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.


With sighs and facepalms, I read a Previous-Jew take on intermarriage

I suppose Previous Jews will keep writing about intermarriage for the same reason that the Rolling Stones keep touring and releasing albums – because they still physically can and folks are still willing to pay attention to them.

So here goes.  With sighs and facepalms at the ready, I had a bit of a peruse of this piece over at Tablet which, coincidentally, is the subject of the next edition of TanakhCast: Did Moses intermarry?

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 16.31.30 PMThe piece begins with an accurate albeit snide summary of recent efforts (and “strained arguments”) on the part of the Reform movement and various Jewish outreach organizations to recast Moshe and Tzipporah’s union as the first successful “intermarriage”.  (That the authors put intermarriage in quotes … oi.)  This agenda-driven recap builds to the inevitable argument Previous Jews persist in making about one of Next Judaism’s norms:  You young whippersnappers elevate intermarriage from an ever-present reality to a desirable ideal!  (And the Pew Study has the data to prove it!!)

Really?  Is that what we’re doing?  Feel free to sigh heavily and facepalm at this point…

By acknowledging the choice that more Jews are making about whom they will marry (a choice which the authors clearly disapprove of), we are elevating a choice to an ideal?  I thought we were just accepting reality… but I digress.

Cohen and Morris continue to assert that context matters (that is, Moses’ was different than ours, duh) and then move on to argue that parents, like religious leaders, try to teach the difference between right and wrong, but Reform rabbis are confused about whether it is right for Jews to marry Jews.  Really?  Well, I guess the consensus on this has shifted much like the consensus has shifted on many other things… like LGBT Jews marrying or women wearing a tallit at the Kotel.  Sorry, digressing…

And in subsequent paragraphs, which evoked much sighing and facepalming, the authors proceed to do what pieces authored by Previous Jews can be counted on to do:  yearn for the good ol’ days of certainty, clarity and old timey values and religion.  Buried within the prose and analysis is the trenchant wish that if we could only roll back the odometer to a more Jew-identified time, we would all be better off.  If we could only revive the consensus of, say, the 1950s, or even better, the shared values of right and wrong from the 1850s,  somehow, all the vexing problems facing the Jewish community, especially intermarriage, would magically disappear.  We could be a people again!  

As Cohen and Morris pointed out, context matters.  However, it seems that our authors, like many Previous Jews, persist on clinging to and focusing on the wrong one.

Their concluding paragraph delimits their myopia perfectly:

Following the publication of Pew’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” we can well imagine that some Jewish parents are sitting down with their children to assure that their kids understand that when the time comes, they are to marry within the faith. Do we really want these children to answer: “But our rabbi teaches that intermarriage is a personal choice just as good as marrying a Jew. After all, Moses married a non-Jew and he became the leader of our people”?

Do we really want my child to answer in this manner?  DO WE?

In a word:  HELL YES I DO!

Here’s why:

First, this Next Jewish child (about whom our Previous Jewish authors concern-troll so lengthily) quotes her rabbi!  And she can cite her rabbi because, it seems, she has a relationship with her rabbi, one which she values.  It also seems that this relationship is open and trusting enough that personal questions of great import can be asked and answered.  Was this question asked after a Shabbat service or before a youth program or did the Rabbi visit her summer camp?  Who knows?  I guess it doesn’t matter…  (Let the geshrying continue!)

Second, this Next Jewish child is also familiar with the relevant sections of Exodus and Numbers in which the story of Moses’ family is recounted as well as the importance of Moses in the history of the Jewish people.  Not too shabby.

And, third, and most important, she sees herself as part of the Jewish people.

Yes, our authors might answer, yes… but which Jewish people?  I don’t recognize them at all.

I suppose that is precisely the point.



Your buildings are empty because we are in the park, continued

Gary Rosenblatt has a piece this week in the New York Jewish Week about the war in Chicago between the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the University of Chicago’s Hillel.   Click here to get caught up on the back-story.

I highlight this piece because, in essence, it is the first concrete example of conflict between pre-radical-break Jews and Next Jews.  And I am loathe to portray it as a “conflict”, except that it is.

As Rosenblatt reported:

The Hillel board, in a March 28 letter to the federation, sought to restructure its relationship with federation and make the Hillel an “independent entity,” asserting that federation left it “in the position of either having a building without a program or a program without a building.”

The Hillel folks clearly preferred the latter while the Federation, it seemed, advocated firmly the former.   And when I say “advocated firmly”, I mean “forcibly enforced” as in, the federation fired the University of Chicago Hillel board and executive director Daniel Libenson on March 30 for their insistence on preferring programming over infrastructure.

Large dining hall, empty except for about ten members of the...

That's me in the back...

Was preferring programs to buildings a misguided position?  After all, what is Hillel (or the Federation or Temple Beth…) without its building?

Libenson disagrees.  His greatest campus success – Shabbat dinners – is but one example as to why he prefers programs.  It also intimates to where Next Jews are going – and it’s definitely not into establishment edifices.

When Shabbat dinners happened in the Hillel building, Libenson pointed out, 30 students would come. However, when Shabbat was welcomed in a regular dining hall rented by Hillel, 200 would take part.   (That’s a 566% increase in attendance in case you were wondering.)

I will be talking more about this developing story at the May 10 book launch.  And I will be blogging here about the others that will inevitably follow as Next Jews begin to assert their own needs and, sadly, their predecessors ignore them.

The time-traveller’s conundrum

Your attitudes toward Israel - and your clothes... give them to me, now.

Let us try a time-travelling experiment without need for any elaborate mechanisms or recourse to nudity (ala The Terminator).

Read this piece by Gil Troy first.

Then (re-)read the earlier piece by Jesse Lieberfeld here.

True, Gil Troy’s piece comes in response and reaction to Lieberfeld’s MLK Day essay, but in a sense, one could read Lieberfeld’s piece as if he time-travelled into the future and read Troy’s piece before JPost ran the McGill professor’s take-down (of a American high school student, well-played, sir!) … and then returned to his own timeline to write his essay.

But consider this…

Does it really matter in which order one reads these kinds of pieces any more?

And, more sadly, is it so difficult to appreciate and understand why the authors (spokespeople in a way, for their respective generations) feel as betrayed and distanced as they do by each other?