Episode 9: Deuteronomy - Dan Mendelsohn Aviv

How do all the pieces fit together? In episode 9, we begin tackling that question, synthesizing key ideas from the previous episodes' conversations and trying to lay out the lens through with we will be looking in future episodes. To help us, we welcome Dr. Dan Mendelsohn Aviv, author of End of the Jews, host of TanakhCast, and blogger at The Next Jew to the show. To learn more from him, check out TanakhCast in iTunes or at thenextjew.com. You can also purchase his book, End of the Jewshere.

(0:01 - 11:29): To begin, Dan Mendelsohn Aviv looks back at Jewish history through the lens he uses in his book End of the Jews. Specifically, he argues that in Jewish history, Judaism has both "radically broken" from its past and been "re-made" many times -- in other words, Judaism is not "one continuous thread." [1]

(11:28 - 22:23): Next, we look back into early Jewish history -- especially at the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the destruction of the Second Temple, and the development of the community of sages at Yavneh [2]. Dr. Mendelsohn Aviv provides insight into how we can apply lessons from those radical breaks and remakes to the Jewish landscape we inhabit today, emphasizing the need for us to find a "positive, affirmative reason to stay Jewish." [3]

(22:24 - 30:58): We explore the forms of American Judaism that do seem to be "working" -- successfully engaging the Jews today who are uninterested in most existing Jewish institutions. He hones in especially on The Kitchen and its Hello Mazel initiative. 

An image from Hello Mazel's viral fundraising video. Credit: The Kitchen.

An image from Hello Mazel's viral fundraising video. Credit: The Kitchen.

(30:59 - 43:30): Beginning with a look at Rainbow Loom, a popular craft for children, we close this episode by examining the immense influence the digital world has already played in the lives of American Jews. We look at both specifically Jewish contexts and others. Specific projects that come up in this analysis include Sefaria [4]The Open Siddur Project [5]and JEDLAB [6]

[1] Dr. Mendelsohn Aviv discusses the drastic impact that the 2008 financial crisis had on the Jewish community, emphasizing the depth of harm caused by the Bernie Madoff investment scandal. For more information on its effects on Jewish non-profits, see this article.

[2] For more on Yavneh, read The Significance of Yavnehan essay by Professor Shaye Cohen of Harvard University.

[3] We use the terms "Shoah" and "JTS" in this section without defining them. Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, and JTS stands for the Jewish Theological Seminary, an institution of Conservative Judaism that trains rabbis, scholars, Jewish educators, cantors, and other Jewish professionals.

[4] Sefaria is a free online database of Jewish texts. It also includes resources for making your own source sheets, linking texts to one another, and more.

[5] The Open Siddur Project describes itself as "the open source project for folk liberating liturgy and crafting their own projects." Check it out here.

[6] JEDLAB is a facebook community with over 6,000 members. It serves as a "network of Jewish education people passionate about redesigning the Jewish ed ecosystem." In it, members discuss a wide variety of issues related to the field of Jewish education.