Saturday, September 23, 2017

Perhaps you are an avid listener, like me, whose podcast app is stockpiled with 16 different channels, constantly updating with new content to grace your ears. Perhaps you’ve only just heard of the fad that is taking the world by storm, as major publications and radio stations shift their content to the new medium. Or perhaps you’ve never heard of podcasting (though many would find that hard to believe), and you’re wondering what I’m ranting about.

Podcasting, a form of broadcasting where you download programs onto your phone rather than listening to them live, has become ubiquitous. You may have heard of “Serial,” a popular podcast that investigated a 1999 murder, which helped bring the medium into the mainstream; by February 2016, the series’ first season had been downloaded nearly 80 million times. Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes, reviewing news, telling stories, and introducing listeners to new ideas—and they’re unique in that, unlike radio, they can be listened to at any time, whether they aired yesterday or a year ago. Here are some great, Jewish podcasts to replace your morning pump-up music on the way to work during the nine days.

1. The Office of Rabbi Sacks. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, perhaps the most well-known Orthodox Jewish thinker alive today, has seeped into popular media through his blogs, YouTube series and best-selling books—it isn’t surprising, then, that he’s also dived into podcasting. His channel puts out a weekly series called “Covenant and Conversation,” each episode a vort on the weekly parsha. In classic Rabbi Sacks fashion, he highlights a specific theme or verse and expounds on it in a novel way, incorporating both traditional commentators and modern thought. His recent drasha on Parshat Chukat, for example, made reference to Chazal’s distinction between Chok (laws that cannot be rationally justified) and Mishpat (laws that we could derive from nature), the flaw in Cartesian rationalism and Freudian psychology. At only nine minutes to an episode, it’s definitely worth a listen.

2. Israel Story. If you listen to podcasts regularly—or even if you don’t—you’ve probably heard of the immensely popular series, “This American Life”; you may not have heard of its younger Israeli cousin, “Israel Story.” The podcast, which features the incredible stories of a range of Israelis, began as a primetime program on Israel’s national radio station before gaining immense popularity; episodes are now being released in English as well as Hebrew. The tales run the gamut, detailing unlikely friendships, war stories and interesting historical tidbits. Ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking, this series is bound to make your car ride more interesting.

3. The Tikvah Podcast. The Tikvah Fund is probably most well known as the publisher of the Jewish Review of Books, but it is also involved in a number of educational programs, including seminars for high school and college students, and other intellectually stimulating publications, such as Mosaic Magazine. One of its less well-known services is the Tikvah Podcast series. The episodes, which are usually released on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, bring in well-known intellectuals to discuss great Jewish ideas and essays, in addition to contemporary politics and problems facing the Jewish community. The Tikvah Fund’s resources are vast, and the podcasts feature such intellectuals as Harvard’s Ruth Wisse and the University of Chicago’s Leon Kass. Though episodes sometimes run long and can range anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, the ideas presented are thought-provoking and the host’s keen questions flesh out the discussions. For anyone interested in thinking more deeply about issues facing our community, this podcast is a must.


4. The Promised Podcast. For those desiring a more in-depth view of Israeli culture and politics, this podcast is for you. Hosted by a Haaretz reporter, the director of the Israel Center for Educational Innovation and a Bar Ilan professor, the weekly podcast features a discussion of three Israeli headlines—some of which are not spotlighted in newspapers aimed at American audiences. “The Promised Podcast” mixes serious debate with light hearted banter, and features Israeli music in the breaks. Recent episodes have discussed prominent stories such as the Labor Party’s new leader and the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel, in addition to issues that you may not have heard of—such as how America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords may have damaging implications for Israel, and the idealistic notion of creating an artificial island to solve the humanitarian crises in Gaza. If you’re in the mood for a serious (but not too serious!) discussion of complex issues, give “The Promised Podcast” a shot.

By Dov Greenwood


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