Jews, God and Videotape

Gottlieb called his rabbi and said, “I know tonight is Kol Nidre, but tonight the Yankees start the playoffs. Rabbi, I’m a life-long Yankee fan. I’ve got to watch the game!”

The rabbi says, “Gottlieb, that’s what VCRs are for.”

Gottlieb is thrilled. “You mean I can tape Kol Nidre?”

Thus Jeffrey Shandler opens his fascinating — and generally much more serious — study, Jews, God, and Videotape: Religion and Media in America, just published by New York University Press. The book is an outgrowth of the Working Group on Jews, Media, and Religion at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, through which I got to know Jeff a bit. The working groups were organized around various subjects and meant to endure for an academic year, but the Jewish working group became an ongoing salon. One result was Modiya, a fabulous online collection of artifacts and ideas about Jewish media. Another is this book, in which Jeffrey’s investigation of sci-fi “speculative halakhah,” December dilemmas, home movies as holy texts, and more in search of the ways in which new media — from the advent of recording technology in the early 20th century to the Jewish “javatars” of Second Life today — provide “cultural proving grounds” for the reinvention, rejection, and preservation of Jewishness.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).