Pulpit on the Common

Make the old new, and make the new holy.” – Rav Kook

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The most significant study of the Jewish community, “A Portrait of American Jews,” by the PEW Research Center, has shined a flashlight on the mandate for institutional change. More than one in five American Jews now describes him or herself has having “no religion,” and among the youngest generation of adults that figure is about 1 in 3. These numbers accord with PEW data trends broadly across religion in America. Interestingly, 45% of Americans who identify as having no religion (referred to as the “nones”) actually do say they believe in God. This datum suggests that the problem is in the institutions, the actual organized religious community—especially the synagogue.

Bill Gates famously said in 1996, “Content is king.” Once upon a time, for content, the Jewish people sat in the pews and listened to 45 minute sermons delivered by their rabbis, from the pulpit. But the pulpit, the symbolic mouthpiece for Prophetic Judaism, is no longer what it used to be. As blogger Cory Doctorow said, in reaction on Gates’ creed on content: “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” Nowadays conversation is king, and the time has come to reimagine the pulpit.

In order to establish a new setting for the content and conversation that once was situated on the pulpit, we are launching a podcast called Pulpit on the Common. By creating a content-rich podcast on the intersection of faith and public life, we hope to revive an age-old prophetic tradition of bringing Torah and the moral imperatives of the interfaith community to the “public square,” ensuring that our values bear upon civic life. We plan on addressing a different issue of social conscience each episode, bringing together a faith leader and a civic leader for a dynamic conversation that provides every listener with a greater sense of connectedness to the world.

It’s time to lower the pulpit and lift up the people to the importance of spiritual engagement in civic life. We invite all to subscribe on iTunes and share the podcast with friends and family!

About the Author
Matthew Soffer is the Senior Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, where he leads the social justice efforts, practicing congregation-based community organizing with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Matt serves on the Advisory Council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, the Board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, and the Rabbinic Council of Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.
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