Judaism Unbound Episode 49: The Prophetic Voice - Shai Held

Shai Held, President and Dean of Mechon Hadar, [1] joins Dan and Lex on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration to discuss what Jewish ideals have to say about the incoming president and what his rise means for contemporary Judaism. [2]

(0:01 - 13:09): To begin the show, Held lays the Jewish basis for his condemnations of Donald Trump, explaining that he sees that opposition as having nothing to do with partisan political debates. He also looks at the role Jewish institutions and individuals should play in today's political climate, focusing on Judaism's historic ability to serve as a counter-cultural force.  [3]

(13:10 - 28:08): Held considers the genuine difficulties that exist for Jewish communal leaders in this political moment. In particular, he discusses the complicated situation of American rabbis, who seek to balance their prophetic and pastoral roles. Held also looks back to the book of Exodus to reflect on the responsibilities of Jews in every era to stand up for the principle that every human being is holy and deserving of respect. [4] [5]

(28:09 - 47:23): Do the political developments we see demonstrate a need for new synagogue structures? Held, along with Dan and Lex, examines that question. He also looks at the difference between safely expressing approval for civil rights struggles of the past and standing up for civil rights issues in the present. [6]  In conclusion, Held lays out elements of his theological views and discusses their relevance for people whose views differ from his. [7] [8]

[1] Read Shai Held's full bio here.

[2] To hear more from Shai Held, you can listen to his audio commentaries on Torah, available on the Mechon Hadar website (just search "Shai Held" from this page). You can also read dozens of his Div'rei Torah (short essays on the weekly Torah portion) by clicking here.

[3] Shai Held cites Ibn Ezra's commentary on Exodus as evidence for the idea that there is no such thing in Judaism as an "innocent bystander." View this text in English translation (and the original Hebrew text) on Sefaria by clicking here.

[4] Held is the author of the book Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, which you can purchase here. He also has a book coming out in September 2017, entitled The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion, Genesis and Exodus, that you can pre-order here.

[5] Learn more about the Anti-Semitism that has been brought to light in Whitefish, Montana in this article in the Forward.

Image Credit: JTA

Image Credit: JTA

[6] Held speaks about the "domesticated" version of Martin Luther King that often is discussed in contemporary life, both in Jewish institutions and in the broader world. To read more about this idea, check out this Salon article, entitled "Martin Luther King Jr, the Radical".

[7] For more on Held's activist work, check out this JTA article, entitled "Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Randi Weingarten arrested at Garner protest."

[8] Andrew Fretwell wrote a recent piece for eJewishPhilanthropy entitled "Uncomfortable Truths: Our Fundamentally Broken Model," that synthesizes elements of our recent conversations on funding (Episodes 47 and 48) and this episode with Shai Held. Read it by clicking here.