Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Dan Discusses The Orchard on "History in the Bible"

Dan returns to History in the Bible, hosted by Garry Stevens. This time they discuss best-selling Israeli author Yochi Brandes' novel “The Orchard”. Dan translated the book into English. The novel centers on Rabbi Akiva, the man who forged rabbinic Judaism after the fall of the Temple. Along the way they encounter a host of other rabbis and Paul of Tarsus. They also ponder the difficulties of translation and working out what actually happened in history.

This episode was initially released as an episode of Stevens's podcast, The History in the Bible. We thank Garry for permitting us to re-release an episode of his show on our own feed, and encourage our listeners to subscribe to The History in the Bible on iTunes by visiting http://apple.co/2bM6D3C


Judaism Unbound Episode 109: Open Doors

Dan and Lex reflect on their conversations with members of The Open Dor Project's first cohort. They re-visit how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs relates to contemporary Judaism, explore how issues of social justice could take on a more central place in Jewish institutional life, and interrogate the conceptions of "community" and "variety." [1]

(0:01 – 17:23): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex look back on a theme from their earliest episodes: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They explore how their recent conversations with Open Dor Project cohort members shed light on the various levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and what that could mean for the future of Jewish institutions. In particular, they look at the concept of community, which connects with the “belonging” level of Maslow’s Hierarchy. [2] They ask whether the Jewish institutional world’s success at sustaining institutions devoted to “community” building has made it a challenge for them to reach to the self-actualization level, located at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

(17:24 - 32:50): Lex next asks whether it really rings true for "self-actualization" to inhabit the top level of Maslow's Hierarchy. Instead, he proposes that some form of justice, or "world actualization" beyond any one self may deserve its place at the top of the pyramid. [3] Dan then draws an analogy to extend this point, comparing the Jewish institutional landscape to a recent interaction of his with Comcast, his internet provider (notably, in this analogy, it is not his cable provider). [4] [5] They also examine why, when so many Jews identify social justice as part of their Judaism, there are not more local organizations whose sole or primary purpose is to create a context for Jews to work towards a more just world. [5] They also suggest that that reality may be worth shifting in the future. [6]

(32:51 - 48:01): The co-hosts look back specifically at their conversation with Dan Ain, including how it elucidated the ways music serves a deep, spiritual role in many people's lives. To close the episode, Dan and Lex compare and contrast ideas of "community," discussed earlier in the episode, and "variety," -- a concept that is more important to many people than many longstanding institutions may perceive. 

[1] Listen into the previous five episodes of Judaism Unbound, which this episode is reflecting on, at the following links: Episode 104: The Open Dor Project - George Wielechowski     Episode 105: The Well - Dan Horwitz     Episode 106: Cohere - Ari Moffic     Episode 107: Because Jewish - Dan Ain     Episode 108: The Jewish Studio Project - Adina Allen, Jeff Kasowitz

[2] To view Ari Moffic's ELI Talk, mentioned early in this episode, click here.

[3] For an article critiquing the absence of justice in Maslow's (and others') hierarchy of human needs, see "Justice as a Human Need," by A.J.W. Taylor.

[4] For more on the concept of "Jobs to be Done," see Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula Part II. For a full book on the subject, see Clayton Christensen's Competing Against Luck.

[5] Dan's analogy to Comcast aligns with past Judaism Unbound conversations on bundling vs. modularity. Engage with these ideas through listening to Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism.

[6] One project mentioned, that could be replicated elsewhere around the country, is Carolina Jews for Justice. Learn more about it by clicking here.

[7] For other strategies regarding the potential centralization of social justice in Jewish life, see Episode 91: Is This The Fast That I Have Chosen? - Jonah Pesner.

Judaism Unbound Episode 108: The Jewish Studio Project - Adina Allen, Jeff Kasowitz

Dan and Lex are joined by Adina Allen and Jeff Kasowitz, founders of the Jewish Studio Project, which bills itself as "part urban art studio, part house of Jewish learning, part spiritual community," as part of our series exploring new experiments in spirituality and community building. Our conversation looks at how creative expression and Judaism can overlap in powerful ways and how the Jewish Studio Project, through its combination of Jewish learning and creative arts exploration, creates a context for folks to explore that overlap themselves.

 Image Credit: College of Reconstructing Judaism

Image Credit: College of Reconstructing Judaism

(0:01 - 17:25): To begin the episode, Allen and Kasowitz discuss what led them to start the Jewish Studio Project. [1] [2] They also examine the "baggage" that people have around both Judaism and art, and how they seek to move people beyond what holds them back from fully expressing themselves in either realm. Further, they talk about how the Jewish idea of "B'tzelem Elohim" -- every human being created in the image of God -- relates to their work, allowing every individual person to express themselves through the creative process.

(17:26 - 32:11): When many think of the creative process, they think of visual art. In addition, though, other forms of expression, like writing [3] or music, [4] can play a central role in individual and communal manifestations of creativity. Allen and Kasowitz outline some of the ways in which these other forms play a role in their work at The Jewish Studio Project. They also break down how, in particular, their model produces a context where connections can form between people rapidly, and which is comfortable for those who may be considered marginal in other Jewish spaces.

 Image Credit: Jewish Studio Project

Image Credit: Jewish Studio Project

(32:12 - 47:57): Allen and Kasowitz discuss how their work, perhaps counter-intuitively and perhaps not, can play a role in social justice work. Allen then provides a detailed walk-through of one of their recent experiences, to paint a detailed picture (pun intended!) of how exactly their programs manifest. To close, they invite listeners to apply for an immersive, "a deep-dive into Jewish inquiry and creative process across five days," the next of which will be taking place May 6-10 in Berkeley, CA. [5]

[1] Learn more about The Jewish Studio Project by visiting its website. You can find full bios of Adina Allen and Jeff Kasowitz by clicking here.

[2] Discover the work of Pat Allen by clicking here.

[3] Creative Commentary is a regular event hosted by The Jewish Studio Project inviting participants to express themselves via the written word. Learn more about it by clicking here

[4] Kasowitz discusses his album, entitled Arba'im Shanah (40 Years) in this section of the conversation. Listen to it for yourself here.

[5] Learn more about these immersives by watching the video to the right. Apply to one at this link.

Judaism Unbound Episode 107: Because Jewish - Dan Ain

Dan and Lex are joined by Dan Ain, Founder and Spiritual Leader of Because Jewish. In their conversation, they discuss the ways in which music can engage people spiritually, the tension between "inspiration" and "institution," how the Grateful Dead are relevant to Judaism and how rabbis have it harder than Bruce Springsteen, as well as a wide variety of other important topics for contemporary Judaism.

 Image Credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America

Image Credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America

(0:01 - 13:56): Ain begins the show by providing an overview of Because Jewish. [1] He highlights its Friday Night Jam experiences, [2] which welcome well-known musicians into a space to share their spiritual journeys, along with their music. Continuing, he looks at another successful Because Jewish initiative, called Bowl Hashanah (Rosh Hashanah in a bowling alley), [3] and examines the historic American tradition of religious revivals. [4]

(13:57 - 27:32): After a brief, and genuinely beautiful, detour surrounding the holiness of urination, Ain talks about the relationship between two concepts that are not always juxtaposed -- institution and inspiration. He asks whether Jewish institutions may actually fear inspiration in certain senses, and if the resulting risk aversion can have negative consequences on contemporary Judaism. He then provides a window into what made him want to become a rabbi in the first place, emphasizing the tremendous impact that 9/11 had in changing his life's direction.

(27:33 - 42:04): Ain examines the ways in which spiritual experiences can occur in unexpected places. He mentions the culture around The Grateful Dead as a particularly helpful example of how communities can gather and connect to something holy in an unconventional manner. [5] Citing another famous performer, Bruce Springsteen, Ain and the co-hosts explore the challenges faced by both artists and rabbis, and discuss ways that better models could be built for Jewish leaders to avoid burn-out in the future. He also implores communal leaders to think outside of the traditional (and quantifiable) metrics for success that are often utilized. To close, Ain speaks to some of his own holy experiences through Because Jewish, which often come after events, through feedback he receives from those who attend.

 Image Credit: Jonathan Blum

Image Credit: Jonathan Blum

[1] Visit Because Jewish's website by clicking here. For a longer piece on Dan Ain, and his work with Because Jewish, click here.

[2] Stay informed about upcoming Friday Night Jam events here.

[3] For more on Bowl Hashanah, see this 2015 JTA article, entitled "Brooklyn's hippest bowling alley to host blues-rock Rosh Hashanah Service."

[4] Learn about America's history of religious revival by clicking here.

[5] For an article about the spirituality of the Grateful Dead, see "The Future of Religion Is...The Dead."

Judaism Unbound Episode 106: Cohere - Ari Moffic

Dan and Lex are joined by Ari Moffic, Founder of Cohere, a Chicago-area organization that brings customized Jewish educational experiences into people's homes, along with other outside-the-box (and outside-the-synagogue) locations. Their conversation addresses why so many people do not feel comfortable in synagogue settings but still crave forms of Jewish life. They also re-visit the topic of interfaith families, which has arisen in many past episodes, and they ask what the idea of "Jewish community" really means.

 Image Credit: ELI Talks

Image Credit: ELI Talks

(0:01 - 14:08): Moffic begins the episode by discussing the origins of CoHere. [1] She describes her work providing an outside-the-box form of Jewish education to families who are not affiliated with a synagogue. She also considers a few of the reasons that these families are not looking to join a traditional congregation, and why, despite that, they are still interested in pursuing Jewish life in a creative way. [2]

(14:09 - 29:48): The setting of CoHere, in people's homes, is an important element of its organizational model. Moffic outlines why she chose to create an organization that "comes to you," instead of asking participants to come to her. With Dan and Lex, she examines the name CoHere, and what it connotes to those who participate in its programming. Shifting gears a bit, she then explores the work she has done to engage interfaith families, highlighting her work at the Chicago Interfaith Family School [3] (listeners may remember this school, which was mentioned in Judaism Unbound's conversation with guest Susan Katz Miller). [4]

(29:49 - 46:52): Moffic shines a light on the ways in which Jewish education can sometimes feel "anthropological" -- as if there is this interesting group called the Jews, whose rituals we learn about, even though so many Jews don't actually practice those rituals on a regular basis. She asks whether we could re-think this tendency, and start to define Judaism not so much by what Jews think they are "supposed" to do, but by how Jews actually live. She highlights B Mitzvahs as a key moment that perpetuates this problem, since most B Mitzvahs revolve around a Saturday morning service, despite the fact that many kids experiencing this life cycle event (and their parents) do not actually attend Saturday morning services. To close the episode, Moffic reflects on the idea of "community" [5] -- what it is, what it isn't, and how some Jewish institutions may misunderstand what it signifies. [6]

[1] Learn more about CoHere by clicking...(co)...here (Sorry...Judaism Unbound can't resist a good pun). Learn more about Ari Moffic by clicking here.

[2] Moffic mentions her past role at Interfaith Family / Chicago as an important experience shaping her work today. Learn more about Interfaith Family by visiting its website.

[3] Explore the work that the Chicago Interfaith Family School does by clicking here.

[4] To hear more about religious educational options that engage children in learning about both Christianity and Judaism, listen to Episode 73: Being Both - Susan Katz Miller.

[5] Watch Moffic's ELI Talk by clicking the video below.


[6] Ari Moffic and Evan Moffic are the first husband-wife duo to appear as guests on Judaism Unbound! Listen to Episode 82: The Happiness Prayer - Evan Moffic to hear from another member of the Moffic family!

Judaism Unbound Episode 105: The Well - Dan Horwitz

Dan and Lex are joined by Dan Horwitz, Founding Director of The Well, [1] an inclusive Jewish community-building initiative geared towards young adults in Metro Detroit. Their conversation explores the founding and evolution of The Well, the ways it approaches the idea of pluralism, its unique relationship to a nearby Reform synagogue, and more. 

 Image Credit: Ron Lieberman Photography

Image Credit: Ron Lieberman Photography

(0:01 - 15:23): To begin the episode, Horwitz explores the origin-story of The Well. [2] He describes his initial desire to create a "liberal, inclusive Chabad," along with the ways that vision evolved. In particular, he discusses the growth of The Well when events shifted from taking place mostly at Horwitz's own home towards a more de-centralized, "empowerment-centric" model. He also delves into some of the particular gatherings offered by The Well, along with the reasoning that went into choosing its organizational name. [3]

(15:24 - 31:12): Horwitz lays out how The Well engages with the concept of pluralism, which differs from the approach of many other Jewish institutions. He also takes a look at the role of Hebrew text, transliteration, and translation in Jewish prayer. He then talks a bit about the geography and history of Metro Detroit, in addition to some of the characteristics of The Well that make it a particularly good fit for the area it inhabits. [4]

(31:13 - 48:13): The conversation turns towards the relationship of The Well to synagogues nearby. Horwitz first lays out some reasons that The Well does not envision becoming a synagogue community in the near future, and, relatedly, how The Well understands "hand-offs" of its members to traditional synagogue institutions. He then takes a look at the population of people attending his organization's programming who are not Jewish themselves, but enjoy participating in The Well's gatherings regardless. [5] [6] To close the episode, Horwitz provides an overview of The Well's unique (or nearly unique) structural relationship to Temple Israel, a nearby Reform congregation. [7]

[1] Learn more about Dan Horwitz by visiting www.RabbiDanH.com. Learn more about The Well at www.MeetYouAtTheWell.org, and read a Detroit News article about its work by clicking here.

[2] In this origin-story, Horwitz mentions elements of his experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem that were alienating to him, and many others on his trip to Israel. For more on the complex issues that manifest at the Western Wall, click here.

[3] Horwitz highlights CSI: Coffee. Study. Interpret. as a particularly successful initiative. Learn more about it here.

[4] When discussing the role of Hebrew in prayer, Horwitz cites a past Judaism Unbound episode. Listen to it in full by clicking here: Episode 69: Holy Rascals - Rami Shapiro. For more on Detroit's Jewish history, we recommend Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, by Lila Corwin Berman.

[5] Horwitz alludes to confusion between his organization and another innovative Jewish organization called . Learn more about the latter by clicking here.

[6] When Horwitz refers to drinking the "Kula Kool-Aid," he is referring to the ideas and teachings of Irwin Kula. If you're interested in hearing from Irwin Kula, tune into Episode 53: Death and Rebirth and/or Episode 54: Judaism's Job

[7] One element of The Well's offerings that this episode did not cover is its large-scale events in a wide variety of public spaces. Among those events has been a Tashlich (casting away of sins) service, on Rosh Hashanah, attended by over 1,000 people, a Passover celebration at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and a Game of Thrones-themed Sukkah made out of 2,000+ recycled soda cans in the heart of downtown Detroit.


Judaism Unbound Episode 104: The Open Dor Project - George Wielechowski

As we begin an exploration of "spiritual entrepreneurs" who are working to develop new organizations focused on meaning and spirituality in forms other than a typical synagogue, Dan and Lex are joined by George Wielechowski, the founding director of the Open Dor Project. [1] In our conversation, Wielechowski provides a window into his work supporting new spiritual communities around the country, along with the story of his own journey into Judaism. 

(0:01 - 14:26): Wielechowski begins the episode by explaining what The Open Dor Project is, along with what it does to support fledgling forms of Jewish life around the country. He then explores the role that bravery must play for those who he works with, who have taken a wide variety of risks, personally and organizationally, in an effort to inspire folks through Judaism.  [2] [3] Continuing, he provides an overview of the four organizations (and the individuals leading them) that make up Open Dor's first cohort. [4]

(14:27 - 25:49): To examine the question of the pilot cohort's adjacency to existing forms of Jewish institutional life, Wielechowski draws on the analogy of a cantilever bridge. He asserts that some of those he works with are directly adjacent to that which already exists, while others represent a broader shift from normative forms of Jewish life and practice. He then considers a few changes to the Jewish institutional world that could have a particularly positive impact if actualized.

(25:50 - 41:37): Wielechowski looks back at his own life experience, including his upbringing, his decision to become a Jew, and his professional evolution. In doing so, he emphasizes elements of Jewish life that were so beautiful and compelling to him before he became Jewish. To close the episode, he takes a look at an ongoing theme of Judaism Unbound -- the changing role of rabbis and, relatedly, Jewish authority. [5] 

[1] Learn more about the Open Dor Project at www.opendorproject.org. Learn more about George Wielechowski by clicking here. For a related episode, featuring the Director of Moishe House, who spearheaded the creation of Open Dor, see Episode 19: Moishe House - David Cygielman.

[2] Wielechowski references the Jewish Emergent Network, an umbrella of seven emergent spiritual communities around the country. Learn more about JEN and its member organizations by clicking here.

[3] For past Judaism Unbound episodes featuring members of the Jewish Emergent Network, see Episode 23: Hello Mazel - Noa Kushner, Yoav Schlesinger or Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie.

[4] Learn about these four organizations by visiting their respective websites, and stay tuned for upcoming episodes over the course of the next four weeks, featuring each of them.    The Well     CoHere     Jewish Studio Project     Because Jewish 

[5] For more on the ways in which Jewish authority is evolving, see Episode 99: Regular Jews.

Judaism Unbound Episode 103: The People's Judaism

It's hard to believe, but Judaism Unbound has been around for two years! Dan and Lex take this episode to look back on major themes from our conversations about American Judaism. Taking on abstract conceptions like "authority" and "creativity," along with practical realities like the internet and funding, Dan and Lex take consider where the project of "unbounding" Judaism is at this moment and where it could be headed in the future. [1]

(0:01 - 16:56): To begin, Dan and Lex reflect on two of their most recent episodes. Continuing a conversation begun by Barbara Thiede in Episode 101, they explore the differences between myth and history, [2] along with how each have played in a role in shaping Judaism as we know it. Re-visiting the three eras of Jewish history proposed by Yitz Greenberg, they expand on the "times of wandering" between the various eras. [3] They also look at what it would take to accelerate the process towards a "third era" of Judaism. [4]

Barbara Thiede Squarespace.png

(16:57 - 34:49): Lex deepens his analogy of "Judaism as a library," expressed in past episodes, and Dan expresses some of the ways in which he both supports and differs from that model. [5] They both then explore the role that art and artists play in Jewish life today, along with how the creative impulse could be an important driver of change for the future of Judaism. The two co-hosts then ask what obstacles are standing in the way of Jewish creativity. Shifting gears, they then examine the digital world, and how it is affecting change in the realms of both information and community.

(34:50 - 51:33): Dan and Lex re-visit the thinking of Clayton Christensen, a foundational influence on Judaism Unbound. In particular, they do so in the case of digital community, arguing that we should discuss the merits of digital Jewish life not only based on what it looks like now, but what it could look like in a decade or a century. [6] They also emphasize the fact that "the Jewish community" needs to be an expansive concept -- it cannot refer just to centralized, legacy Jewish institutions. [7] To close the episode, they take on questions of discrimination, asking how we can create a Jewish world that actively works to combat racism, classism, homophobia, and more. They consider ways to ensure that all have a seat at the proverbial table, and that all individuals have the opportunity to create their own "new tables" as well. [8]

[1] Because this episode looks back on the first years of Judaism Unbound, this might be a good opportunity to check out episodes that you missed in the past! To do so, visit our Find Any Episode page on this site.

[2] Listen in to Episode 101: Not Your Rabbis' Judaism - Barbara Thiede, if you would like to explore the idea of myth further. We also encourage you to look back at Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer and/or Episode 83: The Exodus - Richard Elliot Friedman.

[3] Explore Greenberg's framework for the third era by listening to Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg.

[4] For a related conversation about the future of Judaism, see Episode 21: jOS 4.0 - A New Jewish Operating System?

[5] For more on Judaism as a library, see Episode 51: Being Jewish in the Era of Trump.

[6] For more on Clayton Christensen's thinking, along with Benay Lappe's understanding of the "unrecognizable Jewish future," see Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe and Episode 4: Exodus II.

[7] To learn more about Havurah, and the Jewish Catalog, which provide a model for Judaism beyond centralized institutions, see Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then and Now - Riv-Ellen Prell.

[8] For a variety of different discussions comparing "a seat at the table" with "building your own table," see Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua LesserEpisode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe, and Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Alix Wall

 Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

Dan and Lex are joined by Alix Wall, an award-winning journalist, founder of The Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals, and organizer of its "Trefa Banquet 2.0." The banquet (Trefa means "not kosher") gathered Jews together for an experience that combined the culinary and the educational. And yes -- pork was on the menu.

Check out these links for more coverage of the Trefa Banquet 2.0:

 Organizers of Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

Organizers of Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

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

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

For an article by Alix Wall on her relationship to pork, click here!


To learn more about the first Trefa Banquet, which occurred in 1883, we recommend:

The Myth of the Trefa Banquet - Lance J. Sussman, American Jewish Archives

The Trefa Banquet and the End of a Dream - Michael Feldberg, MyJewishLearning.com

The Great Food Fight of 1883 - Jenna Weissman Joselit, The Forward

"What Really Happened at the Original Trefa Banquet" - Jonathan Sarna, JTA

Judaism Unbound Episode 102: Studying Happiness - Tal Ben-Shahar

Dan and Lex are joined by Tal Ben-Shahar, a lecturer and writer who specializes in the field of Positive Psychology. He describes what "studying happiness" looks like in practice, identifies some of the field's key findings, and explores how religion, and Judaism in particular, intersect with academic research on meaning, purpose, and human flourishing.

 Image Credit: WOBI

Image Credit: WOBI

(0:01 - 15:57): Ben-Shahar begins the episode by providing an overview of his field -- Positive Psychology. [1] Characterizing it as "the study of happiness," he explores some of the behaviors and mindsets that scientists have found to be correlated with happiness, [2] along with some elements of many religions that can contribute to a life of well-being. [3] He then distinguishes between the concepts of pleasure and happiness, emphasizing that the latter is more holistic than we often think it is.

(15:58 - 31:31): Ben-Shahar explores how Positive Psychology can synthesize the pursuit of happiness with the quest to help those for whom happiness is unattainable, due to systems preventing them from fulfilling their basic needs. [4] He also presents a counter-intuitive understanding of the self, which complicates our belief that "selfishness" is inherently good and "selflessness" is inherently bad. [5]

(31:32 - 43:48): Continuing his examination of happiness, Ben-Shahar makes the important point that pursuing happiness in a direct sense -- especially if one senses a pressure by others or society to feel happy -- can actually be a hindrance towards the actual achievement of happiness. To close the episode, he looks at how the idea of unbundling Judaism connects to the other threads of this conversation, and he also calls for Judaism to fully internalize the need for more egalitarian communities in which women are fully empowered as equals. [6]

 Image Credit: Tst-Dz.ru

Image Credit: Tst-Dz.ru

[1] Read Tal Ben-Shahar's full bio, and learn more about his work, at TalBenShahar.com. You can purchase any of his books at this link.

[2] Ben-Shahar distinguishes between positive psychology and self-help. Learn more about what differentiates the two by reading this article, written by Katie Small and featured at ThePositivePsychologyPeople.com.

[3] For more on the intersection of religion and positive psychology, see "Happiness and Religion, Happiness as Religion," by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

[4] Learn more about how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs relates to the field of Positive Psychology by clicking here. For a past Judaism Unbound conversation on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, see Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe.

[5] Hear remarks that Dan alludes to, in which Ben-Shahar speaks about the "Permission to be Human," by clicking the video on the right.

[6] Read more about Ben-Shahar's work by taking a look at this 2007 New York Times article about him, by D.T. Max, entitled "Happiness 101." For another window into Ben-Shahar's thinking, see this article, describing why he left Harvard to return to Israel.

Judaism Unbound Episode 101: Not Your Rabbis' Judaism - Barbara Thiede

Dan and Lex are joined by Barbara Thiede, who is both a Teaching Professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte and an ordained rabbi who serves as a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement. [1] In their conversation, Thiede questions the myth that rabbis "saved Judaism" in the aftermath of the Second Temple's destruction and pushes us to consider and elevate narratives of Judaism that do not revolve around rabbinic texts and teachings.

(0:01 - 14:46): To begin the episode, Barbara Thiede explains that historians have known for decades that the story of rabbis "saving" Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple is a mythical narrative -- not a factual one. [2] Terming this story "the Rabbinic myth," she provides examples that demonstrate how Rabbinic Judaism was not at all central to the vast majority of Jews' lives for many hundreds of years (and, in some cases, much longer). As one example, she spotlights one community that embodies many of her important points -- the Jews of Kaifeng, China. [3] 

(14:47 - 31:47): Thiede critiques the tendency to minimize non-Rabbinic forms of Jewish life through a comparison to Christians who attempt to minimize Judaism because Christianity "won." She then provides her take on an ongoing thread of Judaism Unbound, the duality of Elite Judaism and Folk Judaism, [4] along with ways that they interact with one another, and with the cultures in which they are immersed. Thiede then takes a look at contemporary life, honing in on what the role of the rabbi looks like today, and how she (a rabbi herself) balances her ownership of that role with her desire to change what it connotes.

 Members of Kaifeng's Jewish community today. Image Credit: The Sino-Judaic Institute

Members of Kaifeng's Jewish community today. Image Credit: The Sino-Judaic Institute

(31:48 - 46:46):  Dan poses a question to both Thiede and Lex (the former an ordained rabbi, and the latter in the process of rabbinic ordination). He asks, given their pre-disposition towards re-defining Judaism as we know it, why they chose to pursue that re-definition from the "inside" (as a rabbi), and not from outside, as Dan has sought to. [5] To close the episode, Thiede examines myths around the concept of "diaspora," which have played an important role in our Jewish past and continue to loom large today.

[1] For Thiede's bio, click here (scroll down the page, as bios on it are listed in alphabetical order).

[2] Read more from Thiede on this matter by checking out a blog post of hers, entitled "On the Rabbinic Narrative and 'Threats' to Judaism."

[3] Learn more about the history of the Jews of Kaifeng by reading Michael Pollak's essay, entitled "Detailed History of Kaifeng Jews." 

 The inscription from the grave of Rufina. Image Credit: PhilipHarland.com.

The inscription from the grave of Rufina. Image Credit: PhilipHarland.com.

[4] Thiede mentions a book by Joshua Trachtenberg on this subject, entitled Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. Purchase it by clicking here.

[5] In responding to Dan, Thiede mentions a woman named Rufina, who served as a leader ("Rosh" in Hebrew) of a Jewish community in Smyrna (Asia Minor), during the 2nd Century C.E. Learn more about her in this MyJewishLearning essay, by Ross Kraemer, entitled "Rufina and Her Sisters."

[6] For an in-depth look at the problems inherent to the idea of "diaspora" today, we recommend New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, by Caryn Aviv and David Shneer. 

Judaism Unbound Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg

In celebration of Judaism Unbound's 100th episode, Dan and Lex are joined by Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg, [1] an important thinker whose ideas laid the foundation that Judaism Unbound and many of our previous guests have been building upon, to take a deep dive into his notion that we are living at the dawn of the "Third Era" of Judaism. We explore the theological, philosophical, practical, and political implications of this paradigm. Yitz Greenberg is considered one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the last half century, and his work has spanned the fields of theology, philosophy, education, activism, and philanthropy.

 Image Credit: Elon News Network

Image Credit: Elon News Network

(0:01 - 14:54): To begin the episode, Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg presents his paradigm for Jewish history, in which there have been three eras, which roughly correspond to the Biblical, the Rabbinic, and the Contemporary. [2] He discusses the shifting role of God from each of these eras to the next, and correspondingly, the shifting role of human beings that follows. Greenberg emphasizes Judaism's assertion of the infinite value of each human being and the relationship of this assertion to Judaism's description of human beings as images of God, which he characterizes as the central principle of Judaism. [3]

(14:55 - 32:24): In the Third Era, do conversations about belief in God need to change? Greenberg puts forth the idea that the line between theists and atheists may no longer be so important, and that both should unite around the concept of the infinite value of human beings. He also explores the role that Jews have with respect to those who are native to other religious traditions (and those who don't identify with any religion). Greenberg then looks at tradition components of Judaism like Shabbat and Jewish learning, asking what new manifestations of them may look like as we move forward in the Third Era.

(32:25 - 53:45): Greenberg lays out some of the ways in which his theological beliefs interact with politics. [4] Highlighting issues in the realm of health care, both contemporary and from decades past, he explains how belief in the infinite value of human beings must be applied in ways that will maximize human dignity as much as one possibly can. He then takes a look at the question of authority, a key concept that may be shifting its connotations in the Third Era. To close the episode, Greenberg provides a brief coda on the Jewish holidays, looking back at his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays[5]

[1] The best place to go if looking for more resources from Yitz Greenberg is www.RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com, which features lectures of his in audio and video form, along with many of his books and articles. For a full bio of Greenberg, click here

[2] For more from Greenberg on the Third Era in particular, listen to this lecture.

[3] Listen to more of Greenberg's remarks on human beings as images of God by clicking here.

[4] One important moment where Greenberg's theological ideas interacted with his political activism occurred when he gave testimony on the Vietnam War before the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations in 1970. You can read the remarks he gave by clicking here, on pages 8-13.

[5] Purchase The Jewish Way by clicking here.



Judaism Unbound Episode 99: Regular Jews

Many Jewish institutions present the perspective that Jewish leadership requires mastery of a certain set of ideas and practices, discouraging anyone lacking that mastery (implicitly and explicitly) from creating the Judaisms that they wish to see in the world. In this episode, Dan and Lex push back against that idea, making the case for "regular Jews" to become creators of our Jewish present and future. 

(0:01 - 15:38): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex reflect on recent episodes in our series on innovations led by "regular Jews," [1] which included discoveries both expected and unexpected about why Jews working professionally outside of Jewish life have so much to bring to the present and future of Judaism. The discussion highlights the anthropological idea of "emic" and "etic" perspectives, which helps illuminate the ways in which both "insiders" and "outsiders" have important knowledge and skills to bring to the table. [2]

(15:39 - 34:22): The two co-hosts consider how "regular Jews" are told, directly and indirectly, that their ideas and skills are less valuable to Jewish communities than those of "insiders." Using the example of Rabbi Akiva, who many recognize as a late-comer to Jewish textual knowledge, they argue that regular Jews can become leaders of Jewish life because they become "Jewishly knowledgeable" or "Jewishly involved" later in life -- not in spite of that fact. [3] They go on to highlight enthusiasm and lack of limitations around politics as advantages to coming to Jewish life as more of an outsider.

(34:23 - 47:07): Dan and Lex ask what it is that gets in the way of "regular Jews" creating new communities and initiatives. They encourage listeners to take any Jewish ideas they have and try to make them reality, and they also solicit feedback regarding what obstacles are currently making that more challenging than it should be. [4] To close, Dan calls back to our ongoing theme of "unbundling" -- providing a reminder that Judaism need not necessarily be understood as one united system, so innovators need not feel the pressure to create "the whole widget," and perhaps the digital age, and search in particular, will reduce this pressure even more because it will be easier for Jews to build their own Jewish lives from a wide variety of "modules" that are out there. [5] 

[3] Learn more about Rabbi Akiva by reading this MyJewishLearning article, entitled "Who Was Rabbi Akiva?"

[4] In this conversation, Dan and Lex allude to the Bronfman Fellowship's Alumni Venture Fund. Learn more about it by clicking here

[5] To explore the topic of unbundling in more detail, check out Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism.

Judaism Unbound Episode 98: The Future of Torah - Brett Lockspeiser

Dan and Lex are joined by Brett Lockspeiser, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Sefaria. In the episode, they explore the beginnings, evolution, and future of Sefaria, a digital library of Jewish texts that describes its work as "the Future of Torah."

 Image Credit: The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Image Credit: The Contemporary Jewish Museum

(0:01 - 17:59): To begin the episode, Lockspeiser outlines what Sefaria is. [1] First, he discusses the range of texts that have thus far been added to the Sefaria library. Continuing, he highlights some of Sefaria's other features, including how it assists users in forging connections between related texts and visualizing those connections through images. [2] He also explains how Sefaria has evolved over time, as it relates to its mechanisms of adding translation. [3]

(18:00 - 37:07): Lockspeiser explores the origins of Sefaria. He tells the story of his own immersion in Jewish text, which helped him realize both that he deeply connected to text study and that he did not identify as an Orthodox Jew. He also examines the ways in which skills and knowledge that he and his co-founder (Joshua Foer) gained from other fields outside of organized Jewish life would prove crucial to the success of Sefaria. [4] [5] He then looks at the phenomenon of resistance to new forms of technology, which can come into play in Sefaria's work, identifying moments in history where innovations like writing or calculators have seemed threatening, but where ultimately their introduction proved to have a positive impact. [6]

(37:08 - 55:24): Lockspeiser wrestles with a question that has no easy answer -- how do we define the limits of what is, and is not, a "Jewish text?" He then discusses the traditional Jewish technology known as a "source sheet," and explains how Sefaria has empowered educators (and others) to create contemporary, digital versions of that technology in ways that are already reaching thousands of people around the world. [7] To close the episode, Lockspeiser highlights the importance of increased access to Jewish text, and he cites Sefaria's recent Hackathon event as one moment that embodies the immense potential for new forms of Jewish text study and engagement. [8]

 Image Credit: Sefaria

Image Credit: Sefaria

[1]  Explore Sefaria's library and all the features mentioned in this episode by clicking here.

[2] Check out visual representations of the connections Sefaria has collected between the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud by clicking here.

[3] Lockspeiser discusses the ways in which Sefaria has successfully partnered with existing publishers to release their work for free through their site. Read a blog post that provides a window into that process, announcing the publication of Adin Steinsaltz's Talmud translation, by clicking here.

 Image Credit: TechCabal

Image Credit: TechCabal

[4] The founders of Sefaria, Lockspeiser and Joshua Foer, met through the Bronfman Youth Fellowships (now the Bronfman Fellowship). Learn more about it by visiting the Bronfman Fellowship website.

[5] Learn more about the journey Lockspeiser describes, from "naive optimism," through "informed pessimism," to (hopefully) "informed optimism," by clicking here.

[6] For more on the ways that Jews, in particular, have resisted the introduction of new technology but eventually opted to embrace change, check out Lex's ELI Talk.

[7] For one of Sefaria's most viral source sheets, see "Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?" compiled by Joshua Bolton.

[8] Dive deeper into the hackathon that Sefaria hosted by reading this Times of Israel article, entitled "With ‘cholent’ and prayers, Haredim bring tech to study of ancient texts."

Judaism Unbound Episode 97: "Bad Jews" - Jenna Reback

In our continuing series on "regular Jews" creating important new initiatives, Dan and Lex are joined by Jenna Reback[1] a television writer based in Los Angeles who has created a weekly podcast entitled Bad Jew Weekly[2] Reback talks us through her goal of helping people who have thought of themselves as "bad Jews" on their journey toward becoming "bad-ass Jews." The conversation covers a range of important issues in the Jewish world today, from how to fully welcome converts to the interplay between national and international politics and Jewish institutions.

(0:01 - 13:24): To begin the episode, Jenna Reback explains what her podcast (Bad Jew Weekly) is about and why she created it. She then discusses her own Jewish upbringing as a child of a Southern Jewish dad and a mom who was a Jew-by-choice, [3] and how her own personal story contributed to her eventual creation of a podcast geared towards Jews who feel marginalized from Jewish life and/or insufficiently knowledgeable about Judaism. 

(13:25 - 29:21): Reback, along with the co-hosts, explores the immense success that those who are not rabbis (and not Jewish professionals at all) can have in creating Jewish content and even in educating people about Judaism. To flesh out how that can look in practice, Reback comments on how her skills as a television writer translate into her interpretations of Jewish texts, which she highlights on her podcast. She also comments on the ways that her distance from professional Jewish life gives her the freedom to speak about (and act) on controversial political issues without the pressures and tensions that institutional leaders may need to navigate. 

(29:22 - 44:05): Returning to a theme that has come up on Judaism Unbound in the past, Reback, with Dan and Lex, dives into the question of modern-day prophets. [4] In what ways does Bad Jew Weekly represent a kind of prophetic voice, calling out to Jewish leaders and institutions to change elements of their philosophies and priorities? To close the episode, Reback comments on how Bad Jew Weekly has affected people's lives already, along with how she hopes to amplify its impact in the future. [5]

[1] Hear more from Jenna Reback by checking out this interview of her at the 2016 Writers' Guild Festival.

[2] Learn more about Bad Jew Weekly by clicking here, and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking here.

[3] To listen to an episode of Bad Jew Weekly where Reback's mom (Kathy Reback) is the featured guest, click here.

[4] For more on the role of prophets in contemporary Judaism, see Episode 49: The Prophetic Voice - Shai Held and/or Episode 81: Diaspora Boy - Eli Valley.

[5] Listen in to Dan and Lex's guest appearance on Bad Jew Weekly by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode Hanukkah Night 8...Unbound

This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what traditions they propose for the 8th night.

 Image Credit: OneGreenPlanet.org

Image Credit: OneGreenPlanet.org


Click the image above to check out our Eat track of Hanukkah Unbound, mentioned in this episode, which offers a bunch of delicious Hanukkah foods that you can make, from all around the world, beyond just potato latkes.


Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode Hanukkah Night 7...Unbound

This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what tradition they propose for the 7th night.


Click the image above to learn more about our chemistry menorah, mentioned in this episode! And check out all the other creative ideas for lighting your Menorah through our Light Track of Hanukkah Unbound.


Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Hanukkah Night 5...Unbound

This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what tradition they propose for the 5th night.


Click the image above to learn more about our Listen and Learn track of Hanukkah Unbound, consisting of six 45-minute Hanukkah podcast episodes that will help you re-imagine the Festival of Lights!