An Aspiring Mekubal

The confessions of a Rabbi and would be mystic

Archive for the day “February 27, 2011”

Social upheaval and modern Judaism Redux

I initially posted this two years ago.  It remains, hands down, my most popular post.  It just will not die.  In the last two years I have grown, matured, and changed on some fundamental levels.  With that my outlook on life has also changed on some fundamental levels, so I thought I would rehash this post.  Make changes where I see fit and leave what I still agree with.

The last Jewish century has been one of considerable upheaval. A perfect storm, if you will of pressures. The three colliding and colluding factors, were social re-engineering, social revolution and mass genocide. Historically no culture has ever survived one of

these factors in tact. The fact that Judaism has to a greater extent survived the last century of upheaval speaks volumes to it merit and its worth. Yet it has not remained unscathed. As I spoke about in the post loss of modesty Judaism is a changed beast, it has undergone a metamorphosis, and personally I am certain that this has not finished. What I think is leaving us so dismayed is that this is the first time in nearly 1000 years that a massive social change has taken place within Judaism, not since the fall of the Babylonian academies and the end of the Gaonic period have we seen such a social shift.

What is more, we are totally unprepared to deal with it.  Every previous social shift that Judaism has weathered has only been aligned along one axis.  Whether it be a geo-political shift, a religious shift, a transmigration of Jews ect.  However this shift has not only been unbelievably large, it has also been along an unprecedented number of axises.  Leaving the leadership and the lay people alike no more prepared for social change, then we would be if they moon were to fall out of the sky and impact the Earth.

In the last century and a half Judaism has had to contend with three major social revolutions. The haskala, Chassidut, and Zionism. All of them have left their stamp. First it should be noted that there has never been a successful resultant product of any revolution. Even the American Revolution, which birthed the Federation of States was ultimately a failure(which was eventually corrected by the birth of the US). The reason is simple, revolution is based on idealism, idealism is by nature extremist. Extremism is ultimately untenable. The swirl of history that Judaism has been swept up in in the last century and a half has not yet allowed it to seek its natural balance.  In this respect Judaism is still reeling from extremism and in many areas of Jewish life, the oscillation outward to the extreme poles has not yet ceased, let alone started to come back to a place of correction.

With the social fiber of the Jewish people already under considerable strain from the aforementioned revolutions, the events of the early 20th century only served to fully unravel the social fabric that had nurtured and sustained the Jewish people for the previous 1000years. Primary within this was the Shoah, the Holocaust. It forced a social re-engineering that was a radical departure from what had gone before. Essentially it destroyed the Ghetto and birthed a nation.  Like it or not the birth of the modern nation of Israel was lubricated by the blood of over six million martyrs.

Since the destruction of the Temple the Jewish people have dwelt in interconnected, but isolated communities. This allowed for limited interchange and hegemony. Diversity was the norm in all areas, from standards of dress to halacha. From this arose the idea of Daat Torah, which in its original formulations was the idea that Judaism as a whole would, given that its leaders sought to the best of their abilities to follow the Torah, always find a Torah centric balance and never stray beyond accepted limits.

What upset all of this was that within a decade the shtetle walls came permanantly crashing down with the mass exodus of European Jewry from Europe, initially to America with the Holocaust. Followed by an exodus of Oriental Jewry from their traditionally Arabic homelands after the foundation of Israel. Combined with the birth of the communication and information age and instant everything. Thus the way we do everything has changed, and considering the length of Jewish history, it essentially changed in the blink of an eye.  Pre-WWII if a major Rabbi in Minsk, or in Radun made a major Psak, the major Rabbis around the world may have known about in a year or so.  If they disputed it, they, at most, would have quoted it and noted their reasoning in some obscure Teshuva that would be printed primarily only for Rabbinic scholars, more likely they simply would have ignored it.  Today if a major Rav, a Gadol Hador, makes a psak, everyone knows it in fifteen minutes, and it has been analyzed and criticized on half a dozen blogs within a day.  That my friend is serious change.

I once read an autobiography by a US general who was the head of NATO forces when the FSU started to break apart. One of Yeltsin’s advisers asked him, “If we allow this to happen will my children see the prosperity that your children see in the US?” He answered, “No. It will take at least two generations. Your great grandchildren will begin to see it.” See he understood that such social change, would take considerable time to find its necessary balance. He reports that the adviser thought for a a moment and finally said, “It is worth the sacrifice.”

The question that seems to be facing every Jew today is whether, all that will be necessary for Judaism to regain its balanced center, will be worth the sacrifice. While many of those who live today may never be known as heroes of the Jewish faith, their decisions and their actions will most likely determine the next 1000 years of Jewish history.  Electronic newspapers, blogs, tweets and social mediums that we probably have not heard of yet, will invariably play a role, no matter how much entrenched leadership try to fight against it, that genie has been let out of the bottle there is no putting him back.  Thus a heavy burden of responsibility now falls to the laity, one that it has probably never before had to bare.  It is scary in a way to think that at least part of the future of Judaism will be determined by how well, or not, we use social media.

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