David and Moshe Kasher on ‘Unorthodox’ and podcasting through a pandemic – Forward

Posted By on May 14, 2020

Brothers Moshe and David Kasher have been fighting since they were kids. On one occasion, when David was dangling a loogie over Moshes face, he received a bloody nose for his efforts. Now the two are grown up and have matured (a bit). Moshe is a standup comedian with a handful of specials on Netflix and David, three years older, is a rabbi at the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles. The two still have their disagreements only now they arent about, per David: Moshe being an asshole, or, per Moshe: nothing in particular. Instead, the Kashers now argue about what Jewish texts can teach us about living through a pandemic.

Their questions and squabbles are the subject of Kasher Vs. Kasher, a new podcast on the Reboot network. Moshe says he was glad to get to connect with his big brother for the show after Dionne Warwick turned down his offer to co-host. David made a point of telling me that they record from their own respective homes: even though were brothers, were not quarantine brothers, to which Moshe, married with a kid, countered I have a real family now.

I spoke with the brothers, who no longer get physical due to Californias social distancing mandate, about better living through Torah, Luke Skywalkers space beverage of choice and their takes on Unorthodox. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

PJ Grisar: You both know a lot about Judaism, but clearly one of you is an expert on our texts. So David, what have you learned from Moshe, who established in the second episode that he is looking at the most definitive edition of the Torah?

Courtesy JP Cutler Media

Moshe Kasher

Moshe Kasher: What did I say?

I believe you said that your version of the Torah goes into the halakha of washing your um testicles.

Moshe: That sounds like something I might say.

David: Moshes a very educated Jew. Hes a smart guy and he has a lot of Jewish life experience, and I think that he falls into a category that a lot of Jews fall into theres a lot of knowledge but its in different fragments, and part of the job of a rabbi is to connect the dots and draw the bigger picture. What have I learned from Moshe?

Moshe: Yeah, its a good question.

I thought you might like it.

David: I think its really important its not

Moshe: Man, hes really having a tough time getting an answer thrown together for this one, PJ. You gotta wonder if maybe hes intimidated by the amount hes learning from me.

David: I guess the bottom line is I havent learned anything from Moshe per se although I really do like him as a person.

Moshe laughs

And Moshe, what have you learned from David?

Moshe: The truth is hanging around with David, Im constantly learning stuff because Davids kind of a deep dive master on some of this textual stuff and the connections between the mindset of a modern thinker and the writings of the ancients. Hes one of the best out there. Always has been. And so Im privileged to learn a great deal from him every time I work with him.

David: Oh my God!

Moshe: Its nice to know that the feelings mutual.

David: I think one of the great things about talking to Moshe in particular about these things is that we have a shared catalogue of memories, and Moshe is always referring back to those. And part of what you see when youre discoursing with someone through the lens of memory is just how central memory is to the Jewish experience. Our Judaism is so informed by historical memory and family memory and personal memory. Its this idea of recorded impressions in our own lives and then in our collective psyche. Its that idea that comes to life when Im talking to Moshe. I spend a lot of time in the books, but hes able to connect our conversations to our real lived experience.

Thats a good answer.

Courtesy of JP Culter Med...

David Kasher

David: There you go, it took me a minute.

Part of your family is Satmar. Have you guys seen Unorthodox? Any takes?

Moshe:(Laughs) We saw it and we were on the familys side. Hows that for a hot take.

David: Yeah, we were outraged that she dared to flee.

Moshe: To Berlin of all places! To Germany. That tells you all you need to know.

David: One of the things I can tell you having grown up not in Satmar, but lightly adjacent, is that every Jewish community and every Hasidic community is its own unique cultural entity. On the one hand it felt really resonant for me in certain ways and on the other hand theres a part of me that looks and that and worries that people will think Oh, thats the way Orthodox Jews are, Hasidic Jews are, religious Jews are and I think thats not the case. Theres lots of different forms of even intense religiosity In Judaism. I dont think its inaccurate, I think theyre tapping into a certain kind of fierce, severe spirit in that community, but I worry that people look at that and think Wow, thats the way the Jews act.

Moshe: Its important to point out that thats a show not about Hasidic Judaism but about somebody that grew up in the Satmar community, and its not a show even about the Satmar community as much as a show about that persons personal experience with it. That said, her experience in the Satmar community and my experience in the Satmar community, I was like Yeah, this feels right. I just assumed I just sort of had some bad luck with the people I met, but then I was watching that and I talked to other family members who had a different experience and Im kind of like Hmm, are the Satmar just kind of difficult to be around? All I can tell you is the people I met I met some lovely people but I would not say we had a joyous experience. But Davids right, we arent members of the Satmar community. We summered in the Satmar community, probably the only people in history for whom that was a choice that they made.

David: We vacationed Satmar.

Courtesy of JP Cutler Med...

From L to R, David Kasher and Moshe Kasher, together pre-social distancing.

The podcast gets pretty blue a recent episode included Moshe speaking at length about Luke Skywalker subsisting on green titty milk. David, as a rabbi are you ever concerned your brother will get you cancelled?

David: Thats a constant worry whenever he comes into my sphere. Actually the shul that I work at, IKAR, had the questionable idea of having my brother and a host of other comedians come as part of a fundraiser, which they very graciously did. It was actually great and hilarious but we kept saying the whole night that the only person who stands to lose here is me. Could Moshe go too far and actually get me fired?

Moshe: Yeah, it didnt work out, PJ, the way that I was hoping it would. Its important though to note that the show doesnt really go blue. I certainly hope that theres a difference between blue and something thats cancellable. I think the shows actually pretty sensitive in a weird way except for the occasional edgy joke. Its kind of nice to do something with a rabbi. It has to be kind of tempered with sincerity.

David: I feel like I have the opposite advantage which is, when youre a rabbi and youre talking about Jewish things youre expected to maintain a certain kind of decorum even though youre a person and you think of funny ways this might go. Thats just not your domain and so to have Moshe there, its like having that part of the psyche activated. He can go there where my role sort of generally avoids it.

I dont know if you saw the poll that measured how peoples faith has changed through the pandemic, but us stiff-necked Jews have not really budged in terms of our belief relative to other faiths. Moshe you mentioned spiritual contemplation in the last episode. How have things been changing for you?

Moshe: One of the ideas that Ive been wrestling with, which was actually given over from a rabbi I dont remember the rabbis name but he was actually kind of an inspirational rabbi, which is new for me, because I dont really have access to an inspirational rabbi

David: Right, right. I get whats happening.

Moshe: I have more of a cerebral, adversarial kind of relationship in my personal life, but, anyway, he was saying that most of us are convinced that going out and our careers and being amongst our friends is what consists of our life, and now were staying inside and avoiding everybody and lo and behold were still alive. So then you have to think to yourself Oh, I guess there was more to my life than the things I thought made up my life. Theres varying degrees of difficulty to gleaning spiritual insight from this experience, since some people are struggling just to pay the bills, but if done correctly, that work is available to everybody. [Thinking of] what parts of my life to leave behind and what parts to add in.

David, are are you seeing a change in your community in the shul?

David: People are having a hard time. Half of my job nowadays is just calling people and talking to them, and that in itself is hard, because people are sometimes isolated. I think youre right that it hasnt exactly shifted our theology as a community. Its not like Now we see that Gods wrath is upon us. But [theres a sense of] what can we do? Were trapped inside and waiting for it to end and when youre reckoning with the forces of nature you cant really blame anyone. All you can do is throw your hands up to the heavens. I personally feel more of a relationship to that pleading to God for help, whether I believe that thats the way that works or not.

So far youve covered Pesach, hermits, cleanliness. What else are you guys thinking about for future episodes?

Moshe:. We pick a theme that is generally Jewishly applicable but also specific to what were living through right now. When you were saying Jews havent changed their tune very much, theres gotta be something in the fact that the Jews are the most obsessed with their history of calamity of any religion probably on Earth, so to us this is probably a very minor blip. This isnt even close to the first plague weve lived through. Im not trying to say that other religions didnt, but we remembered. We stuck around and we remember Oh yeah, this reminds me of the plague of 1082. And that was easy.

David: Theres so much there. Oh, theres a plague? Well, heres five prayers about plagues or the six tractates in the Talmud that deal with infection and the section of the Torah that deals with health. We have such a corpus of living, but Moshes right a lot of that living has been hard living. So we have been collecting tips over the years how do you get through this. Theres a lot to pull on and to cull from.

I feel like a lot of rabbis secretly want to be stand-ups. Is that true for you, David?

David: No, definitely not. And having Moshe as an actual standup is a very good reminder that rabbis should leave it to the professionals.

Moshe: Kind of funny, though, cause nowadays comedians think of themselves as like, these philosopher kings along the line of the free speech movement, so maybe all comedians want to be rabbis too.

But you dont.

Moshe: No, certainly not.

PJ Grisar is the Forwards culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.

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David and Moshe Kasher on 'Unorthodox' and podcasting through a pandemic - Forward

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