Episode 14: Putting the "American" in American Judaism

For the final episode of our "Judaism in America" series, Dan and Lex build on key ideas that emerged in the three previous conversations in the series, which featured Jonathan Sarna, Anita Diamant, and Shaul Magid, beginning to develop a set of ideas about where American Judaism will be headed in the future.

(0:01 - 10:15): We begin by looking back on major themes from our recent episodes featuring Jonathan Sarna, Anita Diamant, and Shaul Magid[1] focusing on continuity vs. discontinuity with special application to the impact of feminism on Jewish life in America. 

(10:16 - 19:29): Building on our discussion of feminism, we develop a broader conversation about the nature of  movements for "inclusion." Is "inclusion" of marginalized individuals enough, or does the word "inclusion" imply that those on the periphery have to discard parts of themselves in order to be considered full participants? [2] [3]

Image Credit: www.actionnetwork.org, Artist: Eli Valley

Image Credit: www.actionnetwork.org, Artist: Eli Valley


(19:30 - 32:04): We take our conversation in a new direction, discussing the Jewish identities of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders [4] and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan [5] (both Jewish). While many in the organized Jewish community question the depth and significance of Jewish identities like Sanders's, asserting that they are thin, we explore whether they may actually represent a profound and meaningful early stage in the development of a different Judaism that resonates with a growing segment of the American Jewish population. We discuss public manifestations of this kind of Judaism, ranging from the artwork of cartoonist Eli Valley [6] to the TV show Broad City. [7]

(32:05 - 45:59): We further develop this perspective by exploring the idea that "Sanders Judaism" may actually be a new "dialect" of the Jewish "language." We look at the field of linguistics, which critiques the phenomenon of "prescriptive grammar," and analogize it to what Lex calls "prescriptive Judaism." [8] We close the episode with a sneak preview of our upcoming series of episodes on the topic of intermarriage, entitled "Intermarriage: The New Normal," featuring Dr. Keren McGinity and Paul Golin.

Image Credit: Comedy Central

Image Credit: Comedy Central

[1] If you enjoyed our previous three episodes, consider reading a book by one of our guests. You can purchase American Judaism by Jonathan Sarna, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, or American Post-Judaism by Shaul Magid on Amazon.

[2] Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum's remarks on "inclusion" at the recent Wrestling with Peoplehood Conference are available to watch at this link (42 minutes to 51 minutes). Our co-host, Lex Rofes, spoke in a different session at the same conference, and you can view his remarks in the video on the left (4:25 through 15:20). 

[3] We define the term "intersectionality" in this section. For an application of that term to Jewish life, check out this Jewish take on intersectionality by Jay Michaelson. For a broader piece that answers the question "what is intersectionality", check out this piece.

[4] To hear more about Bernie Sanders and his identity, you can watch this video.

[5] You can watch Elena Kagan respond to Lindsey Graham's question of "Where were you on Christmas Day?" in this video (featured on left).

Dan Libenson, the co-host of Judaism Unbound, anchors his 2006 testimony in opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota in his understanding of the responsibilities we have as Jews after the Holocaust.

[6] We mention cartoonist Eli Valley's work as emblematic of some of the new forms of Jewish identity that we see arising in America. Check out his recent viral cartoon, which contrasts the Judaism of Bernie Sanders with the Judaism of much of the institutional Jewish world.

[7] The show Broad City has gained a huge following, especially among young Jewish women. Its most recent series finale, while not traditionally Jewish, touches on a variety of important Jewish issues, including questions related to Israel and Jewish continuity.

[8] In discussing the ways in which principles of linguistics may apply to Jewish communal life, we mention the idea of "prescriptive grammar." For a more detailed description of what "prescriptive grammar" is and why it can have harmful effects, you can read this Full-Stop.net article.