Judaism Unbound Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I

What does it look like when one version of Judaism dies and another is born? Irwin Kula, President of CLAL: The National Center for Learning and Leadership, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about that question and more. This episode represents Part I of a two-part conversation with Kula. The second segment will be released next week with the title "Episode 54: Judaism's Job."

Image Credit: Topsy.fr

Image Credit: Topsy.fr

(0:01 - 15:02): Kula begins the episode by telling his own story, highlighting the impact of Clayton Christen's work, which helped him to self-identify as a "disruptive spiritual innovator." [1] He also outlines the evolution of CLAL, [2] the organization he leads, providing an in-depth look at the thinking of its founder, Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, and discussing its work in recent years as well. [3] Some of the central concepts that he emphasizes as he looks at the history of CLAL include "holy secularity," "radical pluralism," and "spiritual entrepreneurship."

(15:03 - 30:44): Kula, a few decades ago, posed the radical idea that "Rabbinic Judaism died" (note the past-tense formulation). Kula outlines what he means with that statement, along with why this "death" isn't necessarily a tragic one. He also explores the shifting ways in which society relates to authority figures, including rabbis, along with introducing a concept that will be explored in more detail in part II of this episode -- Judaism's "job to be done." [4]

Image Credit: CLAL

Image Credit: CLAL

(30:45 - 47:40): Expanding on the conversation about authority figures, Kula summarizes CLAL's relationship with the idea of leadership. He also explores the why most people understand religion primarily as an exercise in preservation, not creativity. He closes the episode by critiquing what he calls the "Jewish Identity Industrial Complex," which centers the idea of "belonging" at the expense of "human flourishing." [5]

[1] To learn more about the framework of "disruptive innovation," purchase The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. To hear more about the application of Christensen's framework to Judaism, listen to the sixth episode of our podcast.

[2] Learn more about CLAL: The National Center for Learning and Leadership by visiting its website here. Read Kula's bio by clicking here.

[3] Explore Greenberg's ideas further through his 1985 essay, entitled "Will There Be One Jewish People in the Year 2000?" and his 1987 essay, entitled "The Third Era of Jewish History: Power and Politics." 

[4] Irwin Kula mentions two projects that signify a shift in how individuals relate to religious authority, Daybreaker and Buffalo Mass Mob (part of a national "Mass Mob" movement). Visit their respective websites at the following links: Daybreaker   Buffalo Mass Mob

[5] Hear more from Kula by listening to part two of this episode, Episode 54: Judaism's Job, and by watching this 2014 talk he gave as part of the Business Innovation Factory Summit (click play on the video to the left).