Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie

What role do art and artists play in contemporary Judaism? Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder, Executive Director, and Spiritual Director of Lab/Shul [1], joins Dan and Lex to kick off a unit of episodes exploring that question in detail. He speaks about his own experiences leading an artist-driven community, and he takes on a variety of related questions on issues ranging from technology, to pluralism, to literature, and more. [2]

(0:01 - 10:18): Lau-Lavie begins by describing the beginnings of Lab/Shul, including its evolution from a project called StorahTelling. [3] He also introduces two paradigms -- "artists are the new rabbis" and "rabbis are the new artists" -- in explaining what Lab/Shul means when is talks of itself as "artist-driven." He also questions the utility of the phrase "Jewish art" as it is often employed.

(10:19 - 24:12): We explore the twin questions of "Why do Jewish?" and "Why be Jewish?" and go on to examine some of the important similarities between the realms of religion and art. Lau-Lavie offers an alternative perspective on the story of the Golden Calf, including (perhaps surprisingly) why he thinks he probably would have contributed to its construction had he been at Mount Sinai. He also discusses some of the innovations he has implemented in his community that could be successfully utilized in other contexts. [4]

(24:13 - 34:20): Lau-Lavie describes ways in which he has incorporated contemporary technology into his work with Lab/Shul, spotlighting the use of screens in worship services and a weekly call-in for individuals who wish to say Kaddish (the memorial prayer for a recently deceased loved one, also said annually on the anniversary of their death). [5] He also explains why it is important for his community to actively identify as "God-optional."

(34:21 - 43:16): Lau-Lavie connects his discussion of the importance of being "God-optional" to broader notions of pluralism. He closes by looking back at his own personal narrative and exploring the impact that Stefan Heym's novel The King David Report played in his life, opening him up to an awareness of the immense multi-vocality of Jewish tradition.

[1] Lab/Shul's website can be accessed at www.labshul.org for those interested in learning more about its wide variety of initiatives.

[2] Lau-Lavie delivered a JDOV Talk, entitled "The Transmission of Our Sacred Legacy in 5 Simple Steps." You can view it by clicking the video on the right.


[3] If you are interested in seeing what the methodology of StorahTelling looks like in action, click the video below.


[4] On a few occasions, Lau-Lavie uses the term "B-Mitzvah." This term is a gender-neutral option that incorporates "Bar Mitzvah" (for male-identifying people), "Bat Mitzvah" (for those who identify as female), and can also be utilized to refer to a coming-of-age ceremony for individuals who are transgender or genderqueer. Saying "Bar or Bat Mitzvah" would not incorporate the experiences and identities of those who identify outside of the gender binary, and as a result, the term B-Mitzvah has been gaining popularity in many corners of the Jewish world.

[5] To learn more about Lab/Shul's Kaddish ritual, which takes place via phone, visit this link.