TanakhCast #89: The Secret Book of Kings Book Club Spoiler Special Edition


secretbookcoverIn this week’s episode, a Book Club Spoiler Special with Dan Libenson, impresario and showrunner for The Secret Book of Kings.  We discuss Yochi Brandes’ book and consider canon, innovation and living in transitional times.

In truth, we don’t spoil all that much, but we could have if we wanted to!

You can learn more about The Secret Book of Kings (and even buy a copy) here.


AND you can subscribe to Dan’s podcast Judaism Unbound here or by clicking on the image below.1475253852134




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TanakhCast #85: The Small Move Edition


Fake, real, mine or yours?

In this week’s episode: 2 Kings 12-15.  We continue in the Second Book of Kings with a consideration of how the small move might achieve much more than the grand gesture.

And here’s the link to Radiolab’s “More Perfect” podcast about deliberate plaintiff selection.

And here’s a piece from Biblical Archeology Review about the last round of legal shenanigans surrounding the Yoash Inscription.



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TanakhCast #81: The Speaking Truth to Power Edition


How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

In this week’s episode: 1 Kings 20-22.  We conclude the Book of Kings with a consideration of satire and prophecy, or is it prophecy and satire?

And ICYMI, Jamelle Bouie’s piece at Slate about Jon Stewart’s (welcome) retirement.



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A little late to the Pessah party

I don’t know if you recall a post of mine from way back … but in July, 2014, I noted that the (Third) Temple Institute took to Indiegogo to solicit crowdfunding for the building of the Third Temple.  They met their goal, but, alas, they have not started construction.  BOO!

Well, the Third Temple folks have been busy this Pessah season.  Under a different banner, this time, a Headstart campaign, they raised 30,011 NIS to fund a practice run of near-offering the paschal lamb, or korban pessah.

Here’s the two minute pitch.  Alas, it is in Hebrew.



My favourite line, spoken by the Dad to his curious son:  “Together, we’ll practice.  Together, we’ll get used to it.  We’ll see and we’ll learn how we’re supposed to near-offer the korban pessah.”

According to reporting from Elhanan Miller at the Forward, the near-offering of the korban pessah went off without a hitch.  This event, it should be emphasized, did not take place on the Temple Mount but at an overlook on the Mount of Olives.  However, it is part of a larger and disturbing trend to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

In April, 2016, an unidentified couple conducted their Jewish marriage ritual on the Temple Mount.  According to the report from YNet, which quotes a post on the Temple Institute’s Facebook page, Rabbi Chaim Richman, the Temple Institute’s manager of international activity, married the couple.  While a member of the group distracted the police and Waqf officials, the vows were quickly made.

Also, in April, Israeli police removed 13 Jews who were trying to pray on the Temple Mount.

Although our unbroken connection with the Temple Mount is age old, spanning centuries and two sacred edifices, and serves as the the locus of the prayers of the devout, this kind of behaviour is nothing more than naked provocation.  And though the Israeli High Court of Justice, in its 2012 rejection of a Temple Mount Faithful petition, upheld the theoretical right of Jews to pray on the Mount – it also ruled that this right is not absolute and may be limited where human life is at risk.

These activities are designed to incite and put human lives, many human lives, at risk.  How can any rabbi sanction them?

But then I remembered my Jewish history and earlier days and other activities centred on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount… and shuddered.


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Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes

It was indeed a great treat and honour to chat with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future.   Their project, based in my hometown of Chicago, is a “hub for ideas, education, and action dedicated to accelerating bold innovation in Jewish life.”   They are looking to bring Next Judaism into the now.

As part of their efforts, they have a podcast called Judaism Unbound. Check out all nine episodes!  Its a riveting exploration of their ethos and ideas using the Torah as a frame for the discussion – and, of course, listen to Episode 9 which just dropped today in which I reflect upon the End Of The Jews four years later.

It is time well and thoughtfully spent.


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Relevance in the Age of Affordability

OR:  How Michael Steinhardt is doing it wrong.

I have tremendous respect for Michael Steinhardt.  He has invested a lot of time, thought and money in Jewish education.  If you google “Steinhardt” and “Jewish education”, the first ten hits highlight the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development which has robust degree programs in Jewish Studies and Education. He co-founded Taglit-Birthright Israel.

So he cares.

And that’s wonderful.

So when a Tablet piece came across my feed, reproducing a March 9th speech Steinhardt delivered at the Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia, I was piqued… but ultimately disappointed.

I was dismayed not because of what Steinhardt asserted. He made a passionate argument for a vision of secular Judaism that could proudly take its place alongside the traditional vision of Judaism-as-religious-tradition.  Secular Jewish Education has been Steinhardt’s thing going back to the late aughts, and it is a compelling idea which has curricular implications as well as cultural ones.

At the same time, Steinhardt has been very critical of liberal Judaism’s (failed) efforts to educate the next generation of Jews.

So with all of this churning away in the background, I thought Steinhardt would drop some science on us, and perhaps (once again) open up a new frontier in Jewish education.  But Make Jewish Education Relevant fell down before it even got rolling.

One cannot have a serious discussion about relevance in Jewish education, about creating learning opportunities that speak to the next generation of Jews and foster viable Jewish identification without addressing the most pressing issue of 21st century Jewish education.


One cannot be alive in 2016, eight years after the 2008 Financial Crisis and two Obama presidencies of tepid recovery, and not be cognizant of the fact that Jewish families, liberal Jewish families, even with the best of intentions, cannot afford to send their children to Jewish day schools.

They cannot get their kids into the room where relevant (or irrelevant) Jewish learning takes place.  Their kids cannot take advantage of the best practices and all the opportunities available in day school settings because their salaries cannot keep up with the increasing cost of day school tuition.

I feel this issue in my bones, my kishkes, and my bank account.  I have three Jewish children.  I even wrote a counterfactual history of Birthright where Steinhardt decided to fund day school education in the same manner as he planned to fund Birthright trips.

So it strikes me as tone deaf when Steinhardt writes:

Most attribute the [declining] results to affordability, but there are more important factors.  Jewish immersion experiences where traditional religious elements define the environment with a certain parochialism have become a foreign proposition to the vast majority of American non-Orthodox Jews.

Really?  More important than affordability?

I could go into a numbers rant here but Michael Steinhardt is a hedge fund guy.   And perhaps he even looked at the numbers.  But I would argue that for every Jewish family who preferred to send their child to a school with a more haimishe view on universalism (say, a Quaker school) than a parochial Jewish day school, there are at least THREE to FIVE Jewish families who would have loved to fill that open spot in the Jewish classroom but simply could not afford it.

Let’s get everyone into the room first.  Once we accomplish that, we can discuss what we should learn and how best to learn it.  And Steinhardt is just the guy to figure out how to achieve both goals, but in their proper order.

FDR said that people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.  We cannot expect to have a viable Jewish community if vast number of us are ignorant of our history, culture, language and tradition.  This is the stuff of which irrelevance is made… and extinction.


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