Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer

How should the Jewish present and future relate to the Jewish past? Yehuda Kurtzer, President of The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America [1] and author of the book Shuva: The Future of the Jewish Past, [2] joins Dan and Lex for an exploration of the significance of history and memory in contemporary Judaism. 

Image Credit: SiouxCityJournal.com

Image Credit: SiouxCityJournal.com

(0:01 - 14:19): Kurtzer tells the story of how he came to write his book Shuva: The Future of The Jewish Past. He introduces the distinction he draws between "history" and "memory," applying this distinction to Judaism by comparing and contrasting modern "memory holidays" (including Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel's Memorial Day) with more ancient "memory holidays" like Passover.

(14:20 - 29:21): Kurtzer critiques the idea of "Jewish continuity," explaining why he sees the concept as problematic and inauthentic. [3] He also makes a distinction between "Genesis Jews" (those relating to Judaism primarily through the lens of family and peoplehood) and "Exodus Jews" (those relating to Judaism primarily through beliefs, behaviors, and practices), a classification initially introduced by Donniel Hartman, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. [4] Kurtzer also explains why he sees immense value in creating platforms for people to experiment with new Jewish innovations, even if those innovations veer in many different, or even opposing, directions.

(29:22 - 46:54): Through a metaphor of "marbles on a frictionless surface," Kurtzer examines the idea of Jewish peoplehood. He also gives his take on the question of "Why be Jewish?" As a closing thought, Kurtzer looks at the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim as they relate to the twin ideas of history and memory. [5]

[1] Learn more about Kurtzer's work with the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America by visiting its website. You can also see Kurtzer's JDOV Talk by visiting this link.

[2] Order a copy of Shuva: The Future of the Jewish Past by visiting this link.

[3] To hear more of Kurtzer's ideas relating to the idea of Jewish continuity, read his 2014 piece in The Forward, entitled "Abraham's Lesson: Quality over Quantity in Push for Jewish Continuity." 

[4] Learn more about the framework of Genesis and Exodus Jews by listening to this lecture by Donniel Hartman.

[5] In his closing remarks, Kurtzer mentions the book Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. Click here to purchase the book in audio form or here to order a hard copy.