The future of Judaism is the future we see now: the trends that have already changed the Jewish landscape and will continue to do so for a long, long time.
The Downfall of Denominations
Denominations are becoming more and more meaningless as our culture moves further into radical individualization.
Does anyone in the Reform movement really care about “reforming” anything, or conservatives plan on “conserving” Jewish tradition? Hardly.
Most people involve themselves, in a Jewish sense, with what is most comfortable, familiar, or interesting. This is why non-Orthodox people to go Chabad and why many people don’t bother going to synagogue at all.
It also explains why many movements in Judaism are fusing together: terms like “traditional”, “conservadox” or “reformative” speak to the growing need for movements to think beyond themselves. And the synagogues are even becoming dual members of compatible movements (for example, Ezra Habonim Jewish congregation in suburban Chicago that is both Conservative and Reconstructionist).
Like the Christian “Bible Church” phenomenon, Jewish people are also going to seek out non-affiliated alternatives that line up with their beliefs, speak to their community and lifestyle, and offer the kinds of programs that they want. Rachel Nussbaum at the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle, Washington and the Atlanta Chevre Minyan in Atlanta, Georgia are just two examples of intentional Jewish communities that are breaking down the idea of top-down Jewish spirituality.
Jewish Universalist Humanism
Whether we call it “humanistic Judaism” or “deconstructionist Judaism”, the reality is that theism language does not work for most Jews, citing a few reports from the Harris poll that more and more, Jews have embraced an agnostic or atheist position on the God issue. In addition to the breakdown of Jewish movements, communities will find themselves embracing less God-lanugage in services and in Jewish activities, and more historical, cultural, and social-based activities. Synagogue will be less and less about God and more about a voluntary group of people with a shared destiny.
The Globalized Jewish Soul
With the internet, cultural identity is becoming more meaningless, as walls between people break down in ways as simple as food and dress, or more complex as politics and religion. Jews, essentially, are less of a tribe than ever before, thanks to globalization.
This disconnection from cultural memes like Yiddish, kosher food, and other kinds of ancestor Judaism forces new generations to find ways to “Jew” what they already have. This includes Jewish yoga (Bibliyoga), Jewish meditation (Jewish Meditation Center), and even something as simple as music (JDub Records).
Willingness To Embrace Diversity
The alarming growth of Messianic Judaism, interfaith families, mixed spiritual identities (Jewish-Buddhists, Jewish-Hindus, etc) and the ongoing trend against theistic Judaism, is going to force the Jewish tradition to rethink how it pastors to the greater Jewish family. Interfaith and non-faith events will simply become normative.
Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Federations are becoming more meaningless and irrelevant to the lives of Jewish people. Services that these organizations once performed such as child care, education, gym membership, etc. are losing market share to non-Jewish services that are better, decentralized and less expensive.
At the same time, there is considerable overlap in Jewish communal professions. Take for instance Jewish youth programming. Any given town with a Jewish community center or federation will also have a college Hillel, Jewish student union/fraternity/sorority, Birthright Israel Next, synagogues with their own youth programming as well as social media based, peer-run “collectives” such as Jewish cooking clubs, singles groups, professional groups, etc. This model of overlapping, over-marketed communal service is unsustainable because it relies on a pay-as-you-go system where the previous generation pays for the current one. The younger generations, becoming less and less “Jewish”, eventually will see no need for this inefficiency and will “vote with their dollars” against organizations that are less meaningful to them.
A Change You Can Believe In
These changes to the Jewish world are not that radical. While my peers throw around words like “engagement”, “Judaism 2.0” and “doing Jewish” as a way to show that THIS generation is the one to change everything, ultimately we have to remember the line from Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, “Our ways were once new”.
To see Patrick’s article on the Future of Jewish Prayer – Click here
Patrick Aleph is the executive director of PunkTorah, a non-profit dedicated to independent Jewish spirituality and culture. He has been featured on CNN.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, MyJewishLearning, FrumSatire and plenty of other awesome Jewish media conspiracies. Recently, Patrick helped launch the new prayer site called 3xDaily. In addition, Patrick has lent his d’var Torah skills to G-dcast, performed in the upcoming independent punk film “1/20” (written by Matthue Roth) and was recently in the Jewcy 100. Patrick is also the singer for the rock band Can!!Can on JDub Records and enjoys feeding his fiance’s guinea pigs.