Chutzpod
Rabbi Shira Stutman, courtesy of PRX

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Asking Joshua Malina to concoct a clever name for a podcast is a dangerous proposition.

The actor, of The West Wing and Scandal fame, is known for his pun penchant (pun-chant?)—and when Sixth & I Historic Synagogue founding Rabbi Shira Stutman approached him about starting a new show dissecting Jewish life, they spitballed a long list of possible titles.

There was Two Jews, Three Opinions, as well as Small Portions, which references both the weekly Torah portion and a Jewish proclivity for overindulgent meals, A Quest Called Tribe, a takeoff on the hip-hop group premised on the religion’s identity as a “tribe,” and Podcast of the Elders of Zion, an admittedly distasteful send-up of the antisemitic 20th-century tract of a similar name.

But the odd couple ultimately landed on Chutzpod! for their weekly show distributed by PRX,  the public media organization that distributes This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, and others. Together, they decided to focus on both current events and ancient texts, all through a Jewish lens.

“It went from what we thought was a cute and clever name for a podcast to being sort of our rallying cry, which is that we want to push ourselves to go to uncomfortable areas, with chutzpah—with brashness and with boldness,” Malina tells City Paper.

The duo first met at a Sixth & I event in June 2016, and then again on a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories through Encounter, an educational organization designed to foster challenging conversations to pursue a resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict that respects all parties. There, on a sweaty tour bus in 2017, they built their easygoing and inviting rapport.

Joshua Malina; Credit: Alba Tull

So when Stutman decided to leave Sixth & I after more than a decade of service as its founding rabbi, and was looking for a new project, she turned to her new friend, Malina, already a seasoned podcaster with a long-running show dissecting West Wing episodes.

Chutzpod!, which launched on Jan. 7 and drops new episodes each Friday, centers on questions of Jewish faith and tradition—like what it means to be the “other,” or how to connect to prayer—all amid wisecracks, Yiddish tutorials, guided meditations, and surprise drop-bys from Malina’s Rolodex of celebrity colleagues.

“Both of us approach this with a posture of curiosity,” Stutman says. “We are growing into chavruta [the rabbinic tradition of learning in partnership] in the best sense.” 

She adds, “Neither of us take ourselves too seriously … we try not to take even Judaism too seriously.” 

With that in mind, the show is intended for listeners of all stripes, from the deeply devout to the Jew-curious. 

“That’s how wide a net we’re looking to cast—anyone who considers themselves a Jew might get something out of it,” Malina says. “And anyone who considers themselves a questioner or a searcher or a spiritual person of any faith and even somebody who has no faith might find the topics we discuss interesting or provocative.”

The show represents a new stage in both hosts’ careers. Stutman, once named one of America’s most inspiring rabbis, left her home synagogue in 2021 and intends to write a book about interfaith couples, a topic long known as her pastoral calling card in the D.C. Jewish community. 

Malina, on the other hand, enjoys a reputation as a recognizable character actor, reliably popping up on shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Shameless. But, after starting his surprise hit recap podcast, West Wing Weekly, in 2016, he’s found his interest piqued by podcasting and leaning further in to revealing his authentic self.

“When you’re an actor, it’s good to have a side grind, because there’s a lot of downtime, at least in my career there has been,” Malina says. “But it’s funny—I really enjoy this, and I have had the thought recently, maybe this is what I do now. It’s weird to dedicate your professional life to pretending to be other people, and then going public with who I am. It’s a very different challenge.”

While the hosts hail from vastly different fields and upbringings, they offer an open-minded approach to questions of the day, maintaining more accessibility than the myriad Jewish podcasts that dive deep into scripture, but more depth than iTunes’ top Jewish-themed show, Unorthodox, which is more concerned with cultural issues.

“I do think what Josh and I are able to do is help people understand [that] Judaism is relevant, is meaningful, can add value to your life,” Stutman says.

“We encourage anybody who has the slightest interest—it doesn’t matter if it’s because you took a class with the rabbi or you like Scandal,” adds Malina. “We don’t care what brings you in, give it a taste and see what you think.”  

Chutzpod! with Rabbi Shira Stutman and Joshua Malina, drops new episodes every Friday. chutzpod.com.