Judaism Unbound Episode 69: Holy Rascals - Rami Shapiro


Writer, philosopher, and mystic Rami Shapiro brings a wealth of knowledge about Judaism, along with a lifetime of experience immersed in interfaith spaces, to this episode of Judaism Unbound. In this conversation, he discusses a variety of important issues with Dan and Lex, including the strengths and weaknesses of Judaism, religion as a means to an end, and alternative conceptions of God, beyond the supernatural.  [1]

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

Image Credit: ImaginePro Videos

(0:01 - 14:50): To begin the episode, Shapiro outlines what he means by the phrase "holy rascal," and discusses his journey toward becoming one himself. [2] He then compares and contrasts "identity Judaism" with "purposeful Judaism." [3] Continuing, he explains why he sees Judaism as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. [4] Through his analysis of the Golden Rule, Shapiro identifies the ends toward which Judaism is a means. To provide further detail on the way that his Jewish philosophy manifests, he explores the practice of "keeping kosher" in 2017.

(14:51 - 27:21): In addition to deep knowledge and commitment to Judaism, Shapiro is well-versed in a wide variety of other global religions. He brings that expertise to the table through a frame we have used in the past on Judaism Unbound: what is Judaism particularly good at? What "jobs" is it less well-suited to do than some other prominent religions? Shapiro discusses the important role of doubt and questioning in Judaism, along with how that can and should contribute to our broader world. [5] He contrasts that strength with Judaism's comparative paucity of material devoted to the idea of surrender, which is a strong feature in many other religions.

(27:22 - 46:18): Is religion similar to language? Shapiro thinks so, and outlines a variety of ways in which the two parallel one another. He also provides a window into his theology, which differs markedly from more familiar conceptions of God as a supernatural being. [6] Is "God" even a useful term in our contemporary world? [7] Is Jewish liturgy in need of drastic, foundational shifts to its language and content? To conclude the episode, Shapiro emphasizes another (perhaps unexpected) element of Judaism he finds beautiful: the blessing stated after going to the bathroom!

[1] Learn more about Rami Shapiro by clicking here.

[2] Deepen your understanding of the concept of a "holy rascal" by listening to Shapiro's audiobook: How to Be a Holy Rascal: A Magical Mystery Tour to Liberate Your Deepest WisdomYou can also check out HolyRascals.com.

[3] Shapiro's blog post "Why I Can't Be an Orthodox Jew: A Critique of 'Jewish Conservatism: A Manifesto'" helped to initiate the conversation about "identity Judaism" and "purposeful Judaism." Read that post by clicking here.

[4] Shapiro talk on ends vs. means for Judaism

[5] Shapiro cites Israeli writer Amos Oz as the main inspiration for his framework of "argument and doubt." Learn more about Oz, and his idea that Judaism is a "civilization of doubt and argument," by clicking here.

[6] Shapiro references past Judaism Unbound episodes that look at the concept of "God-optional" communities. Learn more about Lab/Shul, which has pioneered that framework, by listening to Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie.

[7] Shapiro mentions a teacher of his, Sherwin Wine, who did reject the idea of God entirely. To learn more about Wine, a figure who looms large in the history of Humanistic Judaism, click here.