To be shaken and stirred

To be shaken and stirred

Teaneck’s Temple Emeth will host the author of ‘Martini Judaism’

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin

Pulpit rabbi, author, and podcaster Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin first made his mark on American Jewish life with his 1992 book, “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah.”

Since then, Rabbi Salkin has added his voice to the contemporary Jewish conversation on gender, politics, popular culture, and Israel.

He will be at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, where he last lectured in 2012, as the 2024 Rabbi Louis J. Sigel Scholar-in-Residence over the weekend of March 29.

His theme is “Martini Judaism: For Those Who Want to Be Shaken and Stirred” — the title of his award-winning Religious News Service column and his podcast — reflecting his belief that “the role of Judaism is to shake us — to disrupt our usual ways of seeing the world — and to stir us to deeper connection, affiliation, and meaning.”

Rabbi Steven Sirbu, Temple Emeth’s spiritual leader, said Rabbi Salkin “is one of the keenest observers of American Jewish life, from a social, religious, and political perspective. He is a remarkable, engaging speaker with a broad range of knowledge and a quick wit.

“His insight into the future of liberal Judaism in America is of special interest to our congregation,” Rabbi Sirbu continued.

“As the demographics of our area have changed, our congregation has had to ask hard questions about how we sustain ourselves as a vibrant Reform community. I anticipate that he will help us understand our challenges within a larger nationwide framework.”

Rabbi Salkin’s first talk, “Is There a Future for Liberal Judaism in America?” is set for Friday night after services at 8. It will be livestreamed on, YouTube, and Facebook.

“Reform Judaism has overdosed on the idea of personal autonomy; on ‘I do what I want,’” he said.

He envisions three possible models for reimagining liberal Judaism in America. One is “a talmudic model in which we have numerous versions of the proper thing to do coexisting on the same page and don’t worry which is more legitimate at the moment. I admit that one is a messy Judaism.”

Another possible model, based on the teachings of German Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, is that “we do, not what we want, but what we can.

“The third model, the most interesting to me, is offered through Mizrachi Jews of Arab lands and Iran, focusing on the positive mitzvot that we do and less on the negative mitzvot of what we should not do,” Rabbi Salkin said.

Saturday morning at 9, Rabbi Salkin will lead a discussion of the week’s Torah portion, Parashat Tzav, which focuses on the Temple sacrifices, or “korbanot” in Hebrew.

“In secular life, historically we have imagined sacrifice as giving something up,” Rabbi Salkin said. “But in Judaism, the word ‘korban’ means coming close, a way of approaching God and giving what we have to God. There’s a mournful nature in American sacrifice. In Judaism it is joyous. Secular sacrifice is what I give up. Korban is who I give to.”

This lecture also will be available by Zoom; email for the link.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Rabbi Salkin will present “Fixing the Broken Hallelujah,” billed as “an intimate encounter with the theology and poetry of Leonard Cohen through Christian, Jewish, and mystical imagery.”

Rabbi Salkin said that Mr. Cohen is a member of his musical “holy trinity,” along with Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. “Cohen’s music falls into a Jewish tradition of sacred poetry,” he said.

“I’ll focus on a little known, but now much better known, incident in his life from 1973. Believing his career to be washed up, he went to Tel Aviv to volunteer during the Yom Kippur war. He was spotted at a café by several Israeli rock stars, who brought him to the front to sing for troops. That incident was described in the book ‘Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai’ by Matti Friedman. More than that, Cohen’s best music emerged out of that experience, and his career was reinvigorated as a result.”

The final talk in the Scholar in Residence series, Sunday morning at 11 a.m., is provocatively titled “Why Jews Don’t Cancel.”

“Judaism celebrates diversity of opinion, struggle with truth, and hearing different stories and texts and figuring where the commonalities are so we can sharpen each other’s perceptions and make each other better,” Rabbi Salkin explained.

Taken largely from his latest book, “Tikkun Ha’am/Repairing Our People: Israel and the Crisis of Liberal Judaism,” the topics to be discussed express “a renewed understanding that Jews are different and Judaism is different. It is a counterculture with rich gifts to offer ourselves and the world.”

Rabbi Salkin, who lives in Florida, said his book title is deliberately evocative of the concept of “tikkun olam,” repairing the world, which has become a defining Jewish value for American Reform Judaism. He sees a need to bring that repair inward.

“Repairing our people is about reclaiming a sense of non-Orthodox Judaism as a counterculture and stressing the need for liberal Judaism to push back against certain trends in American society such as consumerism, which is defining myself by what I can buy; individualism, which is seeing myself as radically alone; the culture of therapy, which defines me by what I feel; and technology, which is about whether things work, not if they are right,” he said.

The cataclysmic events of October 7 not only led Rabbi Salkin to cofound “Wisdom Without Walls: An Online Salon for Jewish Ideas” — accessible at — but also led him to rewrite the introduction to “Tikkun Ha’am” just before the book went to press.

“On October 6, we all went to sleep in one Jewish world, and we woke up on October 7 in a different Jewish world,” he said. “I called my publisher on October 8 and said, ‘I know it’s ready for the printer today but I have to rewrite the introduction as a prophetic vision of what Judaism in America looks like post October 7.’

“Among those things is a re-understanding of how I balance ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’ which is particularism, with ‘If I am only for myself, what am I?’ which is universalist.” This is a famous adage attributed to Hillel the Elder, a Jewish sage from the beginning of the Common Era.

“American Jews, I predicted, would be shocked to see how they have rebalanced the two pieces of that saying,” Rabbi Salkin said. “They are feeling more inward, protective, and defensive.”

They’ve been reassessing their relationships with universities and with progressive groups that either stood by and said nothing about October 7 or criticized Israel, “especially women’s organizations and the international community that had the unmitigated chutzpah to ignore reports that Jewish women had been raped and mutilated” by Hamas terrorists, he said.

He also predicted that many American Jews “would feel more connected to Judaism than they ever believed themselves to be,” which he sees coming true anecdotally, and that the events of October 7 would create a culture war in America — “and that’s what happened.”

Temple Emeth’s Rabbi Louis J. Sigel Scholar-in-Residence program is held every other spring in memory of the rabbi who served in its pulpit for more than 30 years. The Teaneck Township Council voted unanimously to rename the stretch of Windsor Road that includes the synagogue in honor of Rabbi Sigel. The renaming ceremony is tentatively scheduled to take place as part of the scholar-in-residence weekend.

Rabbi Salkin said that he has “a great deal of respect for Temple Emeth, for Rabbi Sigel, of blessed memory, and for Teaneck in general. The city offers what so many of us are looking for in Jewish life: a sense of community.”

Commenting on tensions in the township surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, he said, “We are living in a time when there is an absolute overlap of criticism of Israeli actions, criticism of Israel, denial of Israel’s right to exist, and antisemitism. There are differences between all those things, but since October 7 those differences have faded into the background.

“The Jewish community is living through PTSD and will continue to do so for quite some time. It is crucial for American Jews right now to feel a sense of unity with each other, emotional unity with Israel, compassion for all who are suffering, and a massive need to strengthen youth education so that our young people have the moral, intellectual, and spiritual spine to stand up to the haters.”

Unlike people who want a better Israel, haters want no Israel, he said.

“Many of us are critical of what happened after 1967. For the haters, it’s not about 1967 but about 1948 — not 1948 CE but 1948 BCE, approximately the time when Abraham and Sarah left Ur and came to the land of Israe l. They believe history would have been far better had those two Jews stayed in modern-day Iraq and not started that messy journey toward the land of Israel and a distinct national identity.”

At the same, he urges Jews not to be tribalistic. “We have to create a sense of solidarity with each other without bigotry toward those who are not Jewish,” he said. “Words like ‘goy’ and ‘shiksa’ are Jewish pornography, ill-suited to a people who believe themselves chosen by God for a unique task.”

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