In our age of cruise ship Judaism and rock and roll shabbat, we have a new website called Pop Jewish:Hip Rabbis Weigh in on the Zeitgeist. There are so many interesting things about it. First, the pulpit rabbis are half Orthodox and half Conservative or other. We see that the word Jewish applies to all Jews back the way it was in the 1980’s. We no longer have several discrete denominations that do not, and cannot, work together. Second, we have pop culture as the new medium to reach Jews, unlike peoplehood of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The different denominations do not have different traditions and understandings of Snooki and Lebron James. The pop culture shiur has replaced the medical or business ethic shiur. Third, issues of the age represented such as GLBT Jews. Fourth, it will shift the balance of power back to pulpit rabbis from Roshei Yeshiva or seminary spokespersons. Finally, some of the representatives were the candidates not hired at WSIS or Beth Jacob, but are still seen as the live wires for pulpit rabbis today. “Shoobie doobie do wop, It’s all around you; Pop pop shoo wop, Gonna surround you…pop Jewish.
From their about page
The PopJewish Blog: Where Jewish Wisdom and Pop Culture Meet
This blog focuses on Jewish ideas and themes from television, movies, music, art and sports. All blog posts contain pop culture references and Jewish wisdom from the perspective of 21st century rabbis.
Popular culture affects us all. It permeates the air we breathe. Though certain segments of our Jewish brethren shun pop-culture to preserve Jewish values, we will take a more integrative route. Instead of enjoying pop-culture strictly as escapist entertainment, we will merge it with our religious sensibilities in holy matrimony. Our mission entails extracting and infusing Jewish wisdom, theology, and lessons in popular culture and sharing these ideas and dialogues with you. So continue to consume the gifts and enjoyments of pop culture, (as long as it’s something you enjoy and does not compromise your spiritual growth) and we will, with you, infuse; better yet- we will lift out the Jewish wisdom found within all spheres of pop-culture.
Any thoughts? Let’s talk about it.
Pop pop pop pop Jewish
Yaaaawwwnnn… Am I the only one becoming bored with “hip rabbis” trying to engage young Jews with pop culture references? How about something substantive? How about some real content from our rabbis? How about some real Torah? Enough pandering – the Torah is relevant enough to sell itself.
If the Torah is “relevant enough to sell itself”, why are so few people buying? The demand seems to be for the “diluted” version. In my opinion, the last attempt to “sell” torah on it’s own terms was Hirsch’s 19 letters.
The reason that Rabbi Joshua Hess and I decided to launch the Pop Jewish blog (www.popjewish.com) is because we enjoy the intersection of pop culture and Judaism. The contributions on this site (which is still in beta) will incorporate Torah into the zeitgeist. We’re not trying to package Torah into pop culture the way parents hide medicine in ice cream. All the of the rabbis who are part of PopJewish are genuinely interested in the topics we are covering.
Your post raises questions about the role of escapist fantasy, irony, satire, jokes, fooling around and more generally the place of being playful in a religious life. If these attitudes have no place, it is difficult to make a case for pop culture. And this general question presupposes an even more general puzzle whether Judaism should teach that life is basically a comedy, or ought it to emphasize the tragic and awful aspects of the world? As a practical matter the feeling that the world is a comedy, in the sense of having a basic sense that it all has a happy outcome, is obviously more helpful than its alternative. Humor, laughter, playfulness, creativity and a joy in living are closely connected. Sermons/posts using pop culture should I think be understood if at all against such a background. Yehuda Liebes in his article “Zohar vEros” pursues some of these themes from the perspective of theology and kabbalah.
Click to access zoharveros.pdf
EJ- To truly enter into fantasy, irony, comedy and satire would be great. But I am not sure that is what is going on here. There were many classic essays of Rock and TV criticism that played with these themes,as does the Zohar article that you quote. But in both of the latter one must go on the journey. Rock and Roll as religion and source of transcendent led many people back to Zohar. Here with the Rabbis who follow the zeitgeist it seems the more two dimensional lightness of being, the bon mot and the source of a sermon. I dont want to single out passages but most of the pop-Judaism pieces never enter the creativity and joy, and remains commenting from a moralistic tone what others should do differently. Giving sermons on where pop-stars and athletes make emotional mistakes or say stupid things does not enter the fantasy. Your related their rational-moral preaching to Leibes seems to miss the mark.
If you do want someone who is doing what you think that we should consider, someone who gets the erotics of the pop culture text, then look at the writings of the Orthodox rock critic writing here.
I’m much more interested in the more ethnicized pop culture within Orthodox communities. Haredi adventure literature, Frum music sensations, DVD kids programming and films for older audiences as well, not to mention the connection this pop culture has with the Artscroll influenced culture around it. Come on, how can anyone look at the new Lipa video and not be just fascinated?
Saw some boys choir group next to Shaar Yafo today (Hol hamoed).
At first it was boys in sailor caps singing Jewish lyrics over a techno beat (far cry from jewish boys choirs of the 80s). But then they switched to “By the rivers of Babylon”. And then “I will survive” and “Hot stuff” ( I kid you not). Who are these people? and who actually enjoys that type of thing??