Looking Ahead

In a previous post titled Judaism in Crisis, we discussed the dramatic paradigm shift faced by the Jewish community, triggered both by economic collapse and a shift in leadership from the Baby Boomer generation to “millenials.”

We’ve noticed that discussions of the future of Judaism tend toward doom and gloom.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Executive Director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) recently posted on his blog a response to those who project a dark outlook on the Jewish future:

“As sociologists like to say, we have to distinguish between the probable, the possible and the preferable … But the future … is not inevitable. Our ability to create the kind of future we prefer is an issue of collective leadership and collaborative action.”

Herring relates that if Judaism is to move forward, we need to focus on particular goals:

  • Empowering younger generations
  • Creating Jewish community on a global scale
  • Increasing Jewish learning
  • Building stronger relationships with Israel
  • Creating stronger ties with people of other faiths
  • Reaching out to and engaging Jews who are indifferent to Jewish living, and also [reaching out to and engaging] spiritual seekers.

This transition is centered in community. We need to create intentional communities that purposely pursue these goals. This requires that we wholly re-envision the communal structures we have grown comfortable with.

Our particular movement’s MO has been to rely almost exclusively on the synagogue as the primary organizer for Jewish communal life. Perhaps this is an assumption that we need to rethink. What would it look like to have Messianic communities that serve as extended families and spiritual homes for Jews who follow Yeshua? Places where people are valued and empowered, where Jewish learning and Jewish life are intentionally cultivated, and people of all ages actively participate in our rituals and traditions? What if our communities were inviting, user-friendly, and open to Jews with little to no previous knowledge of Jewish life?

Even the role of the congregational leader (as we usually understand it to be) needs to be revisited. Perhaps a rabbi should function simply as a spiritual guide, as rabbis functioned in ages past. Only in the last 150 years or so has the position of a rabbi morphed into the multiple hats of pastor, cantor, Torah reader, fundraiser, member of the board, professional Jew, etc. As Jewish literacy has declined, the rabbi’s role has evolved. Since the average Jew can no longer lead davening, the rabbi must now lead services. As fewer Jews could lein Torah (read from the Torah), the rabbi also had to read the Torah every week. Hopefully you get the picture.

The idea of going to synagogue to watch the rabbi do everything is actually not very Jewish, in an historic sense. In Orthodox synagogues to this day, any knowledgeable Jew can lead the davening, lein Torah, teach classes, and serve in various lay leadership capacities.

The empowerment of individuals within our shuls will go hand-in-hand with an increase in Jewish education. The more people are able to do, the more they’ll learn, and vice verse.

The times they are a changing. And we’ll need to change with them. The Judaism of the future must be a user-friendly, spiritual Judaism. Open and inclusive, and able to satisfy seekers’ deep thirst for spirituality in their daily lives.

We serve a Messiah who was able to take those on the margins and move them to action. May we live and lead as He did.


About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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8 Responses to Looking Ahead

  1. Tsoani says:

    Excellent! In the Messianic synagogues I've been to, I've noticed the same phenomenon: People sit and watch the rabbi do everything. But then, there are some refreshing exceptions from this sad rule.

  2. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Tsoani-Thanks for the comment and observation!

  3. Gene Shlomovich says:

    I would like to see the synagogue structure retained. Instead, what needs to change is the level of Jewish literacy, assimilation, intermarriage AND communal cohesiveness (members of the same community should strive to live closer together, geographically speaking.)I agree, a rabbi doesn't need to fulfill all roles ala "pastor of the church" However, what if we were to bring in rabbi/talmidim relationships into our MJ communities (as can be seen in hasidic Judaism today and as has been the norm among first century Jews)? That would be an interesting dynamic. However, do we actually have such MJ "rabbis" today who could fulfill that role? Sadly, the answer is "no".

  4. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Gene-I think you might be reading a little too much into this post. I am not saying get rid of synagogues. Rather, we need to look at different types of communities and models (as no one model works for everyone). Additionally, as far as "synagogues," what exactly do we mean? The huge, empty "community centers" of today? Warm, intimate shteibels? The home-style synagogues of earlier centuries?Additionally, I would disagree with your assessment that we have no rabbis who could fill such roles. Although our movement is still a work in progress, there also some pretty amazing rabbis within our community.

  5. Gene Shlomovich says:

    "Although our movement is still a work in progress, there also some pretty amazing rabbis within our community."Joshua… I am not talking about amazing "educators" – yes, we have some some very astute professors with advanced degrees who put forth great sound theology that is helpful to all MJs. We have folks who are great teachers and warm-hearted people. I am talking about "rabbis" who can lead talmidim by PERSONAL example of devotion to G-d, kindness to people AND scrupulousness in Torah observance (as at least leaders rabbis must be, right?). So, my question is more to the point: how many truly observant rabbis does our MJ movement have (even by "Conservative" standards – but I prefer a bit more traditional)? I am fairly certain we must have "some" out there, but they must not be going public or else I would have met them by now or at least read their material.

  6. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Gene-First, let me make clear that I have no intention to argue over this. But first let me try to understand what you mean by:"I am talking about "rabbis" who can lead talmidim by PERSONAL example of devotion to G-d, kindness to people AND scrupulousness in Torah observance (as at least leaders rabbis must be, right?)."Additionally, what do you mean by "scrupulousness in Torah observance ?"Do you mean Orthodox? If so, then by your definition, most non-Messianic Rabbis would then also not be considered rabbis according to you. Is this the point you are trying to make?Additionally, people do not become rabbis based on someones else's preferences. They become rabbis based on a level of completed study and recognition by a body of other rabbis. IMHO we have a number of rabbis who qualify to lead vibrant communities. Not all of them may be "Orthodox," but in my opinion, no less able to "lead talmidim by PERSONAL example of devotion to G-d, kindness to people AND scrupulousness in Torah observance."

  7. Rabbi Joshua says:

    POINT OF CLARIFICATION:I am not claiming the majority of Messianic Rabbis meet such qualifications. We all would agree that there is still much work to be done. I am not denying that there is still not plenty of room for improvement.However, we do indeed have a small number of people who are legitimate rabbis in the fullest sense of the term.

  8. Gene Shlomovich says:

    "I am not claiming the majority of Messianic Rabbis meet such qualifications. We all would agree that there is still much work to be done. "Indeed, I think that the ante needs to be upped in Messianic Judaism. It's to our shame (as Jews) that Gentiles in our movement are more observant than Jews. I think all of us in MJ need to move beyond talking about how wonderful Torah is and actually do Torah (according to Jewish traditional definition of it – and most of us tend to identify ourselves as "traditional" (as in Torah/halacha is still valid and binding today) – yes, even the egalitarian/progressive types:)."However, we do indeed have a small number of people who are legitimate rabbis in the fullest sense of the term."Yes, we do.

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