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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 … ?


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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