Yeshiva School teens ruminate over long term future of Jewish faith
(Editor’s note: As part of our “The Future of …” series, the Chronicle invited students from the community’s three high schools — Yeshiva Schools, Hillel Academy and J-Site — to write about how teens see the future of their faith. We asked them to base their pieces on interviews with their classmates, so their conclusions would be informed by several opinions. The following is from Yeshiva Schools.)
Today’s world is changing rapidly.
Within days, something that’s new is old; something that was old is new again; something is rediscovered, then reinvented, then left once again to dissolve in the sands of time.
It just doesn’t stop. Everything is in a constant cycle of change.
But what about Judaism? Something that never has gone out of season, something from so long ago that it spans time itself. Can something like that change? In, say, 20 years, how different will it be? And as different as it may seem, just how much will it truly be the same?
As with most good predictions of the future, one needs to look into the past. In the past 100 years, humankind has come out with more inventions than in many previous centuries combined. Life has changed drastically; we went from farms to skyscrapers, from home cooking to fast food, from computers as large as a building to computers that fit in the palm of your hand.
Jews have changed, too. Many changed the countries we lived in — the shtetels of Europe were changed for the cities and suburbs of America.
Technology has changed our lives. A message, a lecture; an exciting piece of news traveling the Jewish grapevine can span the world within minutes. The Internet has given us the opportunity to connect faster and quicker, and transportation enables us to go farther and faster than we’ve ever imagined, making the spreading of value, goodness and kindness easier still.
But will the future effect this? How much more can things really change? Will this change have to do with futuristic things, like future styles and technology only? Or will it be just the changes time naturally brings?
To search for a true perspective, we needed to ask the people who would live the future, the ones who would create it. They were easy enough to find; they walked the same halls we do every day. And when we asked our schoolmates what they felt, we got a whole slew of replies, views and perspectives; some that even contradicted each other.
As for the technological angle, the answer we got from one classmate summed it up best. “Judaism really puts a strong emphasis on action,” she told us. “We’ll still need to do all the physical action, but it will be easier because we will have more resources to do so.” As for the change over time aspect, changes can definitely occur.
Many classmates agreed. “The tragedies that have occurred throughout the world can bring us closer together,” one said. “It brings out a unified sense in all of us. Whether you call yourself Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or modern, these things really remind us that beyond all the politics, we’re all Jews and we need to stick up for each other.”
Another student said, “Maybe there will be a lot more people who know about what Judaism is,” noting that with new forms of travel and communication, we would be able to speak to anyone in the world, in any place or at any time.
But as for Judaism itself, just how much can it change? If we were to once again look into the past, we’d find that no matter how much the culture and society around Jews has changed, they haven’t. We adapt, we adjust, but we don’t change.
For example, while mass production allowed for the flourishing of a variety of Jewish ethnic foods, such as bagels and lox, the same laws of kashrut have always applied; and while the iPad is filled with new Jewish apps, such as a siddur, a tehillim, and a range of many other Jewish books, we still don’t use it on Shabbat.
In the future, new types of clothing, even invisibility cloaks maybe invented, but they will still need to be tzniut (modest), and while they may invent electronic siddurim and self-rolling Torahs, they will have to be put away come Shabbat, and no matter how technologically advanced our food becomes, we will still always keep kosher, and there will always be some specific Jewish comfort foods, like kugel, that won’t be flowing away with the tide any time soon.
Judaism has truly evolved in the millennia since creation. But no matter what, we have always stuck to the principles that kept us alive and will keep us alive far into the future, until the messianic era itself. So when you plan that Shabbat minyan on the moon, you will need to make sure that the oxygen flow is on automatic, and that the pocket of your space suit no longer has your iPhone in it. And I’ll bet you there will still be chicken soup for dinner.