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Tov! — What I’ve Learned About Jewish Ethics By Studying The Good Place

Hosted By: Valley Beit Midrash

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. In the session, 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!

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