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Rabbi Irwin Kula
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Known as both a provocative religious leader and a respected spiritual iconoclast, Irwin Kula has inspired thousands nationwide using Jewish wisdom in ways that speak to modern life. A renowned thinker, teacher, and rabbi, he is the author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (Hyperion, Sept. 2006)  winner of a “Books for a Better Life” award, and selected by Spirituality & Health magazine as one the “10 Best Spiritual Books of 2006”  and was featured in a national public TV pledge special, “The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings.” A leader of religious pluralism, Kula says that the “freedom and openness of America invites us to bring our traditions to the marketplace of ideas. The challenge is to translate these wisdoms into accessible American idioms that inspire and improve our personal and public lives.” A regular on NBC-TV’s The Today Show Kula offers a perspective often missing in the media. Named by both Fast Company magazine and “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” (PBS) as one of the new leaders shaping the American spiritual landscape, he was ranked four years in a row in the “Top 20 Rabbis in America,” by Newsweek. In 2004, he wrote and was featured in Time for a New God, an acclaimed documentary shown at film festivals nationwide. Filmed as a moving monologue along the beaches, wharves, and roller coasters of Coney Island, he offers religion as a “giant tool box” for personal and social transformation. In 2003, he hosted a first-ever 13-part public TV series produced by JTN Productions, “Simple Wisdom with Irwin Kula,” using Jewish wisdom to explore such life issues as relationships, money, work, and sex. Kula is the President of CLALThe National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center. A popular media spokesperson, he has appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” (Fox News), was a repeat guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and was featured on “Frontline” (PBS) on the anniversary of 9/11, among many others. A panelist for the Washington Post/Newsweek ─ On Faith online column, he was a regular on the Hallmark Channel’s New Morning show. A nationally recognized educator and lecturer, Kula serves as a consultant to both corporate and family foundations, as well as to religious and philanthropic institutions and non-profit agencies on leadership development and institutional change. A sought-after speaker, he has worked with such luminaries as the Dalai Lama and Queen Noor on compassionate leadership, and has traveled and taught Jewish wisdom in places as diverse as France, Italy, Bhutan, and Rwanda. He is in great demand by leaders from such diverse fields as business, technology, relationships, and religion. Kula is the co-editor of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals and Blessings (Jewish Lights, 2001), and co-founder of the Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University, his B.H.L. from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA) in NY, and his M.A. in Rabbinics and Rabbinic Ordination from JTSA. He has served as rabbi of congregations in St. Louis, MO; Queens, NY; and Jerusalem, Israel. Email: ikula@clal.org

Entries by Rabbi Irwin Kula

The Power of Weakness and the Weakness of Power

(0) Comments | Posted August 5, 2014 | 5:45 PM

"Nazis, Nazis, Nazis," said Steve our 40 year-old, charismatic, Australian (by way of a half dozen countries) guide as we began a walking tour of Berlin, "that's all most people think when they come to Berlin." My family and I were in Berlin for a week -- our first time...

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Heaven Help Us: The Public Prayer Debate

(25) Comments | Posted May 9, 2014 | 1:52 PM

Here we go again. On Monday, a narrowly divided Supreme Court upheld decidedly Christian prayers at the start of local council meetings declaring them in line with long national traditions. The court said in a 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as they...

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How The Tribeca Film Festival Became Religious About Innovation ... And Pope Francis Became an Economist

(2) Comments | Posted April 23, 2014 | 9:00 AM

At the fifth anniversary of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards on Friday, April 25th, we will honor the Sputnik satellite as a major disruptive innovation that shook the world. We will also honor Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury, who caused a storm in the 1968 Olympics by winning a...

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Christmas and Our Children

(0) Comments | Posted December 24, 2013 | 2:01 PM

About 15 years ago I had an experience that transformed Christmas for me. My wife and I were sitting with a couple -- he was well into his 60s and Jewish and she was a good 20 years younger and from a traditional Christian home. This was his second marriage...

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The Off-White Papers

(1) Comments | Posted May 2, 2013 | 9:30 PM

2013-05-03-lister.jpg
Dr. Joseph Lister was inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur. Carbolic acid was the main ingredient in his new antiseptic techniques and the statistical results were nothing short of astounding.


Perhaps it was on the limb-strewn battlefields during the Franco-Prussian war...

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The Roasting of Weiner and the Public Good

(195) Comments | Posted June 17, 2011 | 11:06 AM

Okay, so Anthony Weiner has resigned. Now everyone can go home happy and make believe all is well in our Republic. We got the lying tweeter.

Democratic leadership can stop worrying that Republicans will use Weiner's inappropriate tweeting against them in a "values" attack in the next election. Their...

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A Rabbi's Letter To Rep. Weiner

(20) Comments | Posted June 8, 2011 | 10:19 AM

Dear Rep. Weiner:

While you have not solicited me for advice on the mess you have gotten yourself into I can't help but offer, as I too have impulse control issues, the following counsel -- especially as you are a fellow member of the tribe.

First of all let me...

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Valentine's Day: Celebrating The Insecurity of Love

(3) Comments | Posted February 14, 2011 | 12:32 PM

Americans, to the tune of some $15 billion, will exchange flowers, jewelry, candy, stuffed animals and cards this Valentine's Day as an expression of romance and love. But Valentine's Day is actually a double-edged sword. On the surface, we celebrate how committed, secure and passionately in love we are --...

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Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream: Israel and Egypt

(1) Comments | Posted February 11, 2011 | 12:29 AM

Please watch this interview and listen carefully with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might:



And then do this thought experiment.

Just imagine if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a press conference tomorrow and said something like this.

Watching the...

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Sarah Palin Revealed

(3) Comments | Posted January 12, 2011 | 3:28 PM

Here we go again. Sarah Palin has ratcheted up the rhetoric. In her words, chastising the media, she proclaimed, "within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is...

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Gridlock Is Good

(1) Comments | Posted November 3, 2010 | 6:05 PM

Grab your partner do si do. The results are in. Bush turned the country to the left and Obama has now turned the country to the right. Feels like politics has become a square dance of discontent swinging to the right, to our left and then to our right seemingly...

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The Chilean Miners and Reality TV

(1) Comments | Posted October 15, 2010 | 11:24 AM

Over the past 69 days we have been witness to reality TV at its best. Not the faux reality TV staged to titillate or humiliate which leaves us entertained but needing to take a shower, rather a media experience that elevates and inspires and leaves us believing we are capable...

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Reflections on President Obama's Remarks Supporting the Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan

(15) Comments | Posted August 15, 2010 | 11:48 PM

As an eighth-generation rabbi whose father came to this country in 1938 to escape religious persecution, and as president of a major American Jewish organization, Clal: The National Jewish Center of Learning and Leadership, I applaud and am inspired by President Obama's remarks on Friday night in support of the...

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From the Cathedral to the Bazaar: What Chelsea Clinton's Wedding Says About Religious Syncretism

(62) Comments | Posted July 28, 2010 | 7:24 AM

However intriguing it may be, the larger-than-life hubbub surrounding this Saturday evening's Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding -- who is invited and who feels snubbed, what the menu and wine list are, what the bride and her party will wear, who will be officiating and who will be entertaining, and all the levels...

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Homosexuality Redux: Can We Hear Each Other?

(102) Comments | Posted May 17, 2010 | 3:43 PM

I knew equality for LGBT evoked passionate conversation, but I would never have imagined nearly 1200 comments in response to my recent post, "Leviticus Loses: The Inevitability of Equal Rights for Homosexuals." In the post I wrote that a healthy political process in a pluralistic society like America...

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Leviticus Loses: The Inevitability of Equal Rights for Homosexuals

(1178) Comments | Posted April 30, 2010 | 2:37 PM

This past week in synagogues throughout the world, the weekly portion of Scripture included the following verse from the book of Leviticus: "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination." This proscription has obviously been the source of heated and often vicious...

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Religion: Nothing More Than Politics in Drag

(53) Comments | Posted March 29, 2010 | 12:57 PM

As I read the myriad of posts from across the ideological spectrum about Passover, the most celebrated Jewish holiday (by both Jews and non-Jews) in America, I was struck by how much contemporary religion has deteriorated to political ideology in drag. The posts could almost all be divided into two...

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More Than Our Beliefs

(1) Comments | Posted March 18, 2010 | 12:11 PM

Next Fall, which recently opened on Broadway, is the most profound, hilarious, and culturally important play I have seen in years. If you are among the 10% of Americans on each of the ideological extremes of the right and left, absolutely certain you know what is true and right regarding...

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A New Fetish: Apology Voyeurism

(6) Comments | Posted September 18, 2009 | 1:13 PM

The slew of public apologies over the past week or so from Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West along with the apologies during the past year from Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford - each offered with different degrees of sincerity and histrionics - have turned us into apology voyeurs....

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Sacred Memories: A 9/11 Ritual

(0) Comments | Posted September 11, 2009 | 12:06 PM

I live in New York City. Two friends, including someone at whose wedding I had recently been the rabbi died in the World Trade Center. The acrid smell came through my apartment windows for days and sacred ashes, which I wiped away with tears, fell on my window sills for...

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