Judaism Unbound Episode 174: Tidying Up Judaism - Dan and Lex


Marie Kondo isn’t Jewish. But Dan and Lex think her ideas are relevant to the Jewish future. In this conversation, they tell you why! [1] [2]

(0:01 - 16:55): Dan begins the show by flashing back to Episode 154: Ten New Commandments. [3] He expands a bit on notions he first introduced then, regarding Marie Kondo’s ideas of “tidying up” and how they apply to Judaism. In particular, he looks at a side of her process that often goes unnoticed — the items that you do actively choose to keep. He emphasizes that, much as there is a need to discard elements of Jewish practice, this step is a deeply important one for Judaism, because there is much from the Jewish past that is worth maintaing in the future, in some cases in a slightly altered form while in other cases staying exactly as-is. He and Lex also consider a strength of halakhah which has not been as common in non-orthodox forms of Judaism: the ability to take elements of Judaism from the realm of ideas and translate them into practices, some of which might even be obligatory.

(16:56 - 37:05): Dan and Lex each name an obligation they would create for all Jews if they were in the process of creating a new kind of binding halakhah for the future. Lex argues that blood donation (along with advocacy for all to be eligible for blood donation) would be an important piece, and Dan talks about recycling, along with opposition to factory farming. [4] They also comment on the distinction between a halakhah that would focus on individual behaviors versus one that would also take into account broader systems. They then open up their ongoing thread regarding the idea of Judaism as a “library.” Dan advocates for a future of Judaism that would only be a particular section of the library, while Lex — through an analogy to the place of Shakespeare in English literature, of all things — claims that the “library” metaphor has some benefits. [5]

(37:06 - 52:24): Reflecting on the role of culture in Jewish life, Dan and Lex continue to stake out two different sides of their disagreement. Dan argues that, because of his vision for a Jewish future that would not center the idea of peoplehood, cultural realms like food, sports, film, and others might need to take a back seat. Lex asserts that those realms may be particularly successful as “meaning-making” devices. To close the episode, they transition this discussion into a consideration of Rachel B. Gross’s conception of “what Jews do,” which she noted in her guest appearance on the show, and the ways in which it should or should not drive conversations about the Jewish future. [6]

[1] This episode is the 8th and final episode in a series that coincided with the counting of the Omer, from Passover to Shavuot, in 2019. For all seven of the other episodes in this series, click here. To access them individually, click any of the following links: Episode 167: The Meaning of Mussar - David Jaffe, Episode 168: American Mussar - Greg Marcus, Episode 169: Jewish Language - Sarah Bunin Benor, Episode 170: Queering the Jewish Bookshelf - Noam Sienna, Episode 171: Digesting Judaism - Rachel B. Gross, Episode 172: Judaism with Purpose(s) - Ayalon Eliach, Episode 173: Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud - Andrew Ramer

[2] Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, can be purchased here. Check out the Netflix show that is based on that book by clicking here.

[3] Listen in to Episode 154: Ten New Commandments, by clicking here.

[4] For an article that explores the role of recycling, along with other forms of environmental justice, in preventing climate change, click here.

[5] For two articles that explore the idea of Judaism as a “library” in more detail, see Episode 51: Being Jewish in the Era of Trump and Episode 103: The People’s Judaism.

[6] Dan cites the framework, previously noted on the podcast, of “Genesis Jews” and “Exodus Jews.” Learn more about this paradigm by listening to Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer.