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.

Holidays Unbound Episode 4: Passover Part III - The Passover Seder (Abigail Pogrebin, Amichai Lau-Lavie, Vanessa Ochs, Justin Goldstein)

Dan and Ruth dive into the history of the seder and ideas about how to use—or not use—the traditional haggadah. They also explore how to experiment with new seder rituals that resonate with us, with our guests, and with our children, while keeping everyone interested and focused on the purpose of Passover. Dan and Ruth are joined by Abigail Pogrebin, Vanessa Ochs, Amichai Lau-Lavie, and Justin Goldstein, all of whom share interesting perspectives and great ideas.

Episode 60: The Future is Already Here

The writer William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." In this episode, Dan and Lex apply that quotation to the Jewish world. In doing so, they reflect in particular on their recent conversation with Juan Mejia on conversion to Judaism, new ways of understanding the role of ethnicity in Jewish life, and more.

(0:01 - 17:11): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex reflect on Juan Mejia's recent episode (Episode 57: Becoming Jewish On the Web). [1] In particular, they discuss Mejia's quotation that Jews "are crying over spilt milk on the beach, with their backs to a tsunami." How would Judaism change if there were an influx of converts? Would that "tsunami" challenge the way that we have historically related to the idea of Jewish ethnicity? [2] They also explore the factors that cause many Jews today to believe that nobody (or very few) people would be interested in converting to a religion that has faced so much historical trauma and oppression.

(17:16 - 29:48): The two co-hosts ask an important question: Could Jewish institutions look outside the population of those who are currently Jewish in order to increase the quantity of people connecting to the work that they do? They also whether new forms of connection may arise for individuals who aren't Jewish in terms of their identity (in the sense of "being Jewish"), but who do connect deeply to Judaism in one way or another. In other words, is official conversion the only way for non-Jews to connect in a deep way to the material of Judaism?

A Korean children's book on the Talmud. Image Credit: The New Yorker

A Korean children's book on the Talmud. Image Credit: The New Yorker

(29:49 - 43:57): William Gibson has been credited with the quote "The future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed." [3] Dan has mentioned this quotation in the past, but in this episode, the two co-hosts explore it in a fuller fashion than they have before. Which elements of contemporary Jewish experience, not yet understood as central, may prove to be the seeds that flower into core elements of the Jewish future? In this conversation, they also reflect on recent episodes featuring Carmel Chiswick (Episode 58: Jewish Economics) and Hayim Herring (Episode 59: Jewish Futurology). [4] 

[1] Listen to the full episode, featuring Juan Mejia, by clicking here.

[2] For a fuller article on the phenomenon of Koreans exploring the Talmud, click here.

[3] For an article applying Gibson's quote to the digital world, click here.

[4] Listen in to these two episodes at the following links: Episode 58: Jewish Economics, Episode 59: Jewish Futurology

Holidays Unbound Episode 3: Passover Part II - Did the Exodus Really Happen? (Steven Weitzman, Richard Elliott Friedman)

Dan and Ruth speak with scholars Steven Weitzman of the University of Pennsylvania and Richard Elliott Friedman of the University of Georgia (author of Who Wrote the Bible?) to explore the critical question—or is it?—of whether or not the Exodus was a historical event. Professors Weitzman and Friedman walk us through the elements of the story that seem to reflect true historical memories and the elements that are likely embellishments, and both reflect on the power of the story regardless of its historicity.

Holidays Unbound Episode 2: Passover Part I - What is Passover For? (Shai Held, Rachel Kahn Troster, Abigail Pogrebin)

Dan and Ruth begin the discussion of Passover by asking what the point of the holiday is! In answering, they consider the ideas of guests Shai Held, Rachel Kahn Troster, and Abigail Pogrebin. Among other questions, Dan and Ruth consider whether and why Passover is a good place to start our examination of the Jewish holidays and how we might create Passover experiences for ourselves that are truly transformative in our lives.

Episode 59: Jewish Futurology - Hayim Herring

Dan and Lex are joined by Hayim Herring, an expert in Jewish entrepreneurship and self-identified "Jewish futurist." [1] They discuss challenges faced by synagogues and opportunities available to them in today's ever-shifting landscape of American Judaism.

(0:01 - 14:16): What is a Jewish futurist? Herring explains what he does and also tells the story of his professional journey, including his time at STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal. [2] He also addresses the transitional period of Judaism in which we find ourselves today. [3]

(14:17 - 27:28): Herring explores the twin issues of mission and purpose as applied to synagogue life. [4] How can synagogues ensure that they remain focused on 3-5 particular functions that they are uniquely well-positioned to serve? How can institutions that educate leaders of Jewish life (rabbis, cantors, etc) shift their structures and curricula to better meet the needs of contemporary Jews? [5] [6]

(27:29 - 45:19): Herring suggests that we emphasize trans-generational forms of connection and community in Jewish life. He also, along with the co-hosts, explores both the dangers and benefits of forms of Jewish life that occur digitally. He closes the episode by advocating for an elevation of the role of artists in contemporary Judaism.

[1] Learn more about Hayim Herring by reading his bio here.

[2] Learn more about one of STAR's most well-known initiatives, "Synaplex," by reading this 2003 article in JTA.

[3] Herring mentions Lab/Shul as a congregation that is growing and thriving. Learn more about their work by listening to Episode 29 of our podcast, featuring Lab/Shul's Spiritual Director, Amichai Lau-Lavie.

[4] Purchase Herring's most recent book, Leading Congregations and Non-Profits in a Connect World: Platforms, People and Purpose, co-written with Terri Martinson Elton, by clicking here.

[5] Purchase Herring's book Keeping Faith in Rabbis, featuring an essay co-written by our very own Dan Libenson and past podcast guest Barak Richman, by clicking here.

[6] Hear Dan and Barak present some of their related ideas, through the video directly to the right.

Holidays Unbound Episode 1: Introductions (Abigail Pogrebin)

Dan Libenson and Ruth Abusch-Magder introduce a new podcast series exploring the Jewish Holidays, aimed at helping "regular Jews" get more creative with their holiday celebrations. They are joined by Abigail Pogrebin, whose recent book, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew, tells the story of her "extreme sports Judaism" year of observing every holiday on the Jewish calendar.


Episode 58: Jewish Economics - Carmel Chiswick

How do Jews decide how (and whether) to invest their time and money in Judaism? Economist Carmel Chiswick joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about that question and more in this episode of Judaism Unbound. [1]

(0:01 - 13:35): Chiswick begins by discussing her own journey that led to writing the book Judaism in Transition, [2] and providing a brief summary of some basic concepts in labor economics. She also begins to explore how those concepts can be applied to contemporary forms of Jewish observance.

(13:36 - 26:10): Chiswick looks deeper at Judaism, both in the 20th and 21st century, through the lens of labor economics. [3] First, she engages with shifts in how and when Jews have chosen to allocate their time (or not) to Judaism. In doing so, she highlights the concept of substitutes and complements, and puts forth an argument for how it can help us understand the contemporary emphasis in Jewish life on the principle of Tikkun Olam (social justice). [4] 

(26:11 - 40:42): Our podcast has looked at the period directly after the destruction of the 2nd temple from a wide variety of angles, but Chiswick's lens of labor economics had not entered into our equation. Here, she brings her perspective to that historical development. In closing, she looks forward into the Jewish future, examining the impact that new forms of technology will have on the economics of Judaism in the 21st century and beyond. [5]

[1] Learn more about Carmel Chiswick by reading her bio, accessible by clicking here.

[2] Purchase Judaism In Transition by clicking here.

[3] Chiswick's essay "How Economics Helped Shape American Judaism" provides further depth on a number of issues discussed in this episode. Read it by clicking here

[4] Learn more about the framework of substitutes and complements by clicking here.

[5] Chiswick refers to the book The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History as another helpful resource that explores the intersection of economics and Judaism. Purchase it by clicking here.



Episode 57: Becoming Jewish On the Web - Juan Mejia

Juan Mejia, the Southwest/Latin America Regional Director for Be'chol Lashon, [1] who grew up Catholic, converted to Judaism, and became a rabbi, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about conversion, the growing importance of the internet in contemporary Jewish life, and emergent forms of Judaism arising in Latin America, and what it all might mean for the future of Judaism.

(0:01 - 15:00): Mejia tells the story of his own background, [2] beginning with his journey into Judaism, and going on to describe the events that led him, once Jewish, to choose to become a rabbi. He emphasizes the important role that the internet played in his own journey and the reasons why and ways in which it is proving even more pivotal for individuals exploring Judaism all around the world today. [3]

(15:01 - 31:41): Mejia outlines the development of his work over the past decade. At first, he focused on anusim (descendants of Jews who had been forced to convert during the Spanish inquisition). [4] Eventually, though, he decided to broaden his work to include even those who are not likely to have Jewish ancestry but nonetheless become interested in becoming Jewish. He describes how he connects with these people, including the role that his Spanish-language prayer book has played. [5] He then discusses barriers in addition to language that his work aims to surmount. Mejia talks, too, about the growth of Jewish communities outside of his own region of focus -- spotlighting the Jews of Uganda as a case study. [6]

(31:42 - 51:05): Mejia recounts the role that his own past struggles to connect to Judaism plays in informing and motivating his work engaging people dealing with similar challenges today. He warns against the danger of "spiritual colonialism" and argues that we are in the midst of a period of "de-diasporization." In conclusion, he analyzes important realities in today's Jewish world, including the growing importance of non-Jews in Jewish communities, and the strength of Spanish-speaking Jewry within the United States. [7]

[1] Learn more about Be'chol Lashon by visiting their website.

Image Credit: The Forward

Image Credit: The Forward

[2] Gain another window into Mejia's fascinating story by reading this 2007 Haaretz article, entitled "In Spain Our Name Was Messiah"

[3] Mejia introduces some of the debates around conversion to Judaism taking place online. Engage these issues more further through this JTA article.

[4] This 2009 JTA article provides a look at Mejia's early work, focusing on anusim. If you'd like to access some basic information regarding the history of anusim, click here.

[5] Mejia's prayer book, entitled Kol Tuv Sefarad, is digitally available, in full, at this link. For his full website, featuring Spanish-language videos, texts and more, click here.

[6] Learn more about the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda through this 2016 article, featured in Tablet Magazine.

[7] Mejia identifies B'nai Jeshurun, a congregation in New York City, as a strong example of a synagogue that is thriving under the leadership of Latin-American Jews. Learn more about B'nai Jeshurun by visiting their website.


Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe

In celebration of our one-year anniversary as a podcast, Dan and Lex are joined by the very first guest we ever had on the show, Benay Lappe, making her third guest appearance on Judaism Unbound. [1] In this episode, we do a deep dive into Lappe's organization, SVARA, which defines itself as a "traditionally radical yeshiva," a place to study Jewish texts through a "Queer lens."

(0:01 - 14:57): Lappe gives a basic overview of what the organization the she founded, SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, does. [2] In particular, she discusses the Talmud, which many people think of as antiquated or boring, but which Lappe understands as "pleasurable and rewarding" -- especially for folks who are marginalized by society. [3]

(14:58 - 30:14): Lappe tells the story of her own journey into the world of Judaism and Talmud, which ultimately led to the founding of SVARA. She discusses her departure from Judaism and lengthy sojourn in the world of Buddhism and then explains how she came back to Judaism and entered rabbinical school, where she had to be in the closet, how she "went into hiding to get the Torah." Lappe also provides insight on why in-depth Talmud study can be particularly joyous, bringing a sense of achievement to learners, and why she thinks that Talmud study can be meaningful even to those who do not identify as Jews.

(30:14 - 44:23): An important question arises as the episode arcs towards its conclusion: Increasingly, people who are not LGBTQ are learning about SVARA and looking to engage with its offerings. Lappe talks about the tension between serving the growing numbers of non-LGBTQ people who are interested in SVARA and maintaining the uniquely queer and radical framework that has helped make SVARA so successful. [4]

[1] If you would like to hear more from Benay Lappe, check out two of our past episodes of Judaism Unbound in which she has been our featured guest: Episode 3: Exodus and Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today

[2] Learn more about SVARA by visiting their website, svara.org.

[3] In discussing the pleasure that flows from meeting the challenge of learning Talmud, Lappe alludes to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Learn more about his work, through a TED Talk he delivered, entitled Flow, The Secret to Happiness (to view it, click on the video directly to the left). Purchase his book, also entitled Flow, by clicking here.

[4] Lappe closes the episode by referring to the "Alma Mater" statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Learn more about the statue's history, and learn the text of its moving poem, by clicking here.

[5] View Lappe's influential ELI Talk, entitled "An Unrecognizable Jewish Future: A Queer Talmudic Take," a 17-minute distillation of "Crash" Theory that has been viewed by thousands, by clicking the video link directly to the left.


Episode 55: The 365th Day

1 year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. It seems like just yesterday that Judaism Unbound launched a wild experiment -- this podcast -- designed to induce thoughtful conversation about the Jewish present and future. In this episode, Dan and Lex look back on themes of the jam-packed first year of the podcast. They also look forward to the second year of Judaism Unbound's continuing work.

Judaism Unbound Grey Background.png

(0:01 - 16:40): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex look back at the "trinity" that Douglas Rushkoff laid out in Episode 52, of iconoclasm, abstract monotheism, and social justice (he sees these three concepts, collectively, as an expression of the essence of Judaism). They ask if Judaism really does have an essence at all (or if it should in the future), whether it's Rushkoff's three-fold essence or another set of core values. [1] Jumping off from that conversation, they discuss whether or not monotheism must be a core characteristic of Judaism. [2] In doing so, they wrestle with the idea of Judaism as a "God-optional" system. Should Judaism be "God-optional" in the future? Is it already? [3]

(16:41 - 30:58): Dan and Lex take on the "R-word" -- religion. Is Judaism a religion? Must religions revolve around questions of theology? [4] Is "religion" a term that has become so alienating (to some Jews and others) that it can, for many people, no longer serve a useful purpose? [5]

(30:59 - 46:13): To close the episode, the two co-hosts look back on the first year of Judaism Unbound and forward to its second year. They review some key learnings that have come to light from a variety of guests on the podcast, [6] reflect on some of the other initiatives, in addition to the podcast, that Judaism Unbound has implemented over the past year, [7] and look forward to new offerings we have in the works for the future.

[1] For a comprehensive look at the question of Judaism's essence, or lack thereof, we highly recommend Michael Satlow's book Creating Judaism: History, Tradition, Practice. You can purchase it on Amazon by clicking here.

[2] To engage further with the issue of monotheism's place in the past, present, and future of Judaism, we encourage listeners to read Donniel Hartman's Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, available on Amazon at this link.

[3] To learn more about the framework of "God-optional" Judaism, listen to Episode 29 of Judaism Unbound, featuring Amichai Lau-Lavie of Lab/Shul.

[4] Lex discusses, in the middle portion of this episode, alternative understandings of religion that do not revolve around theology. For six themes that religion often embodies (or, to use our language, "jobs to be done" that religion can achieve) we recommend taking a look at page 6 of How We Gather, by Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston.

[5] For more on the similarities between non-Orthodox Jews and Atheists, see this Haaretz article by Peter Beinart, entitled "The American Jewish Divide is About Much More than Iran."

[6] In looking back at Judaism Unbound's first year, Dan and Lex reflect on a theme first identified by David Cygielman of Moishe House -- that successful leaders tend to focus on solving a problem that they themselves face. To hear Cygielman's initial framing of this idea, listen in to Episode 19 of our podcast, featuring Cygielman as our guest. For an expansion on that theme, check out our 24th episode, featuring Sarah Lefton of Bimbam.

Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula Part II

How does our approach to Jewish life change when we suggest that Judaism can be "hired" to accomplish various jobs? What are the "jobs" it can be "hired" to do? Irwin Kula sheds light on that question in this episode, the second half of a conversation that begin with Episode 53: Death and Rebirth[1]

Image Credit: IntensityAdvisors.com

Image Credit: IntensityAdvisors.com

(0:01 - 11:49): To begin part two of his interview, Kula lays out the framework coined by Clayton Christensen as "jobs to be done," [2] and he applies that framework to contemporary Judaism. He also looks at the roles of individuals and communities, critiquing the pervasive idea of Judaism encapsulated by the phrase "the Jewish community." He explains why an emphasis on belonging makes it difficult for Judaism to better fulfill a variety of other important "jobs to be done." 

(11:50 - 27:16): Kula continues the "jobs to be done" conversation by asserting that the primary role of religion is to catalyze "human flourishing." He looks at the role that the field of positive psychology plays in making that flourishing possible, [3] and criticizes the tendency of contemporary religion towards "fetishized preservationism." [4]

(27:17 - 46:57): Kula provides a few examples of Jewish "technologies", such as Shabbat and Yom Kippur, that 21st century Jews could approach more effectively through a lens that incorporates disruptive innovation and jobs-to-be-done. [5] To close the episode, Lex reflects on the first full year of the Judaism Unbound podcast, thanking listeners (and anyone reading these shownotes!!) for all of their engagement over the course of the first 52 weeks of Judaism Unbound. He also encourages them (you!) to check out our other initiatives that are already released and to stay tuned for new launches in the future!

[1] Listen to part one of this two-part episode (Episode 53: Death and Rebirth) by clicking here. Learn more about Irwin Kula by reading his bio.

[2] To learn more about the "jobs to be done" framework, check out Clayton Christensen's most recent book, entitled Competing Against Luck.

[3] Learn more about positive psychology through the essay "Positive Psychology: An Introduction," by Martin Seligman.

[4] Read this piece, written by Kula and Craig Hatkoff (mentioned in the episode), for more information regarding how disruptive innovation can occur differently (and more slowly) in the realm of religion.

[5] In this section, Kula mentions the concept of the "Faux Mitzvah." Learn more about what these events look like by reading this 2012 piece in the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I

What does it look like when one version of Judaism dies and another is born? Irwin Kula, President of CLAL: The National Center for Learning and Leadership, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about that question and more. This episode represents Part I of a two-part conversation with Kula. The second segment will be released next week with the title "Episode 54: Judaism's Job."

Image Credit: Topsy.fr

Image Credit: Topsy.fr

(0:01 - 15:02): Kula begins the episode by telling his own story, highlighting the impact of Clayton Christen's work, which helped him to self-identify as a "disruptive spiritual innovator." [1] He also outlines the evolution of CLAL, [2] the organization he leads, providing an in-depth look at the thinking of its founder, Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, and discussing its work in recent years as well. [3] Some of the central concepts that he emphasizes as he looks at the history of CLAL include "holy secularity," "radical pluralism," and "spiritual entrepreneurship."

(15:03 - 30:44): Kula, a few decades ago, posed the radical idea that "Rabbinic Judaism died" (note the past-tense formulation). Kula outlines what he means with that statement, along with why this "death" isn't necessarily a tragic one. He also explores the shifting ways in which society relates to authority figures, including rabbis, along with introducing a concept that will be explored in more detail in part II of this episode -- Judaism's "job to be done." [4]

Image Credit: CLAL

Image Credit: CLAL

(30:45 - 47:40): Expanding on the conversation about authority figures, Kula summarizes CLAL's relationship with the idea of leadership. He also explores the why most people understand religion primarily as an exercise in preservation, not creativity. He closes the episode by critiquing what he calls the "Jewish Identity Industrial Complex," which centers the idea of "belonging" at the expense of "human flourishing." [5]

[1] To learn more about the framework of "disruptive innovation," purchase The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. To hear more about the application of Christensen's framework to Judaism, listen to the sixth episode of our podcast.

[2] Learn more about CLAL: The National Center for Learning and Leadership by visiting its website here. Read Kula's bio by clicking here.

[3] Explore Greenberg's ideas further through his 1985 essay, entitled "Will There Be One Jewish People in the Year 2000?" and his 1987 essay, entitled "The Third Era of Jewish History: Power and Politics." 

[4] Irwin Kula mentions two projects that signify a shift in how individuals relate to religious authority, Daybreaker and Buffalo Mass Mob (part of a national "Mass Mob" movement). Visit their respective websites at the following links: Daybreaker   Buffalo Mass Mob

[5] Hear more from Kula by listening to part two of this episode, Episode 54: Judaism's Job, and by watching this 2014 talk he gave as part of the Business Innovation Factory Summit (click play on the video above).

Episode 52: Nothing Sacred - Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff, media theorist, writer, and graphic novelist, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation reflecting on the decade since he published his book Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, in which he advocated for "open source Judaism." [1] Rushkoff argues that that 21st Century Judaism should be based on contemporary interpretations of the traditional pillars of iconoclasm, abstract monotheism, and social justice.

Image Credit: Rushkoff.com

Image Credit: Rushkoff.com

(0:01 - 15:02): Rushkoff looks back on his book Nothing Sacred, published about a decade ago. [2] He discusses elements of his thinking that have shifted since publishing the book, along with ideas he presented in the book that continue to resonate today. In particular, he focuses on the "open source ethos" of Judaism, which he found to connect very effectively with his work advocating for a more open source present and future on the internet. Rushkoff criticizes the Jewish communal focus on counting Jews [3] and also calls for Judaism to treat all issues as "arguable" and open to conversation. [4]

(15:03 - 33:25): Rushkoff presents his framework of iconoclasm (what he terms "the killing of false idols"), along with his take on the concept of abstract monotheism. He also talks about some of the projects he has helped launch in the Jewish world, which were designed to resonate in a deeper way with a group he calls "lapsed Jews" (a term with which he himself identifies). After first presenting the term, he elaborates on how he understands this group and the relationship of its members to contemporary Judaism. [5]

(33:26 - 48:14): The conversation pivots to the question of Jewish atheists. Rushkoff argues against those who believe that monotheism is a requirement of Judaism, instead presenting the idea that atheism is consonant with Judaism. [6] He also elaborates on a variety of Jewish teachings and rituals that help ensure its deep connection to social justice work. Rushkoff closes the episode by arguing that Judaism is not most accurately understood as a religion, but instead as a "process through which human beings get over their need for religion." [7]

[1] To learn more about Douglas Rushkoff and his writings, you can visit his website by clicking here.

[2] To purchase Nothing Sacred, Rushkoff's book on contemporary Judaism, click here.

[3] To hear more from Rushkoff about why Jews should avoid judging Judaism "by the numbers," read his 2002 piece in the New York Times on the subject. 

[4] Dan and Lex share Rushkoff's critique of the counting of Jews, and you can hear more from them on that issue in two early episodes of this podcast. Episode 7: Numbers (Featuring Barak Richman) and Episode 8: Numbers II

Image Credit: Vertigo

Image Credit: Vertigo

[5] To read a short excerpt from Nothing Sacred about "lapsed Jews," click here.

[6] For more on Jewish Atheism, read this Haaretz article by Benjamin Cannon, entitled "You Don't Need to Believe in God to Believe in Judaism."

[7] Learn more about Rushkoff's other books and comics, including TestamentOpen Source Democracy, and his most recent -- Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus -- by clicking here.

Episode 51: Being Jewish in the Era of Trump

What does American Judaism look like as we enter the Trump era? How might the new political reality of the United States alter the landscape of contemporary and future American Jewish life? Dan and Lex wrestle with these questions, and their implications for deeper questions of why Judaism matters, in Episode 51 of Judaism Unbound.

Image Credit: C-Span.org

Image Credit: C-Span.org

(0:01 - 16:42): Dan and Lex begin by dicussing an issue that many Jews are wrestling with in the current American moment: What does Judaism have to say about Donald Trump? How can Jews support Donald Trump in light of a Jewish tradition that seems to stand against so many of his ideas, behaviors, and actions? Does support for him cross a red line? If not, is one of the reasons Judaism needs to be remixed and rebuilt that some red lines need to be re-established? Dan and Lex reflect on (and condemn) Trump's executive order on immigration, [1] though the two co-hosts disagree about the extent of the role Judaism plays in their opposition to it. [2]

(16:43 - 35:18): Dan and Lex flesh out their disagreement about whether Judaism can tolerate Trump, looking at how this reflects two different ways of approaching the "jobs" that Judaism performs in our lives. Dan expresses his hope that Judaism can serve as a moral system in our lives, while Lex poses an alternative possibility -- that Judaism is and should be more like a library.

Image Credit: Miami Herald

Image Credit: Miami Herald

(35:19 - 50:12): To close the episode, Dan and Lex pivot from the philosophical to the institutional. They look at today's Jewish institutional landscape and analyze the various strategies that organizations could employ as they relate to the Trump administration. [3]  They consider the question of what kinds of Jewish expression and organizations are likely to grow and thrive over the next four years, [4] and which institutions may struggle for relevance in today's political and religious climate.

[1] In a rare unified stance, the four largest denominations of American Judaism have all issued statements in opposition to Donald Trump's refugee ban. Read more about it in this JTA article

Image Credit: JTA

Image Credit: JTA

[2] For an article reflecting on the role that 20th century Jewish history plays with respect to Trump's immigration order, click here

[3] Dan and Lex reflect on the ways that many contemporary Jews, whether religious or not, are "praying with their feet" through protest and social justice work. Read one article about Jewish participation in the National Women's March by clicking here and explore what the quote "praying with my feet" connotes (first uttered in a Jewish context as "my legs were praying" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, based on a quote by Frederick Douglass) through this brief audio commentary from Erica Brown.

[4] To learn more about IfNotNow, an organization discussed in this episode that is at the forefront of the "Jewish Resistance" to Donald Trump, read this article by Ben Sales.

Bonus Episode: Dan and Lex on RIJ (Really Interesting Jews) Podcast

Dan and Lex were privileged to be featured as guests on a recent episode of RIJ (Really Interesting Jews). RIJ is a podcast hosted by Evan Schultz, a rabbi based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the episode, they talk a bit about their own Jewish background-stories, provide a behind-the-scenes look at how Judaism Unbound's podcast came to be, and explore their own favorite Jewish (and "unbound") teachings.

Thank you to Evan Schultz for graciously allowing us to share this episode on Judaism Unbound's page in addition to RIJ's!

Episode 50: Bending The Arc - Jason Kimelman-Block

Jason Kimelman-Block, Director of Bend The Arc: Jewish Action, joins Dan and Lex to discuss the ramifications of Donald Trump's presidency for American Jewish individuals, communities, and American society as a whole. The conversation explores questions as broad as "In what ways do politics and Judaism overlap?" and as specific as "What is the difference between a 501c3 and a 501c4 organization in terms of permissible political activity?"

Image Credit: Jason Kimelman-Block

Image Credit: Jason Kimelman-Block

(0:01 - 13:34): Kimelman-Block begins the conversation by providing an overview of Bend the Arc's mission and work. [1] In particular, he discusses Bend The Arc's work in opposition to Donald Trump, which began in November 2015 through their "We've Seen This Before" campaign and continues now, as Donald Trump begins his presidency. [2] Kimelman-Block and Dan discuss the weight of and reasoning behind invoking the Holocaust and push back against those who believe doing so should be absolutely off-limits. [3]


Image Credit: MSNBC.com

Image Credit: MSNBC.com

(13:35 - 30:42): To better understand the moment we are facing, Kimelman-Block outlines exactly what it is about Donald Trump and the group he terms "Trumpists" that is particularly disturbing and dangerous. He asserts that there is no distinction to be made between Republicans and Donald Trump at present. We delve into the ramifications of the Trump presidency on Jewish institutions and individual Jews, [4] in particular looking at the differences between 501c3 organizations (non-profits), which are most prevalent in Jewish life, and 501c4 organizations like Bend the Arc Jewish Action, which are not very common. [5] Is it possible that the organization of Jewish life into the 501c3 system "domesticates" Judaism more than we can afford, or more than most Jews want, today?

(30:43 - 47:53): Kimelman-Block broadens the conversation by speaking in general about the ways in which religion and politics overlap, especially when looking at the Jewish tradition. [6] He also comments on the distinction between "classic" 20th-century Jewish institutions and newer organizations that may, in some cases, prove to be more relevant for our contemporary times. 

[1] Learn more about Jason Kimelman-Block by reading his bio here, and explore Bend the Arc: Jewish Action's work by visiting their website.

Image Credit: JewishAction.us

Image Credit: JewishAction.us

[2] Kimelman-Block mentions Bend the Arc's "We've Seen This Before" statement being shared on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. Watch the footage from that November 2015 episode here.  

[3] Learn more about the ongoing We've Seen This Before campaign by visiting Bend the Arc's website. To read a petition opposing Islamophobia that came out just days before this episode was released, click here

[4] To learn more about the successful campaign, led by Jews United For Justice, for paid medical and family leave in Washington DC, which Kimelman-Block mentions, read this article, featured in Slate.

Image Credit: The Hill

Image Credit: The Hill

[5] Lila Corwin Berman provides a detailed overview of what Jewish 501c3 organizations can and cannot do in the realm of political advocacy in this article, featured on The Forward's website.

[6] To learn about Jewish involvement in the Women's March Against Trump, check out this article

Episode 49: The Prophetic Voice - Shai Held

Shai Held, President and Dean of Mechon Hadar, [1] joins Dan and Lex on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration to discuss what Jewish ideals have to say about the incoming president and what his rise means for contemporary Judaism. [2]

(0:01 - 13:09): To begin the show, Held lays the Jewish basis for his condemnations of Donald Trump, explaining that he sees that opposition as having nothing to do with partisan political debates. He also looks at the role Jewish institutions and individuals should play in today's political climate, focusing on Judaism's historic ability to serve as a counter-cultural force.  [3]

(13:10 - 28:08): Held considers the genuine difficulties that exist for Jewish communal leaders in this political moment. In particular, he discusses the complicated situation of American rabbis, who seek to balance their prophetic and pastoral roles. Held also looks back to the book of Exodus to reflect on the responsibilities of Jews in every era to stand up for the principle that every human being is holy and deserving of respect. [4] [5]

(28:09 - 47:23): Do the political developments we see demonstrate a need for new synagogue structures? Held, along with Dan and Lex, examines that question. He also looks at the difference between safely expressing approval for civil rights struggles of the past and standing up for civil rights issues in the present. [6]  In conclusion, Held lays out elements of his theological views and discusses their relevance for people whose views differ from his. [7] [8]

[1] Read Shai Held's full bio here.

[2] To hear more from Shai Held, you can listen to his audio commentaries on Torah, available on the Mechon Hadar website (just search "Shai Held" from this page). You can also read dozens of his Div'rei Torah (short essays on the weekly Torah portion) by clicking here.

[3] Shai Held cites Ibn Ezra's commentary on Exodus as evidence for the idea that there is no such thing in Judaism as an "innocent bystander." View this text in English translation (and the original Hebrew text) on Sefaria by clicking here.

Image Credit: ForkAndMap.wordpress.com

Image Credit: ForkAndMap.wordpress.com

[4] Held is the author of the book Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, which you can purchase here. He also has a book coming out in September 2017, entitled The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion, Genesis and Exodus, that you can pre-order here.

[5] Learn more about the Anti-Semitism that has been brought to light in Whitefish, Montana in this article in the Forward.

Image Credit: JTA

Image Credit: JTA

[6] Held speaks about the "domesticated" version of Martin Luther King that often is discussed in contemporary life, both in Jewish institutions and in the broader world. To read more about this idea, check out this Salon article, entitled "Martin Luther King Jr, the Radical".

[7] For more on Held's activist work, check out this JTA article, entitled "Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Randi Weingarten arrested at Garner protest."

[8] Andrew Fretwell wrote a recent piece for eJewishPhilanthropy entitled "Uncomfortable Truths: Our Fundamentally Broken Model," that synthesizes elements of our recent conversations on funding (Episodes 47 and 48) and this episode with Shai Held. Read it by clicking here.