The Challenge to Liberal Judaism in a Changing World

In his book Judaism in a Digital Age, Danny Schiff challenges the conventional wisdom that Reform and Conservative Judaism face steeply declining membership because their leaders have been either too strict or too lenient, offering an alternative explanation. Rabbi David Wolpe elaborates in his review:

[The liberal denominations] were created in the 19th century to answer a question Jews no longer need to ask: how do we become modern? Or to take [a] 20th-century version of the question: how do we become American? . . . [B]y the late 20th century, liberal Jews took America for granted (my immigrant congregants notwithstanding). The primary default identity was no longer Jewish; it was American—and thoroughly modern.

Schiff, an ordained Reform rabbi, believes that Judaism must now respond to an entirely different set of questions, arising from the Internet, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies. Wolpe writes:

Schiff’s answer is surely right in its broad outlines. He knows that the core elements of Jewish life—“engaging with God, Torah, Israel, Jewish law, and Jewish time, as translated into patterns of living structured by mitzvah, halakhah, and mores”—must endure for there to be authentic Judaism. But the future can be energized, he suggests, not simply by reiterating the centrality of old forms of Jewish practice but by applying Jewish ideas to emerging ethical concerns.

Judaism, he argues, must find ways to rearticulate and apply the values that emerge from its profound theological humanism in a future in which those values will be endangered. . . . He doesn’t, [however], tell us much about what Jewish texts and ideas should be drawn upon in answering these questions or why the postmodern world will require specifically Jewish answers.

Jewish traditions may indeed have important things to say in the transhumanist future, but first we non-Orthodox Jews have to get there—as Jews. And doing so may require worrying less about, say, the nanotechnology of even the near future and more about the conscious practice of mitzvot and study of Torah in the present.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Conservative Judaism, Jewish Thought, Reform Judaism, Technology

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security