Judaism Unbound 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.

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(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.