God and American Judaism

Image Credit: Jewish Currents

When Judaism Unbound launched, our goal was to confront the most pressing questions facing American Judaism today. So to many listeners, it was surprising that it took us over 100 episodes (130 to be exact) before we launched into a core question — the role that God plays in Jewish life today. To other listeners, however, it actually made sense that God might not take center stage, because it (or he, or she, or they) is a lower priority than many other issues in their own Jewish lives as well.

But midway through 2018, we decided to go for it. We launched a 9-episode series of conversations exploring who and what God is (or isn’t), what role God plays (and doesn’t play) in 21st century Judaism, and a wide variety of other pressing questions.

We encourage you, as you would your favorite TV show, to “binge listen” to these conversations! If you work in a Jewish institutional context, we hope you’ll identify creative ways to include these conversations in teen or adult education. If not, let us know if you’d appreciate assistance in gathering a group to discuss them outside of the walls of any “official” Jewish space. Scroll down this page to access our entire unit of episodes on God and American Judaism, and jump to a particular episode by clicking any of the links above!

As we launch a series of episodes on the subject of God, Dan and Lex are joined by Dov Weiss, associate professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and author of the National Jewish Book Award-winning Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism. In their conversation, they look at how ideas of God have changed over the course of Jewish history, discuss the Jewish tradition of disputing its God, complicate the idea that God has always been understood as perfect, and explore a concept Weiss dubs "protest ventriloquism."

Musician and educator Eliana 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.

Art Green, theologian and historian of Jewish religion, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for the third episode in Judaism Unbound's series exploring the role of God in contemporary Judaism. Together they explore the history and contemporary practice of Jewish mysticism, questioning frameworks of "mainstream Judaism" and a commanding, personal God in the process.

Continuing our exploration of a variety of views of God that might resonate with today's Jews, Andrew Hahn, known as The Kirtan Rabbi, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg in a conversation that introduces and explores the idea of Non-Dualism, the history of Judaism importing ideas and practices from other traditions, and hypothesizes about what Jewish theology and practice might look like outside the context of community, such as if a person were isolated on a desert island. 

Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about religion's "auto-immune disease," the concept of "God-intoxication," and other key ideas from his book Putting God Second.

Judith Seid, author of God-Optional Judaism: Alternatives for Cultural Jews Who Love Their History, Heritage, and Community, joins co-hosts Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about God, from the perspective of Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Shai Held, the President, Dean, and Chair in Jewish Thought at Hadar, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about God, love, and the ways in which the two are indelibly connected.

Theologian Rachel Adler, of Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, explores Judaism through lenses of metaphor, liturgy, theology, and more, in a conversation with hosts Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg.

Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg close out their multi-episode series on God by asking what role God might play, and might not play, in the future of American Judaism.