Friday, 11 October 2013

TOPIC Pharisees “won” because the “masses” followed it: (Doesn't it bother you that Judaism isn't Agile?)

Doesn't it Bother You that Judaism isn't Agile?

On the day that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef passed away, my secular co-worker (in computer programming) asked me a simple question. He asked what I thought of the Rabbi, and asked why he was so well known and respected.  His main reason for asking this, was because of recent statements said by the Rabbi which seemed to be racist or ignorant.   I gave a fairly canned answer on the topic, my own feelings being a bit torn, to which my co-worker then very insightfully asked me,  "Doesn't it bother you that Judaism isn't Agile?", I responded with a confused look on my face, and then he explained.

In our business of creating computer software, "agile" has proven to be a very effective method, of creating profitable and popular businesses.  What exactly is agile and what isn't is debatable, but one thing that everyone agrees on, is that agile responds to the market quickly and effectively.  You create something, you test it, you respond to the results of the test.  Nothing is assumed, everything is verified.  It works very well for what it's intended to do.  By contrast, he explained, Judaism is revered by adherence to old information. We, and this is especially true with halachic minimalism, look back to the oldest texts as being the most authentic.  The closer to Moshe, the closer to the times of the Beit Hamikdash, the more trusting we are of what we read.  There are no tests, no means of verifying what brings people closer to Hashem, or brings unity to the Jewish people.

I had two responses to this question.  One is simple and practical.  The difference between agile software, and Judaism, is that agile software it trying to make money and to be popular.  It's goals are well defined. The values of the system is not questioned.  The values date back and are taken as an assumptions.  The same is true of Judaism.  Talmud Torah isn't just about learning what is authentic, it is learning how to take certain values, and to apply them to all areas of life.

The second response to this question, is this blog.  The truth is that Judaism does need to become more Agile.  The truth, is that up until about 200 years ago, Judaism was one of the most agile religions on the planet.  Actions, not beliefs is what defines a Jew.  Actions are the ultimate "test", the ultimate verification of our assumptions.  Sure, a value like celibacy might sound holy it might even make one feel good about themselves.  It might bring a person on an individual level very close to Gd.  But in the real world, it's a value that fails most tests. You can not pass on celibacy to the next generation. It is not a value that the entire population can uphold.   If you read enough Jewish books, just about every idea is floated at one point or another.  Some have stuck with the Jewish people, some have not.  

However, the Jewish community at some point, began to stop being agile.  In the Talmud we are told, that if there is a question about what is correct, go out to the people and see what they do.   At other times, we are told the gathering of the masses is  glory to Gd.  Still again, we are told that the seal of Gd is Truth.  However, there came a time, that rather than viewing people leaving Judaism, or seeing the failure of the community to uphold our values and standards, as being a clear criticism of our society, we viewed those who left as bad, wrong, or not really Jewish to begin with.

We now living in a world where over 70% of the Jewish population are unaware of the value of Shabbat. 60% see no reason for Kashrut. The Torah, which told the world to protect the strangers, orphans and widows, is seen as irrelevant for these values by the vast majority of those who subscribe to them.  In my view the reason for this situation, is because too much of what people believe to be Judaism today, are not things found in the Talmud.  You will not find any JCCs mentioned in Tanach.  There are no Kashrut organizations within the pages of the Talmud.   You will find no mention of a uniform which all Jews must ware every day of their lives in any page of the Torah.   Some of the innovations in Judaism are tested and work well, others give cause for Jews "step away."   However, by going back to the core. By looking into the Tanach and the Talmud for our values, and our values actualized in practice, we can find a common core which all Jews can be taught to try, and evaluate.   There are too many layers of chaff, and husks around the kernal of Torah Judaism today.  Too many things which do not matter, which exist only to separate one type of Jew from another type of Jew.  And do not think that any current stream, brand, or method of Judasim today is working as intended.  The most successful form of Judaism today is the one that doesn't have any cohesion, the "unaffiliated".

So yes, it does bother me that Judaism today is not agile, and I believe that going back to our roots, and looking at true halachic minimalism, will help bring Jews together in our mission to be an "Am Kadosh", as our founding was intended.