Tov! — What I’ve Learned About Jewish Ethics By Studying ‘The Good Place’
A virtual event presentation by Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett
ABOUT THE EVENT:
One of the most nuanced recent explorations of teshuvah is a television show that has been described as “the smartest, dumbest show on TV.” The Good Place follows four human beings whom we meet in a “neighborhood” of the afterlife supervised by two eternal beings. (This description will try not to spoil the show for those who haven’t watched it, but the session will definitely have spoilers!) One of the humans is a professor of ethical philosophy, and another quickly reveals to him that she has been sent there by mistake.
Together, they get to work keeping her from being expelled to the “bad place”, by study ethics and applying the concepts to working on her character. In the course of four seasons, the show explicitly teaches concepts in ethical philosophy and portrays their application to moral self-improvement. There is almost no specific religious reference in the show, beyond the gestures to “heaven” and “hell.” But what has intrigued Jewish educators are moves that seem like midrashim on teshuvah in a Maimonidean sense and on the book of Esther, and echoes of many core Jewish ethical concepts. The Tov! podcast began with the idea of just juxtaposing each episode’s theme against a Jewish teaching — hardly a sophisticated educational methodology. But the further we went, the more alive certain texts become for me, particularly those about teshuvah. And the more I have been surprised at realizations about the moral significance of things like time, friendship, and theology. In the session we’ll watch and hear some tastes from the TV show and the podcast along with my own story, and hopefully you’ll be intrigued to watch the show on your own, or re-watch it with a new lens!
ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Jon Spira–Savett has served for nearly fifteen years as rabbi of Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampshire and is co-host of Tov! A Podcast About “The Good Place” and Jewish Ideas. Jon has taught social ethics, bioethics, and environmental ethics in Jewish day schools, supplementary programs, teen philanthropy projects, and wider community adult education projects, and he serves on the ethics committee of Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua. Jon’s generally writings and recordings about Torah and current events are on his blog at rabbijon.net. He is immediate past president of the Nashua Area Interfaith Council, co-convener of the Greater Nashua Housing Justice Group, and co-founder of “How To Be President”, an initiative to transform how we learn about candidates by asking better questions. Jon was ordained and received his M.A. in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and is an active alum of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship. He did his undergraduate studies at Harvard College. Jon grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a proud alum of the Talmud Torah of St. Paul, to which he owes his interest in ethical philosophy, text study, and Hebrew language.+ More... - Less...