The good news is that the Jewish people not only will be alive and prospering, but also will be continuing to make significant contributions to humanity, despite our steadily declining percentage of the human population. And some things will remain unchanged: We will still have big visions for making the world a more Godly place; we will still be creative and iconoclastic … and demanding, and unsatisfied with the world as it is. Double standards will still be applied to us, we will still command a disproportionate amount of the world’s attention, we will still be arguing about the meaning of Torah and its real-life implications, and we will continue to be worried about the Jewish future.
Beyond that, the landscape will be profoundly altered.
The strength of American Jewry will be substantially diminished. Given that every previous instance of widespread intermarriage and assimilation in Jewish history has resulted in extensive losses, this time will be no exception. Despite all the efforts and spending to reverse the trends, hundreds of thousands of early 21st-century American Jewish families will have vanished from Jewish life. In the halachically observant community, high birth rates will continue while elsewhere, Jewish babies will be scarce …with obvious demographic consequences.
Many Jews married to Jews will also be lost to Jewish history. With synagogue memberships and group affiliations at a low ebb, and home practices few, the Jewishness of many families will be too “thin” to keep any meaningful connection alive. The fuel of Holocaust memory or Israel pride will have evaporated as a source of identity. Indeed, having one dominant identity will be seen as narrow and unsophisticated; individualized identity concoctions drawn from multiple sources will be the prevailing fashion. Hence, only those persistent, consistent, and focused enough to have a reasonably robust connection to Jewish practices or activities will remain a part of Jewishness in any way that counts.
Reform, Orthodox, Conservative and Reconstructionist will be gone. They will be seen as terms and movements from your grandparents’ Judaism. They will be identified (correctly) as the responses of a bygone age called “modernity,” which, in 2065, will have been long ago supplanted by the age of “globalization.”
Three categories of Jews will remain: a) those who are punctilious about halachah (Jewish law) and want nothing to do with the outside world, b) those who take living within a slowly evolving halachic community seriously, and want to engage surrounding society, and c) those who see their commitment to halachah in more flexible terms and want their Jewishness to interact with others. All three of these groups will be broad constellations, encompassing many small communities with varying practices. The third group, whose predecessors once dominated 20th-century Jewish life, will comprise a small fraction.
The challenges of modernity – of how Jews and Judaism would integrate into mass society – will be forgotten history. Judaism will be responding to the age of globalization. Robots will have replaced people in many endeavors. Humans will live far longer, prompting questions about how much life is too much. Each person’s exact location, emotional state and physical well-being will be trackable, and privacy will be difficult to obtain. Vast wealth gulfs will persist. And we will be dealing with the rise of artificial intelligence with a capacity that far exceeds our own.
There will be many who will deem the blessings and curses of these advanced technologies as inevitable. Judaism will beg to differ. Resuming its classic countercultural role, Judaism will grapple with the questions of what it means to be human in this new age and will address how to live an exalted and ethical life in a radically transformed environment.
The synagogue, one of the perennial institutions of Jewish life, will still exist, but there will be far fewer of them, and they will be smaller. The “membership” model of affiliation will be defunct. Synagogues will be structured much like Chabad houses, with charismatic leaders, known for their abilities and devotion to the cause, financed by voluntary benefactors.
JCCs will have gone the way of Jewish hospitals since there will be insufficient demand for community centers focused primarily on Jewish needs. Federations and communal agencies will only exist in large cities, and their strength will be heavily dependent on the inherited foundations and endowments left by earlier generations. Most Holocaust museums will have closed.
Europe, though, will be an even more dangerous place to be a Jew. The unchecked strengthening of hostile Islamic elements within Europe will have made Jewish life sufficiently untenable that most strongly identified Jews will have made aliyah. The Jewish communities that remain will be weak and declining.
Israel, conversely, will be home to considerably more Jews than the entire Diaspora combined, and more Jews will speak Hebrew than any other language. Israel will still face serious existential threats from radical Islamic entities. Israel’s links with India and Asian democracies will be nearing the importance of its ties with the U.S. Israel will still have a rabbinate loosely connected to the state, but it will no longer wield power. Israelis will increasingly be at the forefront of addressing the issues of the global human condition.
In short, we will be further than ever from being “as numerous as the stars in the sky,” but we will be a worthy people, striving to bring blessing and light to a complex world.
In the November issue of “Commentary” magazine, 70 Jewish leaders, thinkers and clergy were asked, “What will be the condition of the Jewish community 50 years from now?” In the first of a series of regular articles for The Chronicle, Pittsburgh Federation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff responds to the question.