Episode 6: Leviticus II

What do science and art have to do with Judaism? We ask (and begin to answer) that important question, along with discussing a variety of related issues, in this week's episode of Judaism Unbound. Let us know what you think by commenting on our Facebook page or leaving us a review on iTunes!

Credit: Press.Uchicago.edu

Credit: Press.Uchicago.edu

How Institutions Change - Two Related Proposals (0:01 - 10:32): We open the show by reflecting on the ideas Professor Vanessa Ochs shared with us in Episode 5. We also bring in perspectives from two scholars, Clayton Christensen (whom we introduced in an earlier episode) and Thomas Kuhn. [1] Specifically, we unpack Christensen's terminology of "sustaining" and "disruptive" innovation and Thomas Kuhn's discussion of "normal science" and "paradigm shift" and apply these ideas to the changing nature of Jewish life in America. [2]

Chutzpah and Knowledge (10:33 - 23:08): What ingredients are necessary to actualize in the Jewish community the kinds of changes that Christensen and Kuhn talk about? What do people need to possess in order to bring about resonant innovations in Judaism? We develop the idea that the two major keys are "knowledge" and "chutzpah" and consider the possibility that having more knowledge might not always be a good thing. In particular, we outline the unique skills that individuals bring to the table when possessing a great deal of chutzpah without much knowledge, and what they gain and lose as their knowledge base increases. 

Judaism as Art (23:09 - 32:14): We begin to explore the idea of Jewish innovation as a form of art. That is, we might think of Jewish innovators as artists for whom Judaism itself is the material that they reshape. Inspired by a comparison between the classic art of the Louvre and the modern art of the Centre Pompidou, we begin to develop an idea that we will explore more deeply in later episodes as we talk with Jewish artists and artistic Jewish leaders. [3]

This is the exterior of Paris's Centre Pompidou, one of the more intriguing architectural structures you'll find in France -- maybe even in all of Europe. It houses one of the more important museums of Modern Art in the entire world.

This is the exterior of Paris's Centre Pompidou, one of the more intriguing architectural structures you'll find in France -- maybe even in all of Europe. It houses one of the more important museums of Modern Art in the entire world.

Synthesis (32:15 - 45:45): Through a look back at Jewish history, a return to Christensen's framework, and discussion of recent developments in the American Jewish community (specifically highlighting the renewed attention to the observance of a new version of Sh'mitah -- the land's sabbatical year [4] -- and the successful Hello Mazel [5] Kickstarter campaign), we connect the elements to last week's conversation with Vanessa Ochs.

Credit: Hazon.org

Credit: Hazon.org

[1] Thomas Kuhn was the author of a landmark book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It was one of the most frequently-cited books of the 20th century, often by scientists but also by philosophers, sociologists, and others.

[2] The New York Times recently featured a piece by David Brooks applying Thomas Kuhn's thinking to "paradigm shift" within the Republican Party. You can read it here.

[3] We mention here that formerly-Orthodox Jews may be uniquely positioned to serve as artists if they supplement their immense knowledge with chutzpah! To learn more about this fascinating group of people, give Shulem Deen's All Who Go Do Not Return a read.

[4] Sh'mitah -- the sabbatical year for land -- is mentioned in the Torah and occurs every seven years. Most recently, it occurred between Rosh Hashanah of 2014 and Rosh Hashanah of 2015. Hazon, a Jewish organization devoted to creating a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, helped spearhead a push to revitalize this observance (long overlooked) in the 21st century through a wide variety of rituals, programs, and texts. You can learn about their Sh'mita Project here.

[5] Hello Mazel is a project of a community in San Francisco called The Kitchen. They describe it as a "quarterly box of Jewish stuff. Sent from us, to you." It raised twice as much on Kickstarter as any Jewish project ever had before. Learn more here!