Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jews are Cool. Judaism? Not so much.

Jews are cool. Not all of us, of course, but many. Some are humanist and some are Hasidic— being cool isn’t a denominational thing. It is a matter of being at home with yourself while dancing on the cutting edge of your culture.

Jewish establishments (those exceptionally uncool masters of money and meme) seem to understand the marketing potential of cool (though not its essence), and spend enormous sums of cash imitating it. But imitation cool isn’t cool; it is lukewarm crap. Which is exactly what so much Judaism is today is: lukewarm crap. To be cool you have to have the chutzpah to either fail miserably or succeed magnificently, and official Judaisms are too afraid to do either.

The other day my friend Rabbi Robert Barr (who is cool) told me about the demise of the music publisher JDub, one of the few vibrant lights of Jewish cool. Once funded by the uncool in search of cool, it is sad that JDub will die not for lack of quality and imagination, but for lack of funds.

Is this what we can expect of Judaism in the 21st century: a lukewarm and well-funded rehash of pre-modern Judaism with a splash of faux kabbalism added so we can stamp “New and Improved” on the box? I suspect it is. And, with it comes the growing irrelevance and marginalization of Judaism to postmodern reality.

Think about this for a moment: If it weren’t for Goldman, Sacks, Madoff, and Abramoff would we ever read about Jews in the mainstream press? And if not for rising anti-Semitism, the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict, and the apocalyptic snuff-theologies of fundamentalists drooling over the deaths of millions of Jews as prelude to Jesus' Second Coming, I suspect Judaism would be as relevant to post-modern culture as the Amish.

This is not the fault of funders, of course. By the time they have the funds to share, they are probably so out of touch with cool that even the tepid is too hot to handle. This is the fault of Jews who know little and demand less, and who support synagogues without getting involved enough to be bored, demand change, or quit. This is the fault of rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators who think their job is to teach the past rather than invent the future. And it is my fault for having given up, and settled for digital rants from the sidelines.

So good–bye JDub; good–bye cool; good-bye meaningful Judaism. Hello…….?


eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

Gut Gezogt!!

As a corollary to your post, and a validation of its truth check out the relatively new blog authored by Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of JTS:

It is bereft of ideas that will resonate with anyone who is not already committed to Conservative Judaism. Unfortunately it is preaching to the choir with theoretical lectures, and thus offers nothing of any relevance to the multitudes of Jews who have voted with their feet that non Orthodox Judaism (in this case Conservative Judaism) is all but meaningless save for anti anti Semitism or an occasional life cycle event. I've posted responses to Dr. Eisen's posts #'s 1, 2, 5, 7 & 8. I wish there was at least some push back but alas, nothing.

The "clue" phone is ringing for non Orthodox Judaism and if Dr. Eisen's posts and most of the responses are any indication, nobody gives a hoot about reaching the hearts and minds of the ever growing demographic of Jews who are growing more distant, disinterested and disenfranchised from non Orthodox Judaism. An apt description is "Tohu vavohu v'hoshech 'al p'nei t'hom"

So the question is: where are the visionaries who truly have breathed in "ru'ah ha'elohim" and can fashion it into the "Light" that will be able to inspire anew all those of us (and I include myself among them) who are still willing to give the idea of a relevant meaningful non Orthodox Judaism (so far this is an oxymoron), yet another chance? Retreads of prior failures obviously don't/won't cut it.


PS Re JDub here's another POV:

irreverance said...

Very well said. As I'm sure you know, Christians struggle with a similar situation. Indeed, I'm sure the emergence of postmodernity has rocked every religion. As fundamentalisms and orthodoxies scramble to circle the wagons and hide from the messiness of shifting culture, the need for religious reinvention rises. If traditional spirituality is to become relevant for those who want "more," alternatives to the "establishment" need to be created.

andrea perez said...

In a world of multicultural alliances, the problem isn't whether Judaism is relevant, but rather is religion/peoplehood relevant.
Is God relevant? Or is how we treat each other the more important problem.
With so many people who can see that there are other people who are different from them yet longing for peace and a sense of belonging, can Judaism be the brand that raises the question of a Universal ethics? I think it can if we really are a light amongst the nations. If not, the rest of it is just a glorified country club that segregates "outsiders". Why do we have to sell ourselves to ourselves so much anyway? I'm hoping that what is left when we stop all the separation stuff is a realization that Torah, how we question things, how we want to heal the world, how we love learning, becomes Universal. I'm hoping everyone gets to join the "club". Then I wouldn't have to call myself "Jewish" at all but rather...human.

Mano said...

Well said HaRavRam HaYakar! Beayn Chazon Yiparah Am (Proverbs 29 18)- without a vision the people become unrestrained / perish

check out my latest inconsequential post (Kilroy was here)

Grégoire said...

I think every tradition struggles with this, with every new generation. There ain't too many forward thinking Trotskyists either, and those who appear do so briefly before being shouted down by the comfort seekers who want to keep doing the same old song and dance.

On the other hand, the cool stuff never dies. It emerges and then disappears beneath the waves, but its imprint upon the collective consciousness remains. No, I don't have any evidence for this at the moment, but I think history generally supports my unsupported contention.

My point? Keep doing the cool stuff! It probably won't last, but even if it fades into the dark night of obscurity, it's worth doing, simply because it's cool.