Judaism: Into the 21st. Century

Dr. Moshe Dror

Coordinator: World Future Society: Israel Chapter World,
Network of Religious Futurists: Jewish/Israel Node

Table Of Contents

1. Jewry
2. Judaism
3. Israel
4. The Shenhar Commission - Bet Yatziv Teacher Training Programs


This study is a contribution to the thinking that seems needed in order to deal with the transformations that Judaism-Jewry-Israel are likely to have to deal with as we enter the emerging 21st. century. We will set forth a series of anticipations for the cyber society that is now developing on a global scale and the likely relation of these to the Jewish community in a global view. These future developments are possible and indeed even probable. Based on current trends they are clearly plausible. Whether they are preferable is a matter for each of us to determine.

These anticipations should not be viewed as predictions or forecasts that will certainly happen. They can ,however, be considered possible future developments or "futuribles", to use a term that is widely used in French, and is catching on in English. In order to think intelligently about the future, we need to conceptualize what might realistically happen in the time period we are considering: 20-30 years into the future; the early decades of the 21st century. The purpose of this is to foster useful insights into the enormous opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for us all-- as Jews, as Israelis, and as citizens of the emerging cyberworld global human community.

Our basic assumption is this. Just as the Industrial Society in Europe of the past 200 years or so radically transformed Judaism and created what we now call modern Judaism; in an analogous manner, our contemporary Information Culture will continue to transform Judaism into its numerous and diverse post-modern forms.

The fundamental issue at hand is to become aware of the power of the revolution that is upon us. Today we have little doubt that information technology--infotech , is likely to transform and affect human life even more profoundly than the Industrial revolution that preceded it. By infotech we include the global network of interconnected computers and the telecommunications links that already form the biggest system ever constructed. This infotech and the cyberworld that it is creating will become many times larger and more powerful in the coming decades and will fundamentally transform human life as we have known it in the past. The rate of global change -technical, social, and cultural- will continue to accelerate, creating innumerable surprises. In today's world and more so in the world of tomorrow, more change occurs in a single decade than occurred in an entire century, and more, in times past. This is happening on a global scale to all of humanity. Our question is how might this infotech based cyberworld impact on global Jewry. We will relate to only some selected issues in these three basic clusters : Jewry-Judaism-Israel.

Finally, we will see how the Shenhar Commission of the Ministry of Education has already begun to relate to some of these transformations.

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1.1. Community

One of the fundamental values in Judaism is the significance of community. What we relate to when we usually think of community is some geographically bounded space where a specific group of people live. Up until now. With the huge growth of cyberspace, Internet alone is estimated as having about 40 million "members", the very nature of what community is, is changing. There are myriads of "virtual communities" that already exist in cyberspace and the Jewish dimensions of it are growing by leaps and bounds. What might it mean to deal with a "virtual Kehilah" that has no geographic boundaries, but is linked by a shared consciousness and awareness of belonging to a global Jewry that is independent of geographical space.

In the past, and now as well, most Jews were and are urban dwellers, so community is fairly clearly determined. But, as human activities -both personal and institutional -will become globalized how might this change the urban dweller and Jew. Cheap, user-friendly infotech systems are dramatically reducing distance as a barrier to people doing things together. Now, people thousands of miles apart are finding ways to work together, buy things from each other, form groups for common shared purposes. We are moving toward an era when individuals and organizations will operate almost as if national and natural boundaries did not separate them.

Rural and resort areas may boom as infotech frees people to work at home rather than having to commute to a distant factory or office to work. Free to live where they choose rather than where their jobs dictate , many will opt for areas with attractive natural and cultural features, low taxes,little crime,and moderate living costs. This is already happening. Reverse urban migration has created a vast hinterland of small rural communities in addition to mega-cities. Many Jews who live in these areas seem to be only tangentially connected to the traditional urban Jewish communities. But with the appropriate uses of infotech many communities can be empowered and linked to some form of virtual kehilah on the emerging information super highway.

It is important that we be aware of the difference between reality based futuribles and just plain media hype in relation to these infotech transformations. All of the traditional Jewish community building and empowering systems have been face-to-face, personal meetings and interactions. Whether in study, prayer, or community work- the high-touch aspect of human interaction has been paramount. Is this because in the past there were few alternatives, or that the new technologies will offer new options for Jewish community empowerment. It will be interesting to see how this balance of high-tech and high-touch will work itself out in the cyberworld.

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2.1. Judaism has always been associated with a specific set of values, both for itself and as a message to other communities. These values , based on the Decalogue and expounded and expanded by Rabbinic commentary and wisdom, has remained quite stable for over 3,000 years.

It was the extension of human muscle power that had the primary impact on people of both the agricultural and industrial revolutions on human society. In the cyberworld, it is the extension and expansion of human consciousness, of mind and spirit that is the hallmark of our 21st century world. How will this effect the traditional value systems that Judaism has espoused all these centuries. Is cyber-infotech merely cosmetic and nice to have around, or will it fundamentally transform what indeed it means to be human. If that is the case, which seems likely, how might the wisdom of Judaism be applied to this cyber-human interface. Let us remember that the Hebrew term ADAM and ADAMAH ( earth=silicon) are basically the same word. Are we in the early stages of a sort of Cyber-Midrash?

2.2. In the world of global cyberspace, is Judaism in danger of being watered down in a world wide cultural homogenization process, where the Mac Donald arches seem to take the place of the arches of the Tablets of the Torah? This is not likely to happen.

Along with the globalization of culture there is an ongoing paradox of wanting to maintain the rich cultural diversity of each community and people. What this balance might be is the core of our work as Jews in cyberspace. This global paradox is seen all over the world and is manifest in Israel also.

2.3. High-tech, infotech, and cyberspace are not the harbingers of the messianic period, and they will not bring salvation ,the geulah. Are we into an analogous situation of a global cyber Tower-of-Babel? Is it the meaning of Babel derived from "Balal"-confusion- hubris -blasphemy and incipient trauma, or might it be derived from the original Ancient Near Eastern term of " Bab Illim" - the gateway to the gods.

Judaism has always been an information and knowledge intensive tradition. It has dealt with intensive knowledge organizing and seeking for millennia , is it possible that there might be a Judaic message to the world of hoto best use all of this knowledge abundance to best serve humanity. What might be a value based knowledge brokering industry in the 21st century. Might it come from Israel as a "Light unto the Nations"?

2.4. In many Jewish circles these days, the current buzz-word is "Continuity". Namely, how to keep what we fought for during the past 200 years from eroding and continue the way we were. But, cyberspace suggests that we are into a world of DIS-continuity. We do, and will live in a world of a Jewish continuum that is manifest. But the transformations are more demanding, more personal, more powerful, and more obvious.

Continuity basically means more of the same. It is more of looking to yesterday to make our tomorrow more palatable and bearable. What seems to be needed is not mere continuity, but purposive and directed awareness that change and profound transformation is what is happening and that this is part our Jewish heritage and growth. Judaism is one of the most adaptive traditions in history. For the past 2,000 years -change was mostly forced upon Jewry by external forces, often negative. For the first time in recent history, world Jewry now has the possibility to use this Jewish adaptive skill as an agent for its own creative growth.

What is needed is not band-aid, cosmetic change , but radical re-thinking of major, soul-searing transformation that-- appreciates our past, honors our heritage, pays tribute and sincere respect to the grand and glorious achievements of previous generations-- and looks forward to living in , and contributing to the cyberworld of the 21st. century.

2.5. If there is the futurible that cyber-virtual kehillot will emerge in the future what sort of Rabbi would be needed to relate to it? How would you train a Cyber-Rabbi? What would he/she ( dare we say -It ) be like? As virtual communities develop, will virtual-cyber Synagogues develop along side of them as well?

This is not the usual issue of orthodox-reform-conservative-reconstructionist-renewal rabbinical authority and leadership. Since so much of Judaism and Jewish religious practice is space and time bound and focused, how would we relate to Judaism and the Jewish spiritual quest that will become independent of geographic space and time specificity? How would we deal with "Kedushat HaZeman" in global cyberspace?

2.6. It is suggested that it will be precisely in the infotech-cyberworld that will herald a renaissance and renewal of interest and activity in religion and the spiritual quest by many all over the world. This is likely to happen within Judaism as well. As new aspects and dimensions of Judaism developed from the encounter with the Industrial culture of the past century, we are all looking forward to see how the cyberworld might create still new aspects and dimensions of future diversity in Judaism.

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3.1. Neo-Zionism

Classical political Zionism is based on the model of a national community that focuses on the nation state as the center of a community and all other places are the periphery. This center-periphery model places Israel as the only center and all other sites of Jewish community as being in the Diaspora /Galut. The only remedy of this is aliyah. This may have made sense in the European industrial era nation-state building era of Herzl.

The infotech generated cyberworld with its global interconnectedness has no center and therefor no periphery. What it does have are many nodes in a vast linked network.

Are we in a period of a post-Zionism that is based only on the definition of Zionism as Herzl envisioned it? What about the Cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha'am and the Spiritual Zionism of Rav Kook? Is it possible that in the era of cyberspace, that these forms of a Neo-Zionism might just begin to make more sense.

What about aliyah? Classical Zionism made physical aliyah the touchstone of the Zionist vision. But the reality is that most of the aliyot were made under duress of worse conditions in the original homeland. Relatively few came on aliyah from the free advanced countries. Instead of coming on aliyah , these Zionists sent money so that someone else can make aliyah. Since we are moving into a world where information/ knowledge is the new capital of a company or person rather than money, can we re-define aliyah as a situation where a Jew can still live in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, etc. generate knowledge that will be purchased by someone, send it to Israel to be processed, and from Israel shipped to those who will use it and pay for it . Thus this Jew will be providing Israel with material that is worth more than money, support the economy of Israel, still live in the city he wants to and yet be a Zionist and make a sort of knowledge cyber-aliyah. There are hundreds of thousands of persons who live in one community , work in another place halfway around the world and have an active cultural and spiritual life in still other sites. This kind of infotech - cyber- telecommuting is going on now and will certainly grow extensively in the next few decades. How might it impact on a new type of Cyber-Zionism. If there is validity to this perspective then the Neo-Zionist visions have only just begun.

A significant aspect of the cyberworld will be the shift of this center-periphery model to a node-in-a- network model. This will necessitate a rethinking of the relationship of Israel to global Jewry. In the past, it was an Us vs. Them. In the future , it seems likely to be a question of how each of us can empower and strengthen each other as Jews. How can the power of infotech create a cyberbridge within Jewish cyberspace that would more closely connect all of the global communities of Jews, wherever they may reside.

3.2. Knowledge Brokering

Israel has gone through the three phases of the great revolutions that have shaped the world in the past 10,000 years -- in 70 . The three revolutions of the agricultural era, the industrial age , and now the information age impacted on all of the worlds cultures. Israel went from the model of the farmer halutz, to the industrialization culture , and currently into the information age , in two generations.

Israel now has the highest ratio per population of any country in the world of its youth studying in some form of educational system -- college, university, yeshivah. In other words, Israel leads the world in information/knowledge brokering. Since the global community is entering an era where information processing and knowledge brokering are the prime economic drivers, how might this impact on the future economy of Israel.

Jews have been for a thousand years and more, where many of the rest of the world wants to get to-- sophisticated knowledge brokering. In the Jewish community it is called studying Torah. Is it possible that Israel might create a new model and hero of the traditional halutz - a "Cyber Halutz", where the ideal of building the land and be rebuilt by it (livnot u lehibanot ba) refers not only to the "land" within specific borders, but a global space called cyberspace. That is not to suggest that Israel might be the information capital of the world. That is not the point. What is the point, is the possible "futurible" that Israel and global Jewry might be the significant node in global cyberspace where information and knowledge that is value based and value laden -- a spiritualized form of knowledge brokering might emerge. A post modern form of the Prophetic vision.

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4. The Shenhar Commission- Bet Yatziv Teacher Training programs

4.1 When the Ministry of Education set up the Shenhar commission, it had a good idea that there was no point to teaching Judaica in the government (mamlachti) schools in the same way that we have done it for the past 50 years. Not only did it not impart the information to the school children, it often turned them off to Judaica and the Jewish heritage. To do more of the same would be a waste. So, it set about to do some radical re-thinking of how to teach Judaica to a generation of children who are being brought up on MTV, have an increasing number of computers in theirhomes , and are the teachers of their teachers in relation to the uses of Internet and MultiMedia and their cyberworld in Israel. The question is how to use their skills as an ally in the transmission of this precious Judaic heritage for the next generation who will live nearly all of their lives in the cyberworld of the 21st. Century, either within the boarders of the State of Israel or anywhere within the cyberworld as Jewish citizens who take their Jewish identity seriously.

4.2. Bet Yatziv in Beer Sheva, is the site for the training of the teachers who will teach this next generation of Israelis. How to train the teachers in this new model?

These are a few of the themes that we at Bet Yatziv have accepted as our goals that are based on the recommendations of the Shenhar Commission report.

1. The world of the future in Israel and globally will be characterized by its open and widespread uses of information that will encourage diversity. The Shenhar Commission suggests that Judaism be taught with its humanistic and universalistic values that can be shared with others in the world community, not only those elements that set it apart. To relate to the Jewish heritage in an open society where most of these children will live.

2. Most of the past teaching about Judaism focused on how other cultures impacted and effected the Jews in their midst. A "what they did to us" mentality. In addition to this, we add the themes of how might Jews and Judaism make significant contributions to the global community as well. Our goal is not only to preserve the past but also to see in the Jewish heritage , a message for the world.

3. Jewry has come out of the period that focused on its sheer preservation and survival. Now, it can celebrate its success with no question of its survival and embrace and foster diversity in its interpretations of Judaism. Judaism has both the multi-form as well as its uni-form aspects. We relate to both. We deal with an appreciation of this diversity and serious explorations of all the streams of Judaism that leads to and constitute the sea of a rich and diverse Jewish life, seeing each as a manifestation of one of the 70 facets of Torah.

4. The culture of Judaism is not fixed and static. Rather it is a culture that is in the process of on-going formation and development. What we see as one of our goals is to foster the idea that this next generation will want to be part of this innovative creation of Judaism into the next century.

5. We focus both on the love of the Land of Israel and its history, magic and mystery through on-site tours of the Beer Sheva area, where it all began with Abraham, and the language of the Jews in Israel and its basic texts -Hebrew- as the prime communication symbol system of its life, now and in the future.

6. We relate to Judaism as an on-going tradition in which its history is one of a wholistic integrated seamless web from the Biblical period through the Rabbinic times to the dispersion to the modern Israel of today. In teaching this we focus on the inter-disciplinary and wholistic aspects of the Jewish experience.

7. The Ministry of Education is well aware that the coming generation will be well trained in the uses of the emerging electronic infotech media, and has invested a lot of funds in setting up a quite sophisticated computer mediated learning environment with connections to Internet and the development of Judaica Web sites for the teachers within Israel in Hebrew, as well as teachers of Judaica throughout the world in English.

As we see the global community being influenced by these futuribles , we are operating on the assumptions that these are not merely just interesting changes within the Jewish world, with business-as-usual educational implications. But, rather these are profound emerging paradigm-shifts that are going to transform us all as Jews ,as Israelis and as citizens of the globalized cyberworld of the 21st century. This calls for new and innovative transformational educational models. It is to these ends that the Shenhar Commission and Bet Yatziv are dedicated.

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