Eliana Light: Judaism Unbound Episode 132 - The God Gap


Musician and educatorEliana Light joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for the second conversation in our series on the role of God in American Judaism. The conversation explores topics ranging from God as metaphor, Light's interest in the many different traditional names for God, how music can dovetail with experiences of holiness, and whether ideas about God could be addressed in better ways in Jewish educational settings. [1]

(0:01 - 15:46): To begin the episode, Eliana Light lays out her thesis that we need to talk about God more, but use the word "God" less. [2] She examines a variety of traditional names for God, asking why "Adonai" (literally meaning "my Lord") has become the most commonly used word for the Jewish God, and suggesting that we might do well to utilize other names more frequently that capture metaphors more conducive to our values and to potential conceptions of divinity that could work for us. She argues for an expansive conception of God that transcends ideas of a "dude in the sky with a beard" and is better encapsulated by phrases like the "totality of being." She also paints a picture of a moment that occurs commonly for Jews (especially in Sunday School), where they look around and ask, about stories of God in the Torah: "Do the people in this room really believe in this stuff?" [3]

(15:47 - 32:53): Light considers the theology of the Torah, and argues that we need to supplement that God with other ideas of what God is in the world. In particular, she cites the liturgical poem Anim Z'mirot (sometimes called "Song of Glory"), which has a fairly complex understanding of the divine. [4] She then looks at the role that music can play as a form of connection to God, and explores how music for the purpose of prayer differs from music as it is experienced at a concert. [5]

(32:54 - 52:11): Turning towards her organizational name ("The G!d Project"), Light names a variety of interpretations for why she substitutes "G!d" for "God." She reflects on the role that God plays in educational settings, and asserts that there is a crisis in Jewish education. She calls for a shift that would grant greater permission to Jews (and Jewish educators) who feel discomfort, confusion, or uncertainty with respect to belief in God. To close the episode, at Lex's behest, she examines her own name -- Eliana ("my God has answered" in Hebrew) Light -- whose origins relate to God in a variety of ways, and explores how her own journey through life has led to the project of re-conceptualizing God in our world today. [6]

[1] Learn more about Eliana Light at ElianaLight.com. Learn more about the programs she offers through The G!d Project by clicking here.

[2] View Light's ELI Talk, entitled "The God Gap," by viewing the video on the right.

[3] In one of his questions, Dan cites the role that metaphors play in shaping our thinking. Explore these ideas further by reading Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

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[4] If you'd like to hear more about Anim Zemirot, listen to these resources from The Hadar Institute.

[5] Check out Light's albums by clicking the following links: A New Light (2013)Eliana Sings (About Jewish Things) 2017

[6] Read more about Eliana Light's framing of the God Gap by reading this piece, entitled "The God Gap: What It Is and How to Bridge It."