Judaism Unbound Episode 116: Passion


Dan and Lex look back at their recent episodes, featuring guests that are part of Clal's Glean Incubator for spiritual innovators. They reflect on the ways in which fundamentalist practitioners of religion (Judaism and Christianity most prominently) have channeled their zeal and passion into the work they do with great success, and they focus on passion as the potential key to analogous successes in the landscape of Jewish innovation. [1]

(0:01 - 14:45): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex discuss Chabad, a Hasidic, Orthodox stream of Judaism that came up in multiple recent conversations with Judaism Unbound guests. They ask how and why Chabad has succeeded (by certain measures) at reaching a large population of Non-Orthodox Jews, despite immense differences regarding how they and their target audience understand theology, politics, gender, and more. [2] Also mentioning Evangelical Christian communities, they highlight the passionate zeal that these communities possess as a major part of why they have been able to spread their respective work effectively.

(14:46 - 31:33): Continuing on this thread, they look at why fundamentalist communities tend to be more "warm and welcoming" than other religious settings (they also poke a bit of fun at the over-used phrase "warm and welcoming"). They also explore the role that professionalization has played in the contemporary Jewish world, creating a situation where Jewish programming is facilitated almost exclusively by those who have advanced degrees in a Jewish field. [3] Relatedly, they consider questions of specialization in the training of institutional Jewish leaders. They identify examples in education, medicine, [4] and sports that help demonstrate the benefits of building specialized skills, and ask whether the synagogue landscape (and Jewish landscape more broadly) could shift in ways such that rabbis are not understood as Jewish "generalists." 

(31:34 - 45:47): Returning to the theme of this episode, Dan and Lex identify ways in which Judaism Unbound's recent guests so clearly feel deeply, zealously passionate about the work that they're doing. They argue that this fervor is a crucial element of why they are able to succeed. They also reflect on their conversation with Geoffrey Mitelman of Sinai & Synapses in particular, arguing that other "Sinai &..." organizations could arise blending Judaism with other realms of Jewish experience like theatre ("Sinai & Stages"), athletics ("Sinai & Sports"), and many others. [5] To close, Dan re-visits the frame of Judaism as a language presented by Mitelman, suggesting that the frame of language can help us understand that Judaism is always in the midst of processes of change. [6]

[2] See "Unpacking Chabad: Their Ten Core Elements for Success," by Steven Windmueller, for a piece from a Non-Orthodox perspective that maps out some of the reasons that Chabad has had such a large impact over the past few decades.

[3] For more on the divide between "professional Jews" and the "Jews in the Pews" see Episode 86: We're The Jews We've Been Waiting For.

[4] Dan cites in particular a Canadian institution specializing in hernia repair. Read the New Yorker article that he mentions, discussing their work, and exploring specialization more broadly, by clicking here.

[5] The Union for Reform Judaism has a growing network of camps, called "6 Points Academy," that are perhaps the best example of a Jewish institution looking to blend Judaism with a diversity of elements of human experiences in a deep and meaningful way. Learn more about their camps (thus far focusing on Judaism and Sports, Science, and the Arts respectively), by clicking here.

[6] For more from Dan and Lex on Judaism as a language, see Episode 40: What Should Stay and What Should Go.