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‘Rockin’ Rabbis’ on the American Bible Challenge

On an American Bible TV game show, three rabbis reflect a growing willingness to learn about the legacy of Jesus

“Are you going to introduce yourself as ‘rabbi’?” she asked.

“Nah,” I responded. “I’m not a rabbi yet. Could I say ‘rabbinical student?’”

“But you’re almost a rabbi, right?” she responded.

“Well, yeah. But ordination’s still in a couple of months. I’m a Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow… so ‘rabbinical fellow?’”

“That works.”

It’s not everyday that I have the chance to kibitz with a television producer (even one from the warm and welcoming Odyssey Networks), and certainly not before getting on camera. Even less likely was this particular occasion: filming shorts for the new season of the Game Show Network’s hit American Bible Challenge.

The show appeals to a broad base, but I sensed that it was far more geared toward a Christian audience. Not to mention, of course, the fact that it engages discussions of both the Torah and Christian Bible.

Yet there I was, a future rabbi, sharing why I decided to go to rabbinical school and about Judaism more broadly.

And the show is about to get a whole lot more religiously diverse in the next few weeks. This season, three rabbis, known by their team name as “The Rockin’ Rabbis” (Philip Weintraub of Newburgh, New York, Jeffrey Abraham of Nyack, New York, and Eve Eichenholtz of Roslyn Heights, New York) will be competing for up to $140,000.

The Rockin' Rabbis are competing against 17 other teams on season 2 of the game show The American Bible Challenge
The Rockin’ Rabbis are competing against 17 other teams on season 2 of the game show The American Bible Challenge

To my knowledge, it will be the first time the show has had a rabbi, much less a trio of rabbis, competing.

Some might look at their participation as good fun. Others, as a publicity stunt. Still others as the chance for interfaith dialogue (in a most unusual setting!).

But the presence of the new rabbinical team might point to a different phenomenon altogether: an interest on the part of some Jews in reading the Christian bible. Far from an exercise in assimilation, it stems from the increased recognition that embedded within Christian texts are kernels of wisdom about early rabbinic Judaism.

If Jesus was a rabbi, then he and his followers would likely exhibit traits similar to those of other rabbis and their discipleship circles. In learning about one early rabbi (albeit a unique one, whose followers eventually split from the rabbinic tradition), we as Jews might gain insight into our own tradition. While some of us still experience surface tension in reading the sacred texts of other traditions, concern associated with reading the Christian Bible may be decreasing.

With animosity quite low between Jews and Christians in the United States, Jews may grow increasingly comfortable with the insights they gain from Christian texts, even as they recognize the differences inherent to them.

If this trend continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if another team of rabbis or Jewish lay leaders winds up on The American Bible Challenge!

Hopefully, future contestants from our community will be just as menschy. The Rockin Rabbis won’t be pocketing any money if they win. Instead, they plan to donate their winnings to the UJA Federation of New York’ s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

About the Author
Joshua Stanton is Rabbi of East End Temple in Manhattan and a Senior Fellow at CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He serves on the Board of Governors of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, which liaises on behalf of Jewish communities worldwide with the Vatican and other international religious bodies. Josh was is in the 2015 - 2016 cohort of Germanacos Fellows and part of the inaugural group of Sinai and Synapses Fellows from 2013 - 2015. Previously, Josh served as Associate Rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey and before that as Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and Director of Communications for the Coexist Foundation. He is a Founding Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a publication that has enabled inter-religious studies to grow into an academic field of its own. He writes for the Huffington Post and Times of Israel. Josh was one of just six finalists worldwide for the $100,000 Coexist Prize and was additionally highlighted by the Coexist Forum as "one of the foremost Jewish and interreligious bloggers in the world." In 2011, the Huffington Post named him one of the "best Jewish voices on Twitter." The Huffington Post also selected two organizations he helped found as exemplary of those which effectively "have taken their positive interfaith message online." He authored one of "15 Blogs from 2015 that Show How Faith Can Be a Force For Good." Josh has been the recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Bridge-Builders Leadership Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, the Associates of Jewish Homes and Services for the Aging’s Annette W. and Herbert H. Lichterman Outstanding Programming Award, the Volunteer Hero Award of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the W. MacLean Johnson Fellowship for Action, the Wiener Education Fellowship, and the Hyman P. Moldover Scholarship for Jewish Communal Service. Josh's work was highlighted in chapter of the official report and proceedings of the UNESCO Chairs for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. A sought-after speaker, Josh has given presentations, speeches, and convocations at seminaries, non-profit organizations, and religious groups across the United States and beyond. Last winter, Josh presented about the next generation of religious leadership at the Holy See's 50th Anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate at the United Nations. The prior spring, Josh spoke about social media and interfaith dialogue at an international conference on faith and reconciliation in Kosovo (his one third there). He has also spoken at the Pentagon about religious diversity in March 2013; given a presentation about the prevalence of hate crimes against houses of worship during a White House conference in July 2011 and a follow-up presentation at the White House on the potential for Dharmic communities to enhance religious pluralism nationally in April 2012; an address at the 2010 Eighth Annual Doha Conference, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Qatar and the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue; and a Closing Address at the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation at the United Nations in November 2009. Josh has had articles and interviews featured in newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, academic journals, publications, and blogs in ten languages. These include the Associated Press, National Geographic, Washington Post, German National Radio, Swedish National Radio, The Permanent Observer Mission from the Holy See to the United Nations, public radio's Interfaith Voices, the BBC, Vox, the The Daily Beast, The Sydney Herald, JTA, and the blog of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Josh has contributed to edited volumes, including Flourishing in the Later Years: Jewish Pastoral Insights on Senior Pastoral Care, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Questions, Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality, and Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation. Likewise, he has been co-author of a number of academic articles for publications as diverse as Religious Education, Long-Term Living, The Gerontologist, and the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies (a publication he co-founded). Prior to entering rabbinical school, Josh served as an Assistant to the Director of the European Youth Campaign at the Council of Europe and co-Founded Lessons of a Lifetime, a program that improves inter-generational relations through the recording of ethical wills. An alumnus of Amherst College, Josh graduated magna cum laude with majors in history, economics, and Spanish, as well as a certificate in Practical French Language from Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France.
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