News from the “flexidoxy” beat

As an Orthodox rabbi once told me, the most controversial issue in modern Judaism today is God.

And what about postmodern Judaism? That’s another story, one that the Los Angeles Times waded into the other day with a strange, yet compelling story that ran under a headline straight out of an up-to-day religious studies classroom: “Bible, yoga and YouTube: all part of Jewish identity.” Reporter Ari B. Bloomekatz opens with a shot of Orthodoxy, a dash of yoga and a wallop of Israeli politics. Clearly, Judaism is a religious, cultural and personal thing. Who’s to draw lines or judge? (Don’t say, “God.”)

The sessions, part of the second annual LimmudLA conference, brought more than 700 Jews together over the weekend to learn from each other and from their sacred texts. The idea behind Limmud — a Hebrew word that means “learning” — is to break down barriers that often divide Jews of different religious affiliations.

“The goal was to get people to own their own Jewish experience in the context of building a Jewish community where everyone comes together regardless of their denominations,” said Shep Rosenman, an entertainment lawyer who founded LimmudLA and is a co-chair of this year’s event. “The vehicle we use is Jewish learning, but not only classic Bible study.”

The approach resonated with Ida Unger, a yoga instructor from Tujunga who led one of the morning classes.

“There’s a diversity of spiritual practice within modern Judaism, and coming here to this conference, it’s an opportunity to get a taste of many, many different things,” Unger said.

Some of this may sound familiar, to those of you who read a certain Jewish writer on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. This visit into LA Judaism sounds quite a bit like a term from the book “Bobos in Paradise” by David Brooks (a rare work of cultural commentary that is also laugh-out-loud funny).

Here’s a bite from a column I did for Scripps Howard that introduces the term that jumped into my mind as I read the Bloomekatz piece:

It was a rabbi in Montana who gave Brooks the perfect word — “Flexidoxy” — to describe this faith. This is what happens when Americans try to baptize their souls in freedom and tradition, radical individualism and orthodoxy, all at the same time. One scholar found a Methodist pastor’s daughter who calls herself a “Methodist Taoist Native American Quaker Russian Orthodox Buddhist Jew.”

It doesn’t make any sense, but it looks good and feels right. And that’s the key to the hearts of the intellectuals, artists, politicians and entrepreneurs who came to power after the 1960s. When it comes to the culture wars, they are lovers, not fighters.

Thus, I found it interesting that the Los Angeles Times piece didn’t include any Jewish voices — right or left — that were uncomfortable with the LimmudLA approach. At the same time, it’s clear that the doctrinal differences are right there up front in this conference, with the only question being whether people are truly allowed to agree to disagree. There is that “God” thing, after all.

Still, you have to love this kind of detail.

Most of the conference sessions were rooted in Jewish traditions with modern adaptations and messages.

At a session titled “What Inspires Me: Musicians,” Brooklyn folk-rock singer Michelle Citrin played guitar and sang a song called “Someday.” Citrin, who has earned a measure of fame as “Rosh Hashanah Girl” for her YouTube videos “I Gotta’ Love You Rosh Hashanah” and “20 Things to Do With Matzah,” said the song was influenced by a famous saying from the Talmudic sage Hillel. The chorus goes: “Someday I’m gonna make it happen, but if not now, then when.”

Citrin said her purpose “is to make this ancient wisdom accessible.”

You cannot make this up.

So I’ll ask the obvious question. Is this CJM, “Contemporary Jewish Music”? Watch the Rosh Hashanah video up on top of this post and make sure you get to the sort-of-rap part.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Is this CJM, “Contemporary Jewish Music”?

    Nu, what else could it be? It’s contemporary, it has a Jewish theme and it’s music. What’s not to like, already. I certainly won’t kvetch about it.

  • Ira Rifkin

    Here’s the leading edge in Contemporary Jewish Music:

    http://jdubrecords.org/

    And here’s the edge of the edge: The Wailing Wall, AKA my son: Excuse the shameless parental pride)

    http://www.myspace.com/jesserifkin

  • http://myurbankvetch.com Esther

    I think if you re-read that sentence, you’ll see that the song Citrin refers to in the interview as having been inspired by Hillel, is “Someday,” with the lyrics as reported in the LA Times piece. The RH and Matzah videos were done for fun and in celebration of Jewish holidays, not to redefine Jewish music. As for the value factor: the videos are now being used as cultural touchstones for children growing up against a YouTube landscape, and provide a point of pride in Jewish culture and tradition. And although you may disagree, I see that as a wonderful thing.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    I liked the music video. The music sounded good to my ears and the girl was sweet and endearingly goofy.

  • Pingback: On “Bible, yoga, and Youtube” | Jewschool

  • EV

    If CJM is to be defined simply by its component parts–contemporary, has a Jewish theme, and qualifies as music–then, yes, the video qualifies. But I suspect Mattingly is probing here for comparisons to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music, got its start in the early ’70s) in which the committed Christian life informs the song, with some songs functioning as worship; some, as invitation to conversion; others, as exhortation. In this regard, I turn to Orthodox recordings. Doesn’t this video hold something of the aura of ’80s CCM videos (limited in budget, but high on earnest devotion)?

    My personal favorite among the more upbeat CJM. Translation here.


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