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.

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.

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.

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.

Bonus Episode: Shavuot Part IV - The Book of Ruth

Traditionally, many of the books from the "Writings" section of the Hebrew Bible are associated with various holidays from the Jewish calendar year. The Book of Ruth was connected to the holiday of Shavuot. Dan and Lex dive into this book and ask the question: what elements of this text can we learn from and apply to our lives today?

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Bonus Episode: Shavuot Part III - What's the Deal with the Dairy?

But why is cheesecake part of Shavuot? Countless people have asked this question over the last few centuries, and a variety of answers have been provided. What are these answers? Why are dairy products considered by many to be an essential part of Shavuot? Dan and Lex look at this strange ritual, along with the (perhaps even strangers) arguments for it that have been discussed in Jewish texts. They also explore how we can create our own meanings for this quirky practice, along with the question of whether Jewish practices need to have tangible meaning at all!

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Bonus Episode: Shavuot Part II - The Future of Shavuot

In part two of Judaism Unbound's Shavuot mini-series, Dan and Lex do what they enjoy most -- they look to the future! In part one they looked at various forms of Shavuot observance that have manifested in the past and present, but what are new rituals or ideas that could be "imported" into Shavuot in the future?

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Bonus Episode: Shavuot Part I - What The Heck is Shavuot?

So you might have heard the name -- "Shavuot" -- but what exactly does this holiday commemorate? How is it celebrated? In this first mini-episode in a series of four on Shavuot, Dan and Lex provide a basic overview of the history of Shavuot. They look at early iterations of it described in the Torah, shifts in its observance that came in the early rabbinic period, and further updates that occurred leading up to the present day.

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Explore Shavuot's ritual of all-night study in a contemporary and entirely digital way with Shavuot Unbound!

Episode 67: Seven Weeks in Silicon Valley

Dan and Lex close out their seven-episode series looking at the seven weeks of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot, as an especially resonant symbol of our own time, which might be described as a time in between Judaisms. Looking back on our interviews drawing inspiration from Silicon Valley, the landscape of experimentation and innovation in our own day, Dan and Lex discuss the democratization of Judaism embodied and facilitated by the internet and revisit the question of Judaism as an operating system vs. Judaism as an app.

Dan and Lex Squarespace.png

(0:01 - 20:10): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex reflect on the ways that the digital world has helped to democratize Judaism, along with the ways in which there is still work to do on that front. [1] They discuss Eric Weiner's idea that the internet does indeed provide incredible access to data and information, but not necessarily to knowledge and wisdom. On a related note, Dan and Lex talk about how Jews often feel that they lack "permission" to experiment fully outside the bounds of "proper" or "correct" Jewish practice. [2]

(20:11 - 33:19):  Inspired by their exploration of Silicon Valley ideas, Dan and Lex return to a question they've explored in earlier episodes -- whether Judaism is best analogized to an "operating system" or an "app." [3] They look at this question through both a descriptive lens (is Judaism currently working as an operating system or an app in people's lives) and a prescriptive lens (should Judaism, in the future, work as an operating system or an app in people's lives). In exploring this issue, they discuss a variety of groups of Jews, including Orthodox Jews, Jewish Israelis, and those who are uninvolved in institutional Jewish life.

(33:20 - 44:16): To close the episode, Dan and Lex open up a new question which has resulted from their increasing sense that Judaism may, in fact, be an app and not an operating system today. If Judaism is an app, what is the app for? They also encourage listeners to check out Shavuot Unbound, an online initiative that offers diverse digital avenues for experiencing the tradition of all-night study on the eve of the holiday of Shavuot, [4] and to consider joining or creating "podcast circles" -- book-club-style groups we are organizing that meet regularly to talk about subjects raised in the Judaism Unbound podcast and to experiment with applying the ideas in practice. [5]

Dive into Shavuot Unbound,  Judaism Unbound's all-digital Shavuot experience, at www.judaismunbound.com/shavuot-unbound! With "tracks" ranging from one-hour to twelve-hours in length, on a wide diversity of topics, you'll have plenty of material to fill as much of your night as you'd like!

Dive into Shavuot Unbound,  Judaism Unbound's all-digital Shavuot experience, at www.judaismunbound.com/shavuot-unbound! With "tracks" ranging from one-hour to twelve-hours in length, on a wide diversity of topics, you'll have plenty of material to fill as much of your night as you'd like!

[1] This episode is the last in a seven-episode series that coincides with the counting of the Omer from Passover to Shavuot. For the episodes that preceded it, click the following links: Episode 61: Wandering in the Wilderness - Zack Bodner, Tova BirnbaumEpisode 62: The Geography of Jewish Genius - Eric Weiner, Episode 63: JewTube - Oona King, Episode 64: Judaism By Design - Jesse Dorogusker, Episode 65: Investing in the Future - Oren Ze'ev, Episode 66: Jewish? Community? Center? - Zack Bodner

[2] Lex mentions two digital resources, MyJewishLearning and Sefaria, that are particularly useful. You can explore MyJewishLearning by clicking here and Sefaria by clicking here.

[3] To engage further with the question of Judaism as an "operating system" or as an "app," listen to Episode 21: jOS 4.0 - A New Jewish Operating System?

[4] Explore all the possibilities of Shavuot Unbound, Judaism Unbound's digital Shavuot initiative, by clicking here!

[5] If you would like to create your own Judaism Unbound "podcast circle," please email Lex@NextJewishFuture.org and/or Dan@NextJewishFuture.org.

Episode 66: Jewish? Community? Center? - Zack Bodner

Zack Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, joins Dan and Lex in our Silicon Valley series to explore the shifting role of Jewish Community Centers, possibilities for a "Judaism 4.0," and what special role a JCC in the heart of the experimental and entrepreneurial landscape of Silicon Valley might play in playing with the possibilities. [1]

(0:01 - 11:11): To begin the episode, Bodner examines a frame that he and Dan share, but came to independently: "Judaism 4.0." [2] Bodner talks about the ways in which the missions of Jewish Community Centers shifted from "teaching Jews how to be Americans" to "teaching Americans how to be Jews." He also discusses the extent to which Orthodox Judaism has "cornered the market" on public displays of Jewish identity, opening up a broader conversation about whether the best course of action for non-Orthodox Jews is to re-vision existing Jewish ritual practices, create their own practices, or some combination of both. [3]

(11:12 - 26:29): Bodner extends our conversation from recent episodes regarding the democratization of society made possible by the internet, along with how that shift could apply to contemporary Judaism. He then introduces five key factors that he sees as primary drivers of change in the Jewish world today, citing (1) the shift away from institutional affiliation, (2) digital technology, (3) ethnographic changes, (4) new forms of meaning and belonging, and (5) the unprecedented, simultaneous existence of both a Jewish state and a strong Jewish diaspora. He then explores the dichotomies of individual and community, being Jewish and "doing Jewish," [4] and gives a window into the ways in which JCCs can prove meaningful not only for Jews, but also for people of other backgrounds as well. [5]

(26:30 - 47:04): Bodner looks at elements of the Silicon Valley experience that provide unique opportunities and challenges, when compared to JCCs in other communities around the country. To close the episode, Bodner turns the tables on Dan and Lex, asking them what they see as the primary problem that Judaism Unbound exists to address. In conclusion, Bodner tells the Talmudic story of Yohanan Ben Zakai, [6] applying it to the 21st century landscape of Jewish life. 

[1] To learn more about Zack Bodner, you can read his bio, available at this link.

Image Credit: Imgrum.org

Image Credit: Imgrum.org

[2] Learn more about Dan's framing of Judaism 4.0 by reading his 2012 article, featured in Zeek. Read the Oshman Family JCC's "manifesto," which culminates in a call for Judaism 4.0, by clicking here.

[3] Lex mentions two articles he wrote for New Voices magazine on the topic of Jewish ritual practice. Read his case for wearing a yarmulke through the article "Why Are There Pringles On My Head?" and check out "On Scruffy Beards and Their Spiritual Significance," on growing a beard during the Omer period, by clicking here.

[4] Zack Bodner cites Mordechai Kaplan's trifecta of belonging, behaving, and believing. Learn more about that framework through Patti Haskell's short essay, "Belonging, Behaving, and Believing: Exploring Reconstructionist Process."

[5] For an article about the trend towards increased non-Jewish involvement in Jewish Community Centers, read this article by Anthony Weiss, entitled "Jewish Community Centers Open Their Doors to Wider Audiences,"

[6] For the Talmudic account of Yohanan ben Zakai's request for "Yavneh and Its Sages," in English translation, click here

Episode 65: Investing in the Future - Oren Zeev

Oren Zeev,  Founding Partner of Zeev Ventures, gives us a window into the mind of a Silicon Valley investor, as we continue to explore how the mindset of Silicon Valley might help us think about getting from the Jewish present to the Jewish future we hope might emerge. Oren Zeev is known for successful investments in early-stage companies, such as Audible.com and, recently, Houzz. How does he decide which projects to back? To what extent are the perspectives he has developed in the business world translatable to the Jewish non-profit landscape? [1]

Image Credit: TechCrunch

Image Credit: TechCrunch

(0:01 - 18:46): To begin the episode, Zeev describes his thought process in deciding whether or not to invest in a company. In particular, he emphasizes the importance of the people, by asking, "Who am I backing?" not just, "What am I backing?" He also explores, with Dan, the question of when and how companies should look to go to scale, in particular emphasizing how that issue can translate to Jewish non-profits that need the time and space to develop their ideas before they (eventually) grow. [2] Zeev then outlines the ways that relationships between funders and entrepreneurs can be healthiest in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.

(18:47 - 29:40): Zeev dives deeper into the origins of Tipalti and TripActions, two successful companies that he backs, in order to demonstrate what it looks like to support an idea as it moves from "half-baked" to "fully-baked." He also expands on some of the issues that are more challenging for companies in the for-profit world, and compares these with the advantages and disadvantages that manifest more frequently for non-profits. [3]

(29:41 - 41:41): Zeev discusses the particulars of backing a non-profit organization, emphasizing that he cares more about the effectiveness of the organization than about his personal connection to the cause. In conclusion, he looks back on his investment in Audible.com, a company that was initially seen as a failure but eventually bloomed into a huge success, [4] reinforcing an idea that was discussed last week about the timing of ideas and how sometimes a great idea can only translate into a successful company (or non-profit) when external factors change (in Audible's case, the creation of the iPod).

[1] Learn more about Oren Zeev by checking out this 2014 article about him, featured in TechCrunch.

[2] In this section of the episode, Zeev emphasizes the need for both non-profits and for-profit companies to "go slow to go fast." Learn more about that philosophy by checking out this article, published by The Foraker Group.

[3] If you'd like to compare and contrast non-profits and businesses even more deeply, we recommend reading the following two articles in tandem. First , read "Why non-profits should run like businesses," featured at NonProfitPro.com, and then follow it up with "Why You Should Run Your Business Like a Non-Profit," featured in Forbes Magazine. 

[4] We encourage our listeners to check out the offerings of Audible.com. Thousands of audiobooks can be found there, including many of those published by past guests of Judaism Unbound.

Episode 64: Judaism By Design - Jesse Dorogusker

In the fourth episode of Judaism Unbound's seven-part series exploring Silicon Valley and the period between Passover and Shavuot known as the "Omer," Jesse Dorogusker, Hardware Lead for Square Inc, brings ideas from product design and technological innovation and thinks with us about how they might be applied to renewing contemporary Judaism. Dorogusker helps deepen our thinking on topics introduced in previous episodes, including integration, modularity, and "jobs to be done."

Image Credit: TechCrunch

Image Credit: TechCrunch

(0:01 - 10:57): Jesse Dorogusker talks about his own professional background in engineering and product design, [1] and focuses on the importance of empathy for design. He also tells the story of the origin and mission of Square, the company for which he works today, [2] and he and Dan discuss ways in which the story is relevant to Judaism.

(10:58 - 27:10): The question of integration vs. modularity, a frequent topic on our podcast, comes back into play. Should Judaism manifest as an "integrated system," where people incorporate all of it into their lives or none at all? Could there be an alternative approach, where Judaism is "modularized?" [3] Dorogusker brings his experiences wrestling with similar questions at Apple and Square to the Jewish conversation. He also provides his own take on the question of "jobs to be done," a frame introduced by Clayton Christensen. [4] Dorogusker applies these questions to Jewish life directly, exploring the ways that he himself connected to Jewish life largely because it effectively met an important "job to be done" that he had at the time (childcare).

(27:11 - 44:21): What is "ruthless editing" in the context of Silicon Valley, and how does it help companies avoid the danger of "over-service"? Could Judaism (and should Judaism!) be "ruthlessly edited" such that a few key "features" of it are centralized while the remainder are eliminated (or at least treated as less crucial)?  To close the episode, Dorogusker gives his thoughts on two issues -- aesthetics and accessibility. In Silicon Valley, it is straight-forward why both of these are crucial to the success of a product, but Judaism has not necessarily transitioned to emphasizing them in an age where individuals can choose whether to not to participate in Jewish life. [5]

[1] Learn more about Jesse Dorogusker by reading this piece about him, featured in Wired Magazine. 

[2] Check out this article in St. Louis Magazine to learn more about the origin story of Square.

[3] To hear more about the issue of integration vs. modularity as it relates to Judaism, listen in to Episode 25 of our podcast, entitled "Unbundling Judaism."

[4]  Dorogusker alludes to the question of "jobs to be done" as it applies to a Chicago architecture tour. Read this article, entitled "Integrating Around the Job to Be Done," to explore that case study further. 

[5] Listen in to Episode 32: The Art of Judaism if you'd like to explore further the role that aesthetics could (or should) play in contemporary Judaism.

Episode 63: JewTube - Oona King

Oona King, former member of the British Parliament, currently on leave from the House of Lords, and now Director of Diverse Marketing at YouTube, takes us on a deep dive into the democratization that new internet-based technologies, like YouTube, potentially represent, and we discuss possible applications to the process of re-imagining Judaism.

Image Credit: DigitalSpy

Image Credit: DigitalSpy

(0:01 - 20:09): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex review the ongoing theme of the Omer period (the seven weeks from Passover until Shavuot) as a time for an increased openness to Jewish creativity. After this introduction, Dan continues as solo host (because the interview was conducted live on a trip Dan made to Silicon Valley), entering into conversation with Baroness Oona King. [1] They explore the extent to which YouTube represents a shift similar to the story of Jethro, in the book of Exodus, where more people are invited and empowered to take leadership of society. They also discuss King's work at YouTube to confront societal differences in the treatment of men and women. [2]

(20:10 - 35:57): King delves further into the topic of stereotypes, discussing the harmful role that they can play. In particular, she opens up about her own experiences as a target of antisemitism, [3] including how those experiences provoked her to explore her Jewish identity further. She talks about how her identity as a mixed-race person causes her to always feel a bit like an outsider, even as a member of a quintessentially "inside" organization like the House of Lords. She explores the ways in which that experience resonates with Jewish traditions of marginality or "outsider-ness" to a great extent.

(35:58 - 50:09): How does YouTube actively take steps to induce a spirit of creativity in its users? To what extent could contemporary Jewish communities learn from their efforts? [4] King looks at those questions, and even presents the idea of Judaism as a "Spotify playlist for religion." [5] She closes by diving deeper into the particular mission of Google (of which YouTube is a subsidiary), and why she is passionate about channeling it towards creating a better world. [6]

[1] For a full bio of Baroness Oona King, click here.

[2] King alludes to a controversy surrounding an antisemitic video made by a viral YouTuber named PewDiePie. Learn more by clicking here.

[3] Read more about the antisemitism directed at Baroness King through this BBC article.

[4] For a scholarly piece that looks at these questions from the lens of Jewish Studies, read "The Democratization of American Judaism," by Jonathan Sarna, available in full at this link.

[5] For another thinker that proposes we utilize the framework of a "playlist" to better understand contemporary Judaism, see Kerry Olitzky's book Playlist Judaism: Making Choices for a Vital Future.

[6] For a recent piece that describes the potential YouTube has to catalyze broader diversity online, including a profile of Baroness King, click here.

Episode 62: The Geography of Jewish Genius - Eric Weiner

What factors can cause a particular location to be one where "genius" thrives? How could perceptions of Judaism change such that Jews feel they can find holiness and meaning within the realm of their own "home" tradition? Author Eric Weiner joins Dan and Lex to discuss two of his books, The Geography of Genius and Man Seeks God, and the vast array of questions that the two works provoke. 

Image Credit: HighBar.tv

Image Credit: HighBar.tv

(0:01 - 13:56): Weiner begins our conversation by introducing two of his books -- The Geography of Genius [1] and Man Seeks God. [2] In particular, he looks at the characteristics that have historically defined places well-known for their creativity and for producing "genius," along with providing a snapshot into his time in the Israeli city of Safed (Ts'fat). [3] He also elaborates on the title for Man Seeks God, explaining the reasons he used the word "God" in particular, as opposed to "Man Seeks Meaning" or "Man Seeks Holiness." [4]

(13:57 - 27:24): Weiner delves deeper into contemporary Judaism in particular. Are many Jews feeling alienated from Judaism because it feels inordinately focused on rules and regulations and uninterested in deeper forms of meaning or spirituality? Is it possible that feelings of alienation, or a sense of being "uprooted," may help create a climate for disenchanted Jews to create new forms of Judaism? He then introduces his "3 D's of all creative places" -- diversity, discernment, and disorder, which he believes are fundamental building blocks for any environment where genius might flourish. [5]

(27:25 - 46:36): Is it necessary to have only one spiritual home-base? In other words, should we move towards a paradigm where individuals and groups consciously look to find practices from more than one religion and utilize them in their own lives, or should we continue to work within a paradigm where most people center themselves primarily in one religious tradition? He elaborates on similarities and differences between the qualities of a "seeker," and those of a "genius," and explores the benefits and limits of sharing between and among various religious traditions. [6] Weiner concludes the episode by bringing his ideas about the roles that the internet can and cannot play in the future of American Judaism. 

[1] You can purchase The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World's Most Creative Placesby clicking here.

[2] Purchase Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With The Divine, by clicking here.

[3] In discussing his time in the city of Safed, Weiner mentions the book Jewish Meditation, by Aryeh Kaplan, which has been influential for many residents of Safed. Purchase Jewish Meditation by clicking here.

[4] Weiner discusses the phenomenon of individuals, especially in America, considering themselves to be "spiritual but not religious." He is correct that the opposite formulation, "religious but not spiritual," is far rarer. To read a piece from someone who identifies as the latter, check out this piece by Michael Toy, featured in Princeton Revisions. For a full study that focuses on those who are "spiritual but not religious," read Robert Fuller's book Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America.

[5] Weiner mentions his desire for more rabbis to state, openly and honestly, that they don't have all the answers. In response, Lex alludes to a statement in the Mishnah (first section of the Talmud), where one rabbi does just that (technically, he says "I forgot"). To read this text (Mishnah Middot 2:5) in full, click here.

[6] Weiner cites with interest the title of the book Jewish With Feeling, by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, stating that he would like to see a Jewish future where there is no such thing as "Jewish without feeling." You can purchase Jewish With Feeling by clicking here


Episode 61: Wandering in the Wilderness - Zack Bodner, Tova Birnbaum

Dan and Lex are joined by guest co-hosts Zack Bodner and Tova Birnbaum, from the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California. In this episode, they explore the Torah's narrative of the wandering in the wilderness, asking how lessons from that story can apply to contemporary Jewish life.

(0:01 - 10:59): To begin the episode, Dan introduces the series that this episode commences. He explains that the next seven weeks of episodes coincide with the observance of the counting of the Omer, from Passover through Shavuot. In conjunction with this period, Judaism Unbound will be entering into conversation with a variety of people immersed in the creative world of Silicon Valley. How can their knowledge be applied to contemporary Judaism? Guest co-hosts Zack Bodner and Tova Birnbaum introduce their work as leaders at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, [1] which is fully immersed in the landscape of Silicon Valley. Birnbaum also tells the story of her journey from growing up in traditional religious Judaism to becoming one of the founders of BINA, a "secular Yeshiva" in Israel. [2]

(11:00 - 27:19): The four co-hosts enter into a conversation on the book of Exodus, specifically highlighting the period of wandering in the wilderness that occurs after departing Egypt. To what extent can this period of wandering serve as a model of a period of uncertainty -- of not-knowing -- that we might replicate today? That question serves as a launch-point into an analysis of the story of Jethro, best known for helping Moses to re-structure Israelite society.[3] How did his advice help to "flatten" Israelite leadership? Was the fact that it was an outsider like Jethro (he was a Midianite priest, not an Israelite) gave such crucial advice coincidental, or was his "outsider-ness" central to his ability to help the Israelites re-invent themselves?

Jethro, as depicted in Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt      Image Credit: Cornel1801.com

Jethro, as depicted in Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt      Image Credit: Cornel1801.com

(27:20 - 44:48): Myriad other stories from the wandering in the wilderness enter into the conversation. How do the narratives of the twelve spies, [4] the crossing of the Jordan 40 years later, [5] the construction of the Golden Calf, [6] and the death of Aaron's sons (Nadav and Abihu) [7] apply to a re-visioning of Jewish creativity in the 21st century? Additionally, Birnbaum asks how the opposing themes of mourning and joy, both present in the Omer, collide in ways that could prove meaningful for today's Jews. 

[1] Learn more about the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto by visiting their website.

[2] Visit the website of BINA's Secular Yeshiva by clicking here.

[3] The story of Jethro's advice to Moses can be found in chapter 18 of Exodus.

[4] Read the story of the twelve spies in chapter 13 of Numbers. For another application of this story to contemporary Jewish life, view Lex's ELI Talk (available by clicking the video on the right)

[5] For more on the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, which chose not to cross the Jordan, read chapter 32 of Numbers.

[6] To read the story of the golden calf, check out chapter 32 of Exodus.

[7] For the story of Nadav and Abihu's death, read chapter 10 of Leviticus.