Episode 10: Deuteronomy II

Our Judaism Unbound podcast kicked off with five sets of two episodes, each of which connected to one book of the Torah. In this episode, connecting to Deuteronomy, we reflect on our previous episodes. We also provide a sneak preview of what will be coming up as our podcast progresses forward!

Credit: Debate.org

Credit: Debate.org

(0:01 - 11:52): We begin by reflecting on some overarching themes of our introductory episodes. First, we distinguish between the institutional Jewish community and the American Jewish community as a whole, and second, we examine the topic of syncretism [1], honing in on the Jewish months and their Babylonian roots. [2]

A visual depiction of Betzalel and Oholiav, two early examplars of Jewish creativity. Credit: A Trivial Devotion Blog

A visual depiction of Betzalel and Oholiav, two early examplars of Jewish creativity. Credit: A Trivial Devotion Blog

(11:53 - 20:40): Next we address our tendency to look at Jewish history through a revisionist lens. We far to often tell the story that Judaism's evolution was one ongoing thread, shifting in slight ways over the centuries but ultimately preserving a particular "essence" or "core." [3] At this point in the episode, we tackle that tendency and argue that, alternatively, the history of Judaism includes many radically discontinuous shifts. 

Dan Libenson, co-host of Judaism Unbound

Dan Libenson, co-host of Judaism Unbound

(20:41 - 32:15): Here we ask the extent to which our contemporary, 21st century, Jewish reality is fundamentally new and, also, the extent to which our history might provide lessons for our day. In particular, we reflect on the extent to which the enlightenment and increased education among Jews create a fundamentally new situation, along with a look into the characters of Betzalel and Oholiav from the Torah. [4]

Lex Rofes, co-host of Judaism Unbound

Lex Rofes, co-host of Judaism Unbound

(32:16 - 46:10): To close our episode, we look at our theme of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy serves both as the end of the Pentateuch and as a launching point into the rest of the Tanach, so with the remainder of our episode, we supplement our look back at our first nine episodes with a look forward into what will be coming up as our podcast moves forward. 

[1] "Syncretism" is a word used to describe the phenomenon cross-cultural or inter-religious exchanges, whereby traditions or customs of one culture or religion make their way into another -- sometimes replicated in nearly identical form and sometimes altered.

[2] We mention in this section, as an example of syncretism, that our names for Jewish months come from Babylon. For more on this phenomenon, check out this article by Professor Sacha Stern of University College London, or Stern's full-length book, entitled Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States and Socieities.

[3] In this section, we mention the widespread contemporary idea that political Zionism has always been central to Judaism. In fact, as recently as the late 19th and early 20th century, the majority of American Jews (and most major American Jewish institutions) opposed the idea of a Jewish state. For one important historical record of this, see the Reform Movement's Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, which includes the quotation "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."

[4] The Torah introduces Betzalel and Oholiav in Exodus 31:1-6 and describes their work in Exodus 35:30 - 39:43. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 69b) articulates the belief that Betzalel was only 13 years old when constructing the Tabernacle.