Top Ten Jewish Podcasts
People of the Podcast
If you don’t listen to a podcast (or eight), your coworker probably does—or your best friend, or your brother, or your grandma. Podcasts are the medium du jour, though the term itself—barely a decade old—is already a bit outdated. For the uninitiated: The word “iPod” (remember those?) and “broadcast” are the roots of this portmanteau—a democratized form of radio-show production available to anyone with a microphone, Internet access and the right software. Podcasts have proliferated as a popular, portable way to consume everything from news to storytelling to comedy on your computer, smartphone or tablet—or, yes, your iPod, if you still have one of those lying around—via streaming or download from the podcast’s website, iTunes or your podcast app of choice. Jewish podcasting in particular is having a moment, broadening in recent years from a selection of Torah study and sermons to an eclectic mix of history, humor and more.
Haven’t found a reason to jump on the podcast bandwagon? We’re here to help, with a list of some of the best Jewish podcasts out there and why you should tune in. (All are available for download from the iTunes store.)—Anna Isaacs
Can We Talk?
One of the newest kids on the Jewish podcast block is this monthly program that debuted in January. Clocking in on the short side for podcasts at under 20 minutes each, its five installments so far are newbie-friendly introductions to podcast programming. Hosted by Nahanni Rous, “Can We Talk?” is produced by the Boston-based Jewish Women’s Archive, a national nonprofit that highlights the lives and stories of notable Jewish women. The first episode, aptly named “The Pilot’s Pilot,” tells the stories of two 1940s-era Jewish women pilots; the second explores the Jewish roots of the 1971 seminal women’s health book, Our Bodies, Ourselves.
(Is It) Good for the Jews?
This weekly dispatch from a San Francisco basement rechristened “The Twilight Lounge” comes from 50-something friends Larry Rosen, a self-described “ambivalent Jew,” and Eric Goldbrener, a “fierce Jew,” who pose that perennial question while discussing some unexpected topics. “The idea was that we can have an hourlong discussion on anything and ask if it is good for the Jews,” Rosen told the Jewish weekly j. “We talk about the Middle East, but I also wanted to talk about Elvis, sandwiches and yoga.” Was western U.S. migration good for the Jews? What about Han Solo, or having Drake play your bat mitzvah? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
Fans of Ira Glass’s dulcet tones will enjoy this Israeli spin on “This American Life,” the popular public radio show that presents stories playing on a weekly theme. Originally a Hebrew-language Israeli radio program called “Sipur Israeli,” dreamed up by four TAL-superfan friends, “Israel Story” is its English-language counterpart, hosted by Mishy Harman. Its subject matter eschews the headlines in favor of the quirky and quotidian, from Bohemian Yiddish book collectors to the first so-called Israeli redneck living in the U.S. Not to worry, TAL loyalists—“Israel Story” has Ira’s blessing. It “didn’t bother me that there would be an Israeli knockoff,” Glass tells Harman on the pilot episode. “It’s fine with me, like, I don’t care.”
On The Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah
Want to keep up with the weekly parshah, but don’t want to spend your Saturday morning at services? This new podcast from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, keeps the divrei Torah short and sweet for the shul-averse, condensing “2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just ten minutes of modern-day commentary.” There’s plenty of time to get up to speed on this one: “On the Other Hand” debuted in January. If you think a podcast can’t go toe-to-toe with the ceremony of a synagogue, Rabbi Jacobs’ words on parshat Yitro just might change your mind: “Sometimes, we people who think of our lives as spiritual journeys, sometimes we’re waiting for that moment on the mountain—the moment with the fire and the lightning,” he says. “But the revelation of holiness, the revelation at the heart of our tradition, happens not just in those peak moments. It happens in those quiet places as well.”
Ronna & Beverly
America’s favorite 50-something Jewish mothers from Boston bring you this biweekly podcast version of their live show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. Every episode, comedians Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo embrace their alter egos, best friends Ronna Marlene Glickman and Beverly Ginsberg (née Kahn), for an hour or so of kvetching, kvelling and unsolicited advice. The best-selling coauthors of You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles (“But it doesn’t matter, it’s for everybody,” they assure their listeners on the pilot episode) debate whether it was Shoah or Schindler’s List that was filmed in black and white, discuss what they purchased from the sales bin at Marshall’s and interview (read: harass) a parade of celebrity guests. As for special deals from their advertisers, the offer code is always, of course, “Shalom.”
Too Jewish with Rabbi Sam Cohon & Friends
If you favor a more traditional radio show format, “Too Jewish” may be just right. The program—“a weekly serving of everything Jewish”—is hosted by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, senior rabbi of Tucson’s Temple Emanu-El. “Too Jewish”—which always opens with the same line and a chorus of laughter: “Sooner or later you can bet your life that every Jew in this building is going to say the same thing: ‘He’s a little too Jewish for my taste’”—has been on the air since 2002 and can still be heard Sunday mornings at 9 on Tucson-area radio stations. The show features a mix of news, music, comedy, culture and conversation, with an impressive roster of past guests that includes journalist David Gregory, Elie Wiesel, actress Lily Tomlin, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and musician Matisyahu. “Too Jewish” introduced a podcast version of the show in 2010.
This monthly podcast comes courtesy of Reboot, an organization that channels traditional Jewish ritual into modern, creative projects, from exhibitions to DIY toolkits to apps. (You may know them for their National Day of Unplugging, an annual take on Shabbat that encourages the tech-addicted to set aside their smartphones for 24 hours.) “The Kibitz” is hosted by freelance journalist (and retired competitive air guitarist) Dan Crane, who promises in the pilot episode, “This is not a preachy podcast. It’s about asking interesting questions. Because the one thing I’ve learned about Jews is that we love asking questions—like, ‘Hey, are you going to finish that pastrami sandwich?’” “The Kibitz” features a range of guests, from the scholarly to the satirical, exploring a range of topics—like adult male circumcision, or a debate between a rabbi and a comedian over the origins of Hanukkah. Not sold yet? What if we told you that every episode, Crane’s 95-year-old nana calls in to tell some jokes? Yeah. Thought so.
The Joy of Text
Online content producer Jewish Public Media is responsible for this podcast about the intersection of Orthodox Judaism and sexuality. “The Joy of Text” is cohosted by Rabbi Dov Linzer of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and sex therapist Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality and president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. (Marcus’s name may sound familiar: She was the subject of a 2015 New York Times Magazine profile that dubbed her “The Orthodox Sex Guru.”) Rabbinic and medical experts thoughtfully weigh in here every month on matters of halacha and Jewish values as they relate to everything from condoms to pornography to sexting. In case it wasn’t already clear: This podcast advises listener discretion and may not be suitable for the young’uns.
Person Place Thing
Produced with the JCC in Manhattan, “Person Place Thing” isn’t an explicitly Jewish podcast, but it has just enough Jewish bona fides (and is just so good) that we’d be remiss in leaving it off this list. Randy Cohen launched this one-on-one interview show in 2012 after wrapping up a 12-year stint penning “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times Magazine, premising it on this theory: People are more interesting when speaking not about themselves, but rather about things they’re passionate about (or that they passionately despise). The result: Cartoonist Roz Chast talks about her first New York apartment, actress Julianne Moore discusses decoupage eggs and scholar Alan Dershowitz remembers Nuremberg chief prosecutor Telford Taylor.
Got halacha questions? “Responsa Radio” has answers—both existential and oddly specific—from Rabbis Avi Killip and Ethan Tucker of New York’s Mechon Hadar, a Jewish learning center. Jewish laws are held up to modern scrutiny and applied to 21st-century scenarios in questions such as: Can you use a coffee maker on Shabbat if it has a timer? What about opening your mail? Zooming out from the daily details, the rabbis also discuss whether living dangerously is kosher, so to speak, and if loving somebody is a good reason to convert to Judaism.
The Promised Podcast
This weekly show, launched in 2011 in cooperation with the English-language edition of the newspaper Haaretz and Tel Aviv radio station TLV1, is all about Israeli politics, culture and society. Journalist Allison Kaplan Sommer, Israel Center for Educational Innovation Director Don Futterman and Bar-Ilan University science professor Noah Efron talk the issues of the day—from Natalie Portman’s directorial debut to the Gaza blockade—from a self-described leftist perspective. The hosts delineate their worldview in this way: “We live here, and love the place, and it also often drives us crazy. Mostly, we want to understand it, with an open mind and heart: the good, the bad and the ugly.”