Episode 8: Numbers II

You might be familiar classic demographic questions like these: How many Jews are there in the United States? How many Jewish children are they having? How can we ensure there will be more Jews in the future? In this episode, we critique the premise of these questions and others like them -- that the current and future quantity of Jews should be the top priority -- and offer alternative frames for thinking about what Jewish success might look like.

(0:01 - 9:02): We re-visit our conversation from episode seven about institutional change in the Jewish community. Specifically, we identify the difficulties inherent in changing Jewish institutions. We draw lessons from the technology of the cell phone camera, which drastically shifted the photography industry. [1]

(9:03 - 18:05): We connect this conversation about photography to the Jewish world, honing in on the question of digital Judaism. [2] Specifically, we challenge the premise that in-person Jewish experiences are now, and will always be, superior to forms of online Jewish engagement. We instead propose that each possesses a variety of advantages and disadvantages. [3]

Credit: Wearableinreallife.com

Credit: Wearableinreallife.com

(18:06 - 31:58): Next, given our episode's theme of "Numbers," we articulate our approach to Jewish numbers (the quantity of Jews who are living at a given time, along with the quantity who are involved in Jewish institutions). [4] We discuss whether we should treat Jewish numbers (continuity) as a goal, or as a means towards other ends. [5] 

(31:59 - 43:47): We further unpack the question of means and ends through a look at the Torah and the issue of social justice. [6] Specifically, we consider the rebellion narratives in the Book of Numbers, drawing connections between them and our own time. [7]

Credit: www.worldreligionnews.com

Credit: www.worldreligionnews.com

[1] Dan expands on this topic, along with visual aids, in his ELI Talk "The Jewish Innovator's Solution." You can watch it by clicking the video link above.

[2] In this segment we mention the book Jewish Megatrendsa collection of essays edited by Rabbi Sidney Schwarz. In it, a number of authors express skepticism at the potential of digital forms of Jewish engagement to prove truly meaningful. While we disagree on that point, the book is well worth reading (you'll find an additional reference to it below in note 5).

[3] Dan mentions the Oculus Rift, a new virtual reality headset, in this section. To learn more about this new technology (pictured on the left), visit this link

Credit: www.preceptaustin.org

Credit: www.preceptaustin.org

[4] Lex mentions Emil Fackenheim, whose idea of the "614th Commandment" -- to never allow Hitler a posthumous victory -- became quite influential in the 20th century. Read more about him here.

[5] Dan references the Pew Research Center's landmark "Portrait of Jewish Americans" Study. Specifically, he discusses the statistic that the vast majority of Jews indicate that they are "proud to be Jewish." Explore that statistic more through J.J. Goldberg's 2013 article in The Forward, entitled "94% Proudly Jewish — So Why Dismiss Them?"

[6] In this section, Dan critiques the tendency to treat social justice as a means toward the end of Jewish engagement. If you are interested in further reading on that issue, essays by Rabbi Jill Jacobs and Joy Levitt in Jewish Megatrends expand on it.

[7] To read the full rebellion stories we discussed, refer to Numbers 16:1-35 (the rebellions of Korach, Dathan, and Aviram), and Numbers 20:1-13 (the story of Moses hitting the rock).