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The Next Jew Thang…

Last week, Rabbi Niles Goldstein – author of Gonzo Judaism and The Challenge of the Soul – spoke here at Shabbat services. He spoke about the importance of “being grounded,” using Picasso and Miles Davis as examples. As he writes in The Challenge of the Soul (p. 60):

Pablo Picasso learned how to draw conventional human figures long before his bold experiment with Cubism. Miles Davis trained in classical music prior to his daring journey into the new and revolutionary forms of jazz.

Goldstein has a point – you can’t push the envelope until you are familiar with the basics. But his talk actually raised a different question in my mind. What makes Picasso and Davis important isn’t that they were grounded – it’s that they were willing to innovate. They brought about new, exciting eras in art and music by shaking up what everyone thought they knew. So what is the equivalent of Cubism and Cool Jazz for Judaism? What will the next Judaism look like? Here are some preliminary thoughts.

Judaism in the next century will need to be…

  • Post-denominational – In 2009, the founder of Reconstructionism is one of the most widely-read authors at the Reform and Conservative seminaries; the Reform movement is gradually embracing traditional Jewish texts, prayers, and ideas; and Conservative synagogues are having “Rock Shabbat” services with all of the joy, innovation, and instrumentation of Reform camping! The lines between the Jewish “denominations” are slowly melting away. Young Jews today do not see movements. They simply want Judaism that is meaningful, progressive, and relevant.
  • Connected to the Earth – Society has pushed us further and further from the earth. Judaism in the coming century will need to respond to our deep craving for connectedness to our planet. We do this by connecting the practice of kashrut to awareness of our food’s source; by viewing God as מחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית – the One who renews the cycles of nature each day. Judaism was born of the agricultural cycle, and it contains an ancient imperative to care for the earth. That is more important today than ever.
  • Based in the home AND the synagogue – I have been saying for years that the most important place for a Jewish family to be on a Friday night is around the dinner table. Judaism in the sanctuary can be moving and meaningful; Judaism around the dinner table is alive and dynamic. We Jews have always passed on our traditions in the home, and viewed the synagogue as a place to create community. In the coming Judaism, the synagogue will also be the place to learn how to do what we do at home.
  • Theologically diverse – Some of us believe in a God who hears prayers and responds; others believe that God is unmoved and unmoving. Some are sure that the dead live on in spirit; others think that they live on only in our memories. We may connect to tradition through social action, ritual, music, language, or culture. We may pray in Hebrew, English, Spanish, sign language, or silently. We are held together by a commitment to ongoing learning and exploration, and acceptance of others’ beliefs and preferences.
  • Sensory – Our tradition very wisely uses the five senses to connect us with moments, rituals, and holidays. Think of havdallah: the ceremony that ends Shabbat is basically a sensory buffet – the taste of wine, the sight and warmth of fire, the sounds of singing, the smell of spices. We are drawn in when our senses are stimulated.
  • Demanding – Ours is not a priestly way of life, in which sacraments are performed for us by clergy. Ours is an active religious tradition that requires ongoing study, growth, and thought. Jews today want to get their hands dirty and take control of their Judaism – learn Torah, hang your own mezuzzah, make your own tallit. (Why let the rabbi lead services when you can learn how to do it yourself?!) Judaism that demands something of us will deliver meaningful, relevant religious experience.

I could go on all day. What am I forgetting?

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