What should I ask Rabbi David Wolpe?

by on December 19, 2016 at 7:26 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Education, History, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

I will be chatting with him for the next Conversation with Tyler, January 26.  Here is an excerpt from his bio:

Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post…In addition to serving as the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in LA, Rabbi Wolpe has written eight books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe also writes a weekly column for Time.com. His writing has been included in The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and the New York Jewish Week. He has previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the American Jewish University, Hunter College, and UCLA.

Here is his Wikipedia page, and his most recent book is David: The Divided Heart.

This event will be held at the Sixth and I St. Synagogue in Washington, D.C., 7 p.m.; please note they charge admission but that is for them not for me!  This will not be a regular feature of the series moving forward, but they do need to cover their costs and we really wanted to use that venue.

So what should I ask David Wolpe?

1 Richard Freeman December 19, 2016 at 7:49 am

If you really want to engage in hard talk about religion read Leo Baeck’s sensitive and informed polemic ” Romantic Religion” (in the volume of his essays ” Judaism and Christianity”) and ask him whether he agrees with Baeck’s conclusion that Christianity is a misguided faith that leaves ethics and morals behind and looks to authoritative ceremonial sources merely to bring comfort to the individual without any real consideration for the good of his fellow man.

2 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 7:57 am

“Baeck’s conclusion that Christianity is a misguided faith that leaves ethics and morals behind and looks to authoritative ceremonial sources merely to bring comfort to the individual without any real consideration for the good of his fellow man.”

This is stupid.

3 dearieme December 19, 2016 at 8:12 am

I imagine that the remark is aimed at Roman Catholics, though perhaps it includes the Orthodox too. It makes no sense for Protestants, does it?

4 Cliff December 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

Wouldn’t it be the opposite? Catholics believe in the necessity of good works, right? The others don’t

5 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 11:54 am

This is more a rethorical difference than anything else. Both believe that people must believe and live accordingly (think Wesley and Calvin). Catholics however tend to put a bigger emphasis in ritual than Protestants do. At the end, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Bush was Protestant, Kerry was Catholic (both were Skull and Bones guys). Would anyone habve noticed the difference if it were the other way around? I doubt it.

6 Rich Berger December 19, 2016 at 8:05 am

The most influential rabbi in America? Is this the same Newsweek that employs Kurt Eichenwald?

7 dearieme December 19, 2016 at 8:11 am

Ask him what you should ask every God-botherer: “Do you really believe all this stuff?”

8 anon December 19, 2016 at 8:57 am

Just heard about a local kid who at his bar mitzvah spoke on “why I don’t believe in God.” Apparently the congregation was fine with it.

I have limited exposure, but reform Judaism seems less God bothering than most religions.

9 Jacob December 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

Ask him: You make a lot of claims about god. What evidence do you have?

10 AlanG December 19, 2016 at 8:23 am

For me God first died during the Crusades when probably some of my way distant relatives were either killed of displaced in the Rhineland. Subsequent deaths followed in Russia, Ukraine (enforced famine through collectivization), Auschwitz (and other death camps in WWII), China (during some of Mao’s enforced horrors), Cambodia, Rwanda, and today Syria (other examples could be cited as well such as the 30 years war which laid waste to a large swath of central Europe). Other than some great works of art that came from ‘religious inspiration’ (compositions of Bach, many great paintings of various European artists) and an ethical code handed down at Sinai (according to the Torah) what good is a belief in God or religion.

11 The Original Other Jim December 19, 2016 at 10:59 am

And yet… here you are.

Don’t worry, it’s probably just coincidence. Back to sleep, you.

12 msgkings December 19, 2016 at 1:26 pm

There’s actually a great deal of literature on the value of religion in promoting group fitness, setting aside the truth or untruth of it. It may be less useful in that regard in the modern world however.

13 ET December 19, 2016 at 8:38 am

What dearieme an Jacob said above. Follow with AlanGs list.

14 JSK December 19, 2016 at 8:46 am

Modern reform Judaism is increasingly about tradition and social justice. Many reform Jews don’t believe in God but feel an affinity for the traditions and culture. Can someone be Jewish and not believe in God? Can reform Judaism survive without God? It seems that the American reform movement will very quickly fade and the face of American Jewry will be the orthodox. Do you agree? Does it matter?

15 msgkings December 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm

I’m curious to hear his reply but my guess is that there will always be both strains, new Orthodox people will grow up and drift towards Reform as those did before them. Some of those will eventually drift away entirely but there will always be new Orthodox to replenish the Reform ranks.

16 Emily December 19, 2016 at 9:00 am

Conservative Judaism has been going through some (very well-publicized!) issues: our movement has shrunk dramatically as intermarriage rates have risen and fertility rates fallen. What does Rabbi Wolpe regarding the future of Conservative Judaism? Are there lessons we can learn from the success of the Orthodox? What would he like to from organizations like Hillel, or others which work on Jewish outreach? Does he have ideas regarding what synagogues can be doing, perhaps things his own has implemented?

17 CMOT December 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

As an outsider I have difficulty understanding the doctrinal justification for Conservative Judaism.

Both Orthodox and Reform believers seem to have bright line determiners to guide them: the Orthodox say the all ancient laws still bind today, the Reform say that none of them do. But Conservatives seem to be saying that some of the ancient laws matter more than others, while others don’t matter at all.

Conservatism seem to be an effort to compromise faith with reason and practicality, but without (seemingly) the bright lines that the other traditions provide, how can there be a coherent doctrine?

18 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 10:21 am

One can ask the same about Christianity. Why can Christians eat pork, mix two kinds of fabric, but not, say, commit adultery, divorce their partner (or can if they are Republicans,it seems) or own slaves (since 1865)? Who decides what is binding and what is not? Say what you want, but the Ron Paul/Reconstructionist crowd at least is coherent. They want to stone gays.

19 Cliff December 19, 2016 at 10:28 am

Ron Paul does not want to stone gays

20 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 11:03 am

The guy who created and manages his curriculum wants. At this point, Ron Paul is just a figurehead in his own moviment.

21 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 11:04 am

* movement.

22 albatross December 19, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Ron Paul wants gays to be able to get stoned. Important difference.

23 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 3:42 pm

I guess saying it this way makes it a matter of civil rights.
I admit I like the justification of Ron Paul’s guy: besides Biblical support for stonings (you may recall St. Stephen himself was stoned), stones, as opposed to bullets, are plentiful. You must admire a man that doesn’t let his bloodlust get in the way of cold, reasonable economic analysis. And America wasting money with the F-35. The military should hire this man to find cost-effective ways to kill the infidels.

24 AlanG December 19, 2016 at 10:22 am

there is an important deliniation between the three branches of Judaism. I grew up a non-believer in the Reform tradition and still adhere to some practices which are more along the lines of social justice and inner reflection as they don’t involve a believe in a diety. Orthodox Judaism is repellent because of the segregation of the sexes and other devaluation of women (though they would argue otherwise). Conservative Judaism is for believers who follow many of the religious laws but draw the line at the sexual discrimination (they allow girls to become bat mitzvah where Orthodox prohibit this).

25 Bob from Ohio December 19, 2016 at 10:47 am

“Orthodox Judaism is repellent”

I am sure they say the same about Reform Jews.

Certainly about atheists like you.

26 AlanG December 19, 2016 at 11:12 am

“I am sure they say the same about Reform Jews.

Certainly about atheists like you.”

Of that I have no doubt! My sister was married in Israel a number of years ago. The State of Israel ‘only’ recognizes marriages conducted by an appropriate religious official. Civil marriages and divorces are not recognized by the State. My sister’s first and last visit to the Mikvah (ritual bath) was just before the wedding as per the requirement. Were she to adhere to the Orthodox faith, a monthly visit to the Mikvah is required following completion of the menstrual cycle. She thought this was total nonsense as do I.

27 Josh K December 19, 2016 at 11:49 am

Allan, if someone says you personally are repellent for not being Orthodox, that’s their own bad character. You’re right that we don’t think Reform Judaism is legitimate (even though a Reform Jew is still a Jew), but I don’t think most Reform Jews claim they are upholding traditional Jewish practice either.

28 Emily December 19, 2016 at 11:22 am

I think “all the ancient laws still bind today” is how the Orthodox might describe their approach to halachah, but it’s not how I’d describe it.

You start with a law. Then you build a fence around the law – a rule that’s bigger than the original law, but to make it less likely someone will break the original law. You forget that the fence just exists because of the original law. Then you build another fence and another. That’s what the Orthodox have been doing, even just in recent decades. I went to a seder where they kept the matzoh in ziploc bags (until you were actually eating it) so that it wouldn’t touch a drop of water. What, 300 years ago, their ancestors had ziploc bags? C’mon. I think ideally, Conservative Judaism can take down some of those fences.

In practice, it has been more complicated than that. But I do not think it is incoherent at all, or that the others have quite as many bright lines as you would think.

29 Josh K December 19, 2016 at 11:42 am

I can’t speak to the seder you attended, but most Orthodox Jews use plastic bags for matzah as a convenience to measure out the right amounts to give each person. The exception would be Chassidic practice (Chabad for example), who often take on a optional stringency where they don’t mix matzah products with liquids (so no matzah balls). But even there, the plastic bags would probably have been a convenient way to set up beforehand.

30 Emily December 19, 2016 at 11:56 am

Yes, Chabad. Their explanation was indeed about not mixing matzoh with liquids. Which, OK. But to be so adamant about not mixing matzoh with liquids that you will not serve matzoh on a plate because someone might accidentally get water on it (which was their explanation) is, I would argue, an example of going beyond following an ancient law.

31 Josh K December 19, 2016 at 12:41 pm

You’re right, it’s a stringency, even within the context of Halacha, to not mix liquid and matazah, and a stringency on a stringency to worry about a splash of water at the seder. I grew up non-religious, but with a lot of contact with Chabad, and one of the things that put me off was this sort of thing. I started taking the core of it more seriously when I realized how much of what Chabad does is optional. At best, practices like that are optional ways certain personality types (not everyone) find helpful to deepen their relationship with God. At worst, they’re distractions.

32 David December 20, 2016 at 10:07 am

“…I have difficulty understanding the doctrinal justification for Conservative Judaism.”

As Samuel Freedman observed, it provides a means whereby the post-War Jewish emigration (dare I say, Diaspora?) to the suburbs and the ensuing necessity of driving to synagogue could be reconciled to earlier Jewish understandings about working on the Sabbath.

33 Query December 19, 2016 at 9:12 am

Would he work for Trump’s administration if asked to? Would he interview for a job with Trump, and parade through the lobby of Trump Tower? More broadly, when should one try to tame or appease racism, mysoginy, anti-semitism, and when should one try to oppose it with indignant energy?

34 Dan Wang December 19, 2016 at 9:22 am

Jewish-American academic achievement vs. Asian-American academic achievement. Relatedly, what are the values that each group tries to teach its children, and how successful are each?

35 P Burgos December 19, 2016 at 9:42 am

Jonathan Haidt writes that morality “binds us and blinds us” (paraphrase). Ask Wolpe if he agrees or disagrees, and why? Also, in the context of David and contemporary Judaism, I would ask him why morality (or the law) was not enough to bind the ancient Hebrews, hence the need for kings. Then I would follow it up and ask him why (or why not?) contemporary Jews can get by without kings, but ancient Israelites could not. Also, just for some red meat, ask him if he sees any parallels between Trump and David. Or Obama and Solomon, or Obama and Saul. Another could be about why we don’t regularly see God’s hand at work when we limit ourselves to examining the world in terms of efficient causes (referencing Aristotle’s four causes or modes of explanation)? That is to say, why is it that when we ask how the world works, or how to accomplish a specific task, God almost never features as a functional part of any of those explanations?

36 Adovada December 19, 2016 at 9:46 am

Ask him how many unique Jewish cultures there are in the US and how they differ regionally.

37 Ray Lopez December 19, 2016 at 9:51 am

Ask him if it’s possible that Cowen, a Scottish surname, is in fact Jewish (I bet it is).

38 londenio December 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Most people of European descent is also somewhat Jewish if you look far enough. If you look even further, then we are all (also) Africans.

39 byomtov December 19, 2016 at 10:08 am

Ask him what he thinks Judaism demands in terms of the treatment of the Palestinians.

40 fallibilist December 19, 2016 at 10:10 am

How should Jews in the United States react to the emergence of Neo-Nazis crawling out from the fringes into a sort of spotlight via internet trolling?

On the one hand, it doesn’t ever seem like good advice to “ignore a threat” but on the other hand calling attention to their cause/existence could easily backfire by inadvertently giving them “free advertising.”

41 Gj December 19, 2016 at 11:06 am

Ask him his position on mock meat (Beyond Meat), lab meat, and the (ir)relevance of shechita in our day and age. Would be interesting to hear more about the subject from his unique perspective as a vegetarian rabbi.

42 Simonini December 19, 2016 at 11:34 am

Ask him about his power level.

43 Axa December 19, 2016 at 11:34 am

Never judge a book by it’s title…but, his books seem to offer some kind of solace to troubled people. Then, my cousin´s friend has a question: is believing in a higher God the only source of solace?

44 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Yes.

45 Antandener December 19, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Ask him how Jewish the average Jew is, genetically speaking. Growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s in a town that was mostly Jewish or Catholic(I was a raised in a Protestant family) I saw quite a few mixed couples. Jews don’t have many kids, but the population has remained pretty much the same since that time, around 6 million. Is that gentile blood having a detrimental effect on Jewish academic performance, as Ron Unz has suggested?

46 Josh K December 19, 2016 at 12:32 pm

The problem with having someone like Wolpe on is that he’s not going to give a particularly unusual perspective. Reform and Conservative Judaism are essentially offshoots of the Enlightenment and won’t have that different a view than mainstream cultural figures.

You’ll get a much more divergent perspective from an Orthodox rabbi who follows contemporary culture and events. The really top thinkers wouldn’t go on a public podcast (no on is going to get into the intersection of kaballah and theoretical physics with you for example), but there are a number of serious folks you could probably talk into doing a show:

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (the first person everyone thinks of for this sort of thing, for a good reason)
Rabbi Akiva Tatz (expert in medical ethics, author of Letters to a Buddhist Jew among other books)
Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz (now in Israel, formerly a rabbi in Silver Spring and law professor, bio here: http://torahdownloads.com/s-8-rabbi-yitzchak-breitowitz.html)
Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky (serious polymath with an expertise in philosophically based Jewish thought, who is the leading Rosh Yeshivah [head of a seminary, basically] in DC: bio here: https://tikvahfund.org/faculty/rabbi-ahron-lopiansky/)
Jonathan Rosenblum (Yale Law grad turned columnist and biographer, archive of columns here: http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/)

47 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm

“no on is going to get into the intersection of kaballah and theoretical physics with you for example”

Hahaha. Oh, God.

48 msgkings December 19, 2016 at 1:36 pm

No, Oh Yahweh

49 Thiago Ribeiro December 19, 2016 at 3:43 pm

In fact, no oh Yhwh!

50 David December 20, 2016 at 10:12 am

“In fact, no oh Yhwh!”

What, no Yahoo-Wahoo ?!? 😉

51 rossle December 19, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Secular Jews have low total fertility and high out-marriage rates. All Jews today are descended from those who remained relatively devout, fecund and endogenous in the past. I suspect this will be true of future Jews as well. Does the likely inability of secular Judaism to sustain itself over many generations bother him or does he disagree with my premises/logic?

52 James Tyre December 19, 2016 at 1:17 pm

How does the Rabbi differentiate between commandments/traditions that are unchangeable and those that are open to evolution? Is anything sacred?
Put slightly differently: To what extent does he allow “western” culture to influence his understanding and practice of Judaism.
At what point does it stop being Judaism and becomes you-daism?

53 Kevin Burke December 19, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Is the New Testament overrated or underrated?

54 Antandener December 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Disappointed to see Tyler deleting comments, though I understand the need for it. The stuff we said wasn’t that bad but I guess I could see it if he’s going to be interviewing a Rabbi.

55 Jameson Burt December 19, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Ask Wolpe if our childhood upbringing largely prevents us from viewing religion from outside our own religion, rather than from inside. From outside, most people reject others’ religions, using many arguments never used against their own religions.

From inside one’s own religion, one makes different arguments — quoting scripture, observing seemingly answered prayer, personal feelings, and miracles. These insider arguments for one’s own religion are not considered valid from another “outsider” religion. For example, in the twentieth century, Sai Baba walked on water, cured the sick — in front of hundreds of thousands in India and simultaneously on camera — a much better argument for miracles than a New Testament argument that hundreds of witnesses saw similar miracles.

56 Lexical Mentat December 19, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Ask him which economic ideas that are presented in Talmudic sources and Medieval commentary he hopes to increase the prominence of today. What can we take away from laws on interest/loans (Ribbit)? What should we learn from Maimonides who says a person should tithe no more than 20%? What economic ideas can we glean from reversion of Jerusalem land-plots in the Jubilee year? Or the agricultural laws of the sabbatical year? What do Jewish sources have to say about disclosure obligations of market participants who hold information asymmetrically? There is some discussion in the Talmud about revising units (referenced in a particular law) from the biblical units to the then present-day units used in common-place, what do we learn about inflation from this? (Tractate Shabbat, beginning — Hillel vs. Shammai). Many Jewish sources, notably Proverbs, envision woman as active in the workforce and the laws of Ketuba (marriage) made some possibility for a working wife to keep her wages; what does he make of the tremendous growth of women participation in the workforce. Three or four years ago the big banks announced an initiative for their employees to take one day off a week, does R. Wolpe have a view that this ought to be broader or a firm level decision.

57 Daniel December 19, 2016 at 10:54 pm

How does Rabbi Wolpe feel that the Jewish community in America is diminishing at the greatest rate for Jews in any country in history, that isn’t a dictatorship? Or simply, why do so many American Jews leave Judaism, when say, Canadian Jews don’t?

58 Daniel December 19, 2016 at 10:56 pm

What probability does Rabbi Wolpe put that in the next 100+ years, Herzl will take on religious significance in Judaism?

59 Daniel December 19, 2016 at 10:58 pm

How can Tikkun Olam (to save a life is to save the world) be reconciled with tzedakah? And how does this relate to effective altruism?

60 anonymous December 20, 2016 at 12:02 am

You won’t ask him this, but I will put it out there. Does he know that, a hundred or so years from now, the word “rodef” will be as much of a shame to the men of our day as the word “fool” was to the men of David’s day? (He wrote a book about the book of Kings but the Book of Proverbs is much more relevant to the hardships of our day – I wish it wasn’t, but it is.) Does he know that David was either never a real person – being, according to the remaining manuscripts, an unbelievably gifted but nevertheless astonishingly and sadly a cold-hearted adulterer and worse, someone who, based on the sad little details of his life that have been preserved for us, could never have really been, until his last moments on earth, a person who had any true love for God or for God’s creation – and does he know that when we pretend that the David of history, until his last moments, was not, overall, a disgrace to his heritage, that we too are pretending that we too deserve, without merit , to be forgiven *** for the record I am guessing he understands that as well or better than me *** (Still, the word rodef, used the way it has been recently, is a shame to many of us). Don’t even bother thinking about asking him about this, I know you have no inclination in that direction. In a day when the Pope in Rome can write a cold-hearted appreciation for a murderer like Castro on his death, and when so many others who should know better say so many cold-hearted things, it is a small matter that a rabbi who has been blessed with so many good things of this earth can be “pro-choice”, as the fools of our day say. Anyway, God bless him for being, at least, almost vegetarian – God knows the emotions that an octopus feels, God knows that sturgeons and pikes have a right not to be considered kosher, and God knows a lot more about this sort of thing that I do – but I do not claim to be the friend of the millions of octopi and sturgeons and pike that I ought to be. Seriously, don’t bother asking him about the abortion of innocent children. David was a bad person for almost all of his life – had he been living today, he would be pro-choice, at least until his last few months or days on earth. Everybody knows that. God is good and loves us anyway, but still …

61 anonymous December 20, 2016 at 12:25 am

“Rodef” is the word abortion apologists use for innocent children who are not allowed to live because their mothers and fathers think abortion of their own innocent children is acceptable. “Rpdef” translates to “pursuer”; believe it or not, there are actually people who pray to God on a daily basis who think it is acceptable to think of innocent unborn children as guilty pursuers. God loves people who are cold-hearted enough to use the “rodef” argument – after all, God created people, God created hearts, and God created coldness – but he expects better of us.

62 Mark Brown December 20, 2016 at 11:26 am

Ask him what he thinks about “covenantal nomism” or the work of E.P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul scholars. What differences does he see between his Conservative/Covenantal Judaism and that description of 1st century Judaism?

63 Ricardo December 20, 2016 at 9:09 pm

I’d like to see questions about Judaism discussed thru an economic perspective,

– what does he think about the future of Judaism in America and the world. Is intermarriage a threat?
– what are the pros and cons to the future of Judaism from the division in orthodox and reform (and all variations in the middle)?
– what is the role of religion in the modern economy?
– how should Jews in the US respond to tragedies such as dalfur, Aleppo, etc, given our pun history?
– has Judaism and Israel gone from a bipartisan issue to a more replublican isue (average is over)?

64 Edmund C. December 21, 2016 at 9:56 am

I’d like to hear his thoughts on further rapprochement with the Roman Catholics, what he views as barriers, what progress if any has been made since Vatican II, his views on Pope Francis, and how should Catholics feel about anti-Christian passages in the Talmud.

65 Mo December 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

Isn’t it odd that religion frequently “weighs in” on contemporary political issues? What does it say about a timeless and eternal tradition (or its practitioners) that it favors specific outcomes in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, for example, or a treaty with Iran? How can “Jewish Values,” comprised as they are from two millennia+ worth of text, observations and commentary from around the globe, ever perfectly cohere with the preferences of Party X on issue X in the most recent media cycle?

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