Rabbi Dan Ain breaks the glass


By Craig Hatkoff

Two years ago at the Awards, Clay Christensen issued a call to action for everyone in attendance; Clay in his remarks exhorted that “we desperately need to disrupt religion, parenting and terrorism!” We took Clay’s call to action quite seriously particularly with regard to religion. Last year Pope Francis received our Adam Smith Prize presented by the Harvard Business Review; his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium was our book of the year. We also introduced a disruptive religious innovation: the smashing of the glass by Disruptor Foundation co-founder and co-conspirator Rabbi Irwin Kula who was joined on stage by 2010 Honoree Eric Raymond, the legendary author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” Together they smashed the glass traditionally performed at Jewish weddings. It just so happens that Eric is a self-described pagan-shaman-atheist so the irony and the symbolism was not lost the audience.

I had entreatied Irwin to invite ten of his most innovative rabbis both to the Anti-Summit and the Awards this year. Below is the first post from Rabbi Dan. Following on the heels of the Anti-Summit, I asked Irwin the night of the Awards if he could quickly convene the ten rabbis to join him for the smashing of the glass; the next morning seven rabbis (out of ten) showed up and kicked off ceremony without saying anything; a wordless sermon that spoke for itself.  

Meet #tenrabbis

— Craig Hatkoff

Below text by Rabbi Dan Ain. Originally posted on The Wisdom Daily:

So there I was last Friday morning on stage about to smash a glass in front of hundreds of people.

But this was no wedding.

It was part of an opening ceremony at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, which are sort of like the MTV VMAs but with a red hammer instead of the moon-man.  

These awards celebrate “those whose ideas have broken the mold to create significant impact.”
Winners present that morning included Shane Smith of Vice Media, Bill Simmons of Grantland, Brad Katsuyama of IEX, Reshma Saujani of Girls of Code, and a dozen other innovators and boundary pushers.

Irwin Kula — a co-founder of the awards and an eighth-generation rabbi who has spent a career upending expectations of what an eighth-generation rabbi should be — gathered a group of ten rabbis for the glass breaking as a “disruptive spiritual innovation” of which, Kula believes, many more are necessary.

Religion was a hot topic at the awards. It was a field singled out by keynote speaker Clayton Christensen as being in need of greater disruption, along with parenting (“Stop outsourcing!” he said) and how we confront terrorism. Christensen, who wrote “The Innovators Dilemma,” is the inspiration for the Awards and is responding to the increasing number of people (across faiths and denominations) who are fleeing traditional houses of worship to go off on their own spiritual exploration… or to not go at all.

My spiritual journey started the week after the Twin Towers fell. I fled my job as an attorney to pursue a life as a rabbi. My calling was to try and address the spiritual concerns of those for whom the late 20th Century models of Jewish expression are no longer compelling (if they ever were) — those who think it makes as much sense to observe in the fashions of our ancestors from 1765 Poland as it does those of 1985 Long Island.

I met Rabbi Morris Shapiro, a Holocaust survivor who, toward the end of his life, taught Talmud to would-be rabbis in the basement of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“Why do it?” I asked. “After what you saw, why live an entire life as a rabbi?”

“Judaism rests on three things,” he replied. “God, Torah and Israel. I love Torah, I love the people of Israel… two out of three ain’t bad.”

But, two out of three was never enough for me.

Late 20th century Judaism held that Judaism could survive market and technological change by focusing on good management (the “rabbi-as-CEO” model) and an emphasis on listening to the needs of a changing and dynamic laity. But, genuine disruptive innovation (or inspiration) rarely comes about in that fashion. 

Christensen’s book puts forth the theory that well-managed firms fail to stay atop their industries precisely because they do those things that responsible firms should do – listen to their customers, invest in new technologies, etc… They cannot maintain their position of leadership because they cannot do the crazy irrational thing that will ultimately disrupt their industry. 

Every person who received an award came onstage and, one after the other, spoke of the need to buck the trends and the consultants, to stop asking what kind of products people want and, instead, to present them with possibilities that they never knew could exist. As our host, Perri Peltz, handed a hammer award to Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, she wondered aloud how many people there must be who wished they had thought of Chesky’s idea first.

What all of these disruptors possessed was a deeply personal calling (or, if you prefer, drive) that could not be quantified or manufactured. 

Abraham, the original disruptive innovator, famously placed a hammer in the hand of the largest idol in his father’s storefront after smashing all of the other icons. A current retelling of that story would have Abraham as an Apple Genius who, when the manager returns to find all of the screens busted on the iPhones and iPads on display, says that the iWatch did it.

The most powerful protection that these innovators have, writes Christensen, is that as they “build the emerging markets for disruptive technologies… they are doing something that it simply does not make sense for the established leaders to do.”

In other words, if you wanted to genuinely disrupt religion — to serve the people who are no longer being served — you would have to be like Abraham and follow the voice that threatens to overturn the prevailing fashions and infrastructures.

A voice that calls you to a higher purpose. 

As Christensen teaches, it doesn’t always make sense for the existing structures to listen. But two out of three is running out of steam in this century.

As we went on stage, Kula handed me the red hammer to break the glass, saying: 

“You’ll need it.”

Angela Brugioni