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]

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[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.

Judaism Unbound 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!

Judaism 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!

Judaism 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!

Judaism 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!

Judaism 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.