Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jews of the Future!

"So you're saying that the Jewish people can continue without the Jewish religion?"

I think they have to. At the rate the world is progressing, technology will become even more prevalent and ubiquitous than it is now. Today a Jew can get away with a shabbos clock and not using the car on holidays. In a few hundred years, if we keep that type of thing up, we'll be left behind very much like the Amish are today.

I don't claim to have any super-wonderful ideas about how to make that transition, but I think it is inevitable.

"What would we look like in 500 years if we gave up the religion today? Does this really make sense to you? Please explain."

Probably like secular Jews do today - but with cooler clothes and fancy gadgets. Though I'd prefer having Jews who stick to some tradition for heritage's sake.

"What does this mean - to be "left behind"? Do you think Amish people feel left behind?"

The Amish are a sequestered view of the 17th century. They are cut off from the rest of the world. They're living in the past.

"That aside, I don't see ANY relationship between advancing technology and an inability to practice judaism. Can you explain?"

Of course. Jews today have a full day, each week, where modern technology cannot be used or even touched. I think that as technology becomes even more a part of life, Jews will have to rely on tools more and more anachronistic and obsolete to keep that day. Until it comes to a point where doing so is more backwards and difficult than people are willing to do.

"Are you suggesting that all religion will fall by the wayside as technology develops?"

No, but some definitely will. As for religious thought, I'm not sure. I'm not a prophet.

"Can you think of significant counterexamples where meaningless traditions prevail and define a people?"

You're wrong when you say they are meaningless. Jewish culture can exist by and for itself. For no other reason than because they are Jews. Why do we bake matzah for Pesach? Because we are Jews! Now, of course there are deeper reasons for why we bake matzah but only history buffs would care for that. A cause for celebration is always appreciated.

Take Halloween, for example, I know what it originally signified. Do you? Do most people? I think not. But is it celebrated regardless? Do people have all sorts of traditions associated with that day despite its "meaningless" to them? Yes, they do.

"But I ask why bother continuing to associate them with Judaism? This isn't a case where you think minor aspects of Judaism are false - you're rejecting the core basis for the religion."

I associate them with _Jews_ not Judaism. I reject the religion, not the _people_. Get it?

"would you recommend continuing to celebrate the Eight Days of Grande Latte? Out of tradition? A celebration of our ancestors' ignorance?"

If they were a people which could identify besides their religion, and they chose to retain that identity, then I would. Why not? And it needn't be a celebration of ignorance but a celebration for whatever they want it to be. What you need to understand about myths is not that their only importance is their truth, or lack thereof, of the facts - but of the simple message they give. The story of the Exodus is a great story of triumph in the face of adversity and hope in times of darkness. It may not have ever happened but that message is always true.

"But once the meaning is stripped from the artifacts, there is noway the people will continue as a Group. How many Ra Worshippers doyou know?"

Yet Jews are different from most religious groups. They are a people as well. And I think that has staying power besides the religious.

"So basically you're saying that 1 day a week they'll appear stranger and stranger to the rest of society. Is that it?"

No, not exactly. I'm saying that as Jews are forced to be more and more out of step with the rest of the world, fewer and fewer of them will be willing to stay out of step. And it isn't just one day a week. Consider something like an electric door which may become ubiquitous in the next few centuries. Jews won't be able to use them at all - unless they make some fancy preparations for that Shabbos day. I don't know what kind of technology may exist, but I suspect it may be the type of things for which not using once a week and still living normally will be difficult.

Maybe living in space is the wave of the future. How is a religious Jew supposed to live in a spaceship? No doubt, they will have technology in all parts of them. I don't know. What are the prayer schedules on Mars? Can you build a succah in zero-g or in a vacuum? I see a lot of difficulties.


Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of the discomfort I've always had with
the way people talk about the International Date Line issue. I used to have arguments with my
chevrusa, where I would say why don't we just go along with the rest of the world and use the internationally
accepted date line -- I haven't heard of any countries who argue about its placement, even those little
island groups in the Pacific. His response, and the attitude of many essays and seforim on this topic, are that we follow
halacha and so don't care about what the international community thinks, only what Chazal have to say. But Chazal, at least in the times of the mishna and gemara, could
not even fathom the possibility of living in that region, so why are we trying to read the halacha in between their lines? Similarly, with the issues of davening and Shabbos times above the Arctic circle -- did Chazal have any inkling that there could exist a Land of the Midnight Sun?
Your last paragraph really caught my eye, about Jews in Space -- it reminded me of an article from the Star K about dateline and polar issues. See especially footnote 46 -- "Ideally, one should not travel to outer space"
With this as the basic attitude, we will be quickly left behind.

Orthoprax said...


As a big science fiction fan I've always noticed the typical lack of any traditional religions in books or television or movies. What religion do they follow in Star Trek?

I've wondered about how Judaism will evolve in the coming centuries. I've also played with the idea of writing a book of fiction dealing with, you may have guessed, Jews in space. There haven't been any really religious Jews up in orbit, Ilan Ramon was more sentimental than anything else. But who's to say that there won't be one day? In the coming years I don't think the rabbis can keep those curious Jewish souls from exploring the final frontier.


Anonymous said...

Great blog and happy passover. I reject the Jewish religion but am a proud Jew and would like the Jewish people to remain. However, let's be realistic. Outside Israel, this will become near impossible. A non-religious Jew (in the diaspora) will inevitably assimilate, as fewer and fewer Jews are around in for example, a USA with 400-500 million people, many will be left with a choice: (a) not get married (b)join the orthodox community and live their lifestyle or (c)just marry a gentile. There is little long-term future for superstitious, religious Judaism, but there is no future for secular Jews, as Jews, outside Israel.