Judaism Unbound Episode 99: Regular Jews


Many Jewish institutions present the perspective that Jewish leadership requires mastery of a certain set of ideas and practices, discouraging anyone lacking that mastery (implicitly and explicitly) from creating the Judaisms that they wish to see in the world. In this episode, Dan and Lex push back against that idea, making the case for "regular Jews" to become creators of our Jewish present and future. 

(0:01 - 15:38): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex reflect on recent episodes in our series on innovations led by "regular Jews," [1] which included discoveries both expected and unexpected about why Jews working professionally outside of Jewish life have so much to bring to the present and future of Judaism. The discussion highlights the anthropological idea of "emic" and "etic" perspectives, which helps illuminate the ways in which both "insiders" and "outsiders" have important knowledge and skills to bring to the table. [2]

(15:39 - 34:22): The two co-hosts consider how "regular Jews" are told, directly and indirectly, that their ideas and skills are less valuable to Jewish communities than those of "insiders." Using the example of Rabbi Akiva, who many recognize as a late-comer to Jewish textual knowledge, they argue that regular Jews can become leaders of Jewish life because they become "Jewishly knowledgeable" or "Jewishly involved" later in life -- not in spite of that fact. [3] They go on to highlight enthusiasm and lack of limitations around politics as advantages to coming to Jewish life as more of an outsider.

(34:23 - 47:07): Dan and Lex ask what it is that gets in the way of "regular Jews" creating new communities and initiatives. They encourage listeners to take any Jewish ideas they have and try to make them reality, and they also solicit feedback regarding what obstacles are currently making that more challenging than it should be. [4] To close, Dan calls back to our ongoing theme of "unbundling" -- providing a reminder that Judaism need not necessarily be understood as one united system, so innovators need not feel the pressure to create "the whole widget," and perhaps the digital age, and search in particular, will reduce this pressure even more because it will be easier for Jews to build their own Jewish lives from a wide variety of "modules" that are out there. [5] 

[3] Learn more about Rabbi Akiva by reading this MyJewishLearning article, entitled "Who Was Rabbi Akiva?"

[4] In this conversation, Dan and Lex allude to the Bronfman Fellowship's Alumni Venture Fund. Learn more about it by clicking here

[5] To explore the topic of unbundling in more detail, check out Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism.