] To learn more about the restrictions in place to ensure that affiliated congregations hire rabbis from their own movements, listen to Episode 7: Numbers, featuring Barak Richman.