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Slamming Torah: There’s an App for That

To attract Millennial Jews, just hold up a mirror. No God required.

Susan L.M. Goldberg


February 5, 2014 - 8:00 am
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Sarah Silverman, Hipster Jew Goddess.

Last week the Forward covered a “trendy Jewish spoken word” happening in the trendy neighborhood of Park Slope in the trendy part of trendy New York City known as Brooklyn. If the E! network hasn’t made you wary enough of the word “trendy” this article surely should. Basically, it’s about a doctoral student and an app techie using grant funding to study what makes Judaism trendy with millennials. And if that doesn’t set off any alarm bells in your head, let me be very clear: the title “Sermon Slam” shouldn’t fool you. Despite the religious-themed location, if God was invited to join in the party it was to sit and be talked at, not about let alone with.

For those of you unfamiliar with Judaism or hip lingo: Instead of reading the Torah portion, and perhaps even the Haftarah portion, then wrestling with the meaning of the portion through a discussion involving comparative texts, the Sermon Slam for young adults involves attacking the weekly Torah portion with a style akin to a poetry slam – rough-edged spoken verse rooted in the performer’s emotions and personal (potentially uneducated) perspective:

“Spoken word poetry has become increasingly sexy. …When you synergize that with something that sounds boring, like a sermon… it’s an ancient tradition that we’re now embracing and making our own. It’s for the people, by the people. That feels exciting to those of us in our 20s and 30s.”

I’m far from Orthodox, in fact I don’t identify as a Rabbinic Jew (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist) at all. But this self aggrandizing hyperbole annoys me more than black hatters arguing over sleeve length ever could. Seriously, is Judaism so desperate for adherents that we’re getting grant funding to make the Torah “sexy”?

It gets worse. Apparently making the Torah “sexy” doesn’t involve actually reading the Torah as much as it involves creating a postmodern pastiche of Biblical words and pop culture lingo:

References to iPhones and to Facebook popped up in the same sentence as “Kiddush.” And the hallowed Hebrew names of God, “Adonai” and “Elohim,” were uttered in the same breath as “s–t.”

And now you know why I avoid obnoxious hipster Judaism like the plague. With its goddess worship of Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham and its conversion of New York into the New Zion, this religion has nothing to do with God and Torah and everything to do with Judaizing the kind of liberal self help ethos already prolific within the New Age and Buddhist movements. What’s next for Sermon Slam, a Chopra-esque two-hour fundraising featurette on PBS?


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I, like many of my peers, were on the forefront of the protests for Soviet Jewry (Jewelry for Gilda's fans). I have spent time with both Natan and Elie and yes, I identify as a "rabbinic" Jew (are you a Karaite?), whatever that means. A few month ago, I attended a sermon slam in Jerusalem and LOVED IT! The sermon slam did not in any way replace my "wrestling with the meaning" of the Torah portion nor was I offended to hear "s---t" in the same sentence as Adonai. It was like a breath of fresh air. Someone opened the window and in came insights, brilliance, warmth, humor and a healthy dose of Torah learning. David, thanks for the link, I made a donation to the Kickstarter campaign. We need more sermon slams and less sourness from "Angry Jewish Women".
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you disagree with this article, you can help SermonSlam out by supporting our Kickstarter:
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
One day we will all understand the Torah says it all, and Jesus came to us, as He said 'not to change the law, but to help it happen, for He came from the Father, and He is the way'.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>>Two years ago I attended the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the 25th anniversary of the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky spoke together on stage to mark the event.

I'm glad you got to do this. Apparently the rest of us are in for another "golden calf" moment; one in which we ourselves are the calf. As always.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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