David Zvi Kalman: Judaism Unbound Episode 179 - The Jewish Polymath


David Zvi Kalman founded and owns Print-O-Craft (an independent publisher of Jewish books), co-founded Jewish Public Media (a podcasting platform), and recently completed his PhD — in Jewish technology and Islamic jurisprudence — at the University of Pennsylvania. He joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about what it’s like to wear many Jewish hats, all at once. [1] [2]

(0:01 - 15:43): To begin the episode, David Zvi Kalman reflects on why he has built his career on doing multiple Jewish projects at once, as opposed to focusing solely on one project at a time. He then looks back on his founding of Print-O-Craft, a for-profit publishing company, and Jewish Public Media, a non-profit podcasting organization. He thinks practically about how he answers the question “what do you do” at cocktail parties, and — drawing on the book His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman — explores more broadly how we might push back on the idea that people must be committed only to one professional project at a time. [3] He tells the story behind the name “Print-O-Craft” and provides some background on how he makes decisions about what books to publish through his company. [4]

(15:44 - 32:14): Print-O-Craft doesn’t publish all that many books, and that’s a conscious choice. Kalman provides his reasoning — in some ways practical and in other ways ideological — for only publishing a small number of books. He looks at the difference between “perennials” (books associated with a particular holiday or season, which become newly relevant every year) and other books that are most relevant only when they are first released. Shifting gears, Lex asks Kalman about his dissertation, and the lessons it can teach us about the history of Jewish time-keeping. He hones in on the ways in which technological improvements have improved accuracy (through innovations like microscopes), and the questions that have come up for Jews as a result of them.

(32:15 - 50:19): Kalman calls on Jews to envision their processes of innovation and change not as random aberrations, but instead as the “central process of Jewish history.” Next, for maybe the first time in Judaism Unbound history, the conversation turns toward the modality of podcasting itself, with Kalman giving his thoughts on what this medium has to provide the Jewish present and future. As a corollary, he calls on folks to fill what he sees as a big gap — Jewish content on Youtube. [5] To close the episode, Kalman talks through his “public-first policy” (putting out new research in a publicly accessible format before it is released in academic form), and he analyzes some of the barriers that prevent greater bridging between the academy and Jewish organizations. [6]

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[1] Learn more about David Zvi Kalman by visiting DavidZvi.com.

[2] Check out Print-O-Craft’s website at Shabb.es and learn more about Jewish Public Media at JPMedia.co. For a deep-dive into one of the books published by Print-O-Craft recently, see Episode 170: Queering the Jewish Bookshelf - Noam Sienna.

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[3] Kalman refers to the Ben Franklin Effect at this point in the conversation. Learn more about it here.

[4] Lex mentions a past Judaism Unbound episode, featuring Fred Price. Listen in to it by clicking here: Episode 95 - Doing Jewish For Yourself (Fred Price)

[5] For past podcast episodes relating to Jewish videos, and Youtube in particular, see Episode 24: BimBam - Sarah Lefton and Episode 63: JewTube - Oona King.

[6] A few digital resources that can help you connect with current scholarship in Jewish Studies were mentioned in the final few minutes of the show. First, Adventures in Jewish Studies, the podcast of the Association for Jewish Studies, which can be accessed here. Second, there is The Talmud Blog, which you can check out at TheTalmud.Blog. Third, we encourage you to take a look at AncientJewReview.com.