Judaism Unbound Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg


In celebration of Judaism Unbound's 100th episode, Dan and Lex are joined by Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg, [1] an important thinker whose ideas laid the foundation that Judaism Unbound and many of our previous guests have been building upon, to take a deep dive into his notion that we are living at the dawn of the "Third Era" of Judaism. We explore the theological, philosophical, practical, and political implications of this paradigm. Yitz Greenberg is considered one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the last half century, and his work has spanned the fields of theology, philosophy, education, activism, and philanthropy.

Image Credit: Elon News Network

Image Credit: Elon News Network

(0:01 - 14:54): To begin the episode, Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg presents his paradigm for Jewish history, in which there have been three eras, which roughly correspond to the Biblical, the Rabbinic, and the Contemporary. [2] He discusses the shifting role of God from each of these eras to the next, and correspondingly, the shifting role of human beings that follows. Greenberg emphasizes Judaism's assertion of the infinite value of each human being and the relationship of this assertion to Judaism's description of human beings as images of God, which he characterizes as the central principle of Judaism. [3]

(14:55 - 32:24): In the Third Era, do conversations about belief in God need to change? Greenberg puts forth the idea that the line between theists and atheists may no longer be so important, and that both should unite around the concept of the infinite value of human beings. He also explores the role that Jews have with respect to those who are native to other religious traditions (and those who don't identify with any religion). Greenberg then looks at tradition components of Judaism like Shabbat and Jewish learning, asking what new manifestations of them may look like as we move forward in the Third Era.

(32:25 - 53:45): Greenberg lays out some of the ways in which his theological beliefs interact with politics. [4] Highlighting issues in the realm of health care, both contemporary and from decades past, he explains how belief in the infinite value of human beings must be applied in ways that will maximize human dignity as much as one possibly can. He then takes a look at the question of authority, a key concept that may be shifting its connotations in the Third Era. To close the episode, Greenberg provides a brief coda on the Jewish holidays, looking back at his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays[5]

[1] The best place to go if looking for more resources from Yitz Greenberg is www.RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com, which features lectures of his in audio and video form, along with many of his books and articles. For a full bio of Greenberg, click here

[2] For more from Greenberg on the Third Era in particular, listen to this lecture.

[3] Listen to more of Greenberg's remarks on human beings as images of God by clicking here.

[4] One important moment where Greenberg's theological ideas interacted with his political activism occurred when he gave testimony on the Vietnam War before the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations in 1970. You can read the remarks he gave by clicking here, on pages 8-13.

[5] Purchase The Jewish Way by clicking here.