Episode 62: The Geography of Jewish Genius - Eric Weiner

What factors can cause a particular location to be one where "genius" thrives? How could perceptions of Judaism change such that Jews feel they can find holiness and meaning within the realm of their own "home" tradition? Author Eric Weiner joins Dan and Lex to discuss two of his books, The Geography of Genius and Man Seeks God, and the vast array of questions that the two works provoke. 

Image Credit: HighBar.tv

Image Credit: HighBar.tv

(0:01 - 13:56): Weiner begins our conversation by introducing two of his books -- The Geography of Genius [1] and Man Seeks God. [2] In particular, he looks at the characteristics that have historically defined places well-known for their creativity and for producing "genius," along with providing a snapshot into his time in the Israeli city of Safed (Ts'fat). [3] He also elaborates on the title for Man Seeks God, explaining the reasons he used the word "God" in particular, as opposed to "Man Seeks Meaning" or "Man Seeks Holiness." [4]

(13:57 - 27:24): Weiner delves deeper into contemporary Judaism in particular. Are many Jews feeling alienated from Judaism because it feels inordinately focused on rules and regulations and uninterested in deeper forms of meaning or spirituality? Is it possible that feelings of alienation, or a sense of being "uprooted," may help create a climate for disenchanted Jews to create new forms of Judaism? He then introduces his "3 D's of all creative places" -- diversity, discernment, and disorder, which he believes are fundamental building blocks for any environment where genius might flourish. [5]

(27:25 - 46:36): Is it necessary to have only one spiritual home-base? In other words, should we move towards a paradigm where individuals and groups consciously look to find practices from more than one religion and utilize them in their own lives, or should we continue to work within a paradigm where most people center themselves primarily in one religious tradition? He elaborates on similarities and differences between the qualities of a "seeker," and those of a "genius," and explores the benefits and limits of sharing between and among various religious traditions. [6] Weiner concludes the episode by bringing his ideas about the roles that the internet can and cannot play in the future of American Judaism. 

[1] You can purchase The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World's Most Creative Placesby clicking here.

[2] Purchase Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With The Divine, by clicking here.

[3] In discussing his time in the city of Safed, Weiner mentions the book Jewish Meditation, by Aryeh Kaplan, which has been influential for many residents of Safed. Purchase Jewish Meditation by clicking here.

[4] Weiner discusses the phenomenon of individuals, especially in America, considering themselves to be "spiritual but not religious." He is correct that the opposite formulation, "religious but not spiritual," is far rarer. To read a piece from someone who identifies as the latter, check out this piece by Michael Toy, featured in Princeton Revisions. For a full study that focuses on those who are "spiritual but not religious," read Robert Fuller's book Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America.

[5] Weiner mentions his desire for more rabbis to state, openly and honestly, that they don't have all the answers. In response, Lex alludes to a statement in the Mishnah (first section of the Talmud), where one rabbi does just that (technically, he says "I forgot"). To read this text (Mishnah Middot 2:5) in full, click here.

[6] Weiner cites with interest the title of the book Jewish With Feeling, by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, stating that he would like to see a Jewish future where there is no such thing as "Jewish without feeling." You can purchase Jewish With Feeling by clicking here