Episode 13: American Post-Judaism - Shaul Magid

Professor Shaul Magid joins Dan and Lex for the third episode in our four-episode series, entitled "Judaism in America: Evolutions, Revolutions, or Something Else?" Professor Magid's book, American Post-Judaism, serves as a springboard for a discussion about American post-ethnicity, the Holocaust, survivalism, and spiritual humanism. Next week, Dan and Lex close out the series by connecting elements of this conversation to Episode 11, featuring Jonathan Sarna, and Episode 12, featuring Anita Diamant.

Professor Shaul Magid. Credit: Limmud NY 2016.

Professor Shaul Magid. Credit: Limmud NY 2016.

(0:01 - 10:46): Professor Magid tells the story of his own personal Jewish journey, including the role that his immersion in the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) world played in his life. He explains the meaning of the term "post-Judaism" in the title of his book American Post-Judaism, critiquing the mainstream understanding of Jewish history as one continuous "evolutionary process." [1]

(10:47 - 22:15): Magid describes some of the "seismic shifts" that have occurred in the last few centuries of Jewish history. Among them, he lists the recent shift towards "post-ethnicity" in America, [2] arguing that the lives of Madeleine Albright and Bernie Sanders represent a Judaism that has become "much more performative than essential." [3] He goes on to discuss how three key figures -- Felix Adler, Mordecai Kaplan, and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi [4]  -- embody the American evolution from the "melting pot" to multi-culturalism and, finally, to American post-ethnicity.

(22:16 - 34:37): Professor Magid opens up the conversation on religious syncretism, unpacking the ways in which religions and cultures constantly influence one another. He also provides insight on the Holocaust's immense impact on Judaism through an exploration of three figures who responded to the Holocaust in very different ways (Jacob Neusner, Meir Kahane, and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi). [5]

(34:38 - 47:04): To close this episode, we look at the Jewish present and future. Magid talks about two modes of Jewish identity that he describes as "survivalism" and "spiritual humanism." He also explores the future of secular Jewish identity and the potential of formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews to help re-invent Judaism. To close, he asks listeners to focus not on our nostalgia for the past, but on the potential for a different Jewish future.

[1] If you are interested in purchasing American Post-Judaism, it is available on Amazon as a book or in Kindle form.

[2] In this discussion, Magid mentions Horace Kallen, an early 20th century writer who pioneered the idea of "cultural pluralism." To read one of Kallen's most well-cited essays, entitled "Democracy Versus the Melting Pot," visit this link.

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a central figure in Magid's  American Post-Judaism.  Credit: www.LegacyOfWisdom.org

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a central figure in Magid's American Post-Judaism. Credit: www.LegacyOfWisdom.org

[3] Magid discusses Madeleine Albright's response to learning, at age 59, that her parents were born Jewish. Upon discovering this fact, she still did not consider Judaism to be her contemporary identity, but instead part of her "heritage." For more on her identity, you can read this Huffington Post article.

[4] Learn more about Felix Adler and the Ethical Culture Movement here, gain some background on Mordecai Kaplan here, and explore a timeline of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's life here.

[5] Professor Magid wrote a piece in Tablet Magazine, discussing Jacob Neusner and his thoughts on the Holocaust that can be accessed here. He wrote a separate piece on Meir Kahane, entitled "Anti-Semitism as Colonialism: Meir Kahane's 'Ethics of Violence'" that can be accessed here. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi rarely wrote about the Holocaust on its own, but he discusses it and many other Jewish issues in the book Paradigm Shift.