Positive Judaism: How Jokes and Wisdom Inspire Better Living

Have you heard the one about the U.S. Open and Yom Kippur? You're about to.

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Darren Levine is the founding rabbi of Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue in New York City, which is guided by Positive Judaism. In an open letter earlier this year, Levine defined Positive Judaism as a spiritual life that "expands the mind, deepens personal character, strengthens community, improves the world, and adds joy and optimism to everyday living." Because of pop-culture stereotypes and the Jewish history persecution, people may not instantly think that Judaism and positivity are in sync, but Levine contents that joy and hope have been at the heart of the Jewish mindset for 3,000 years. You can choose to look at history with pessimism and negativity, says Levine, or you can instead find beauty in brokenness and turn it into jokes, positive emotion, and wisdom. "In the 21st century, it is the People that will or will not choose to be Jewish... Historical memory, Israel, the threat of anti-semitism and are not strong enough motivators for Jewish engagement. We need something new and serious and Positive Judaism is one new construct." Here, Levine shares a timely joke for Yom Kippur, and shares a teaching about hope and perspective.

The Science of Worship: Why Are Religious People Healthier and Happier?

Rabbi Darren Levine explains how the psychology of happiness intersects with religious practice.

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Science and religion have a complicated history. Scientists cannot quantify God—God is pretty difficult to bring into the laboratory, quips Rabbi Darren Levine—but what they can study and measure is the effect of faith on people's well-being and life satisfaction. When religious wisdom is taught and enacted well, it focuses on ideals like deepening relationships with family and friends, personal responsibility, and making a positive impact in the world. Levine is a proponent of positive Judaism, which merges key characteristics of positive psychology with practices of reformed Judaism. The field of psychology is often mired in humanity's flaws, but positive psychology is a movement that aims to study people's strengths rather than their weaknesses. The same shift can be true for religion, and nurtured by the power of community. Rabbi Levine sums it up in five letters: PERMA, which stand for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Together, those five pillars can foster greater happiness and health.