Monday, January 6, 2014

Is Good Shabbos Nebraska Kosher?

This past Shabbos on Good Shabbos Nebraska - America's favorite Shabbos morning talk show, we had the legendary musician Lenny Solomon.  It was a fantastic Shabbos and a great way to take us into the mid winter Hiatus.

For the next two weeks Good Shabbos Nebraska is going to be on break.  We are taking down the stage and davening will just feature a short parshah monologue (I don't think I can ever go back to calling it a sermon).

We will return on January 25th with guest host Elinor Dunning - our first ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah.  It will be a historic episode.  In 20 years when the Good Shabbos Nebraska model is the norm in synagogues around the world people will remember that Elinor Dunning was the first ever guest host bat mitzvah!

Good Shabbos Nebraska has been very well received in Omaha, but outside of Omaha the show has met some controversy.  

The latest from the blogger Rabbi Reuvein Spolter.  He writes on the "Chopping Wood" blog about "divrei Torah and community issues."  

On Sunday morning Lenny Solomon was interviewed for the Jewish radio show JM in the AM.  He generously gave a shout out to Good Shabbos Nebraska (100 min)  and told people how much he loved the idea and the program.  

A few minutes later, Rabbi Spolter, in Israel, wrote the following. 
Listening to an interview with Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock, who mentioned that he was just in Omaha Nebraska, where the rabbi, instead of giving a sermon, turns the entire shul into basically a talk-show set. (You kind of have to see it to get a sense of what he's doing:!about/c10fk. This raises so many questions: (1) What do the regular members think? (2) Is it working to boost the shul's popularity? (3) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, does turning shul into a makeshift TV studio (albeit a Shomer Shabbat one) cheapen the notion of mikdash me'at, and turn what should be a sacred space into yet another symbol of our popular culture? What say you Rabbi Jon Gross?
Lenny Solomon kindly responded with the following
HI Reuven - Just think Avraham Avinu. You are in Israel where people are on board with Judaism or not. Here in Omaha you need to be creative - out of the box. It frankly was the most exciting program I have ever seen. The sermon was given as a monologue a ala Johnny Carson. The Kids were involved. Torah is alive and well in Omaha. Kudos to Rabbi Gross! 
Thanks Lenny!

To answer Rabbi Spolter's questions directly - Thank God, my membership is overall very supportive.  It takes a lot of guts to support a Rabbi in doing something out of the box.  Good Shabbos Nebraska would not exist if it were not for the support of the Beth Israel congregation, and I grateful for their support.

After 13 straight episodes I think everyone would agree that it has been a success.  Regular attendance is up. Our regulars are coming more regularly, and we have seen lots of people who have never come in the past.

20 and 30 years ago most Jews had a bubby and zeidi that were religious.  Davening did not speak to the unaffiliated Jew, but the traditional synagogue still had a nostalgia that spoke to them.

Today, American Jews are 4th and 5th generation assimilated.  Their grandparents were already estranged from the synagogue.  The traditional format is alienating and intimidating to them.  Over the years I have stretched the bounds of my own creativity to make davening more meaningful, but there is only so much that can be done with the traditional format.

And I am not the only Rabbi who struggled with this.  This is a national problem.

Good Shabbos Nebraska maintains the traditional service and does not compromise davening at all.  It simply substitutes the sermon with something that speaks to everyone.

Although I have not yet had a respected halachic authority as a guest on GSN as of yet (stay tuned for season 2!) when I developed the concept of GSN I was in consultation with a number of Rabbinic authorities who all encouraged me to proceed with the program.

Etan G - the Jewish Rapper - really enjoyed the format.  In his words,
usually when a Rabbi gives a sermon, after five minutes you want to blow your head off.  On Good Shabbos Nebraska he had the crowd engaged for almost an entire hour - and 75% of it was Torah.
While I am not in complete agreement with everything he said - the show is usually much less than an hour, and I would say that more than 75% is Torah - but his point is that people are tired of sermons.  The format just doesn't work - even for the best orators.  That is why television features talk shows and not sermon shows.

At one point the sermon was considered a controversial innovation that was meant to engage people in the same way fashion as the non-Jewish culture.  Today it has become the norm in even the most traditional synagogues.  Today the talk show format is an anomaly, but who knows, perhaps one day this will be the new normal for synagogue format.

Just as Lenny Solomon elevates the songs of classic groups the like Beatles by putting words  of Torah to their songs, my goal is to elevate the format of Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, and Jon Stewart but inserting words of Torah into their format.

While it may be controversial, in my view Good Shabbos Nebraska not only brings sanctity to the synagogue, more importantly it brings people to the synagogue, and it fulfills our primary goal which is to spread words of Torah and to get Jews to love being Jewish.

That is exactly what we do every Shabbos at 10 am ONLY at Beth Israel Synagogue - where every shabbos is a shabbaton!


  1. WTG, Jon! Who would've thought, all those years ago at BMT, you would end up doing something controversial. Chinese food for everyone! I am kvelling. Our little Jon-Boy has become the Jewish Oprah! Is there a way for you to tape an entire episode, maybe on a Sunday morning, so we can all see the concept in action?

  2. Is this the halacha of the community?????

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