Rabbi's Update 3/22/2023
If you want to understand why American non-Orthodox Judaism is facing the challenges which it is facing, and what we will need to do to keep Judaism relevant and meaningful, I urge you to attend our Zoom discussion tomorrow evening at 8 pm with Rabbi Danny Schiff.
Rabbi Schiff is the Community Scholar for the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation. He originally hails from Melbourne, Australia, and has rabbinical ordination and a doctorate in Jewish History from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. His doctoral dissertation was published in 2002 under the title “Abortion in Judaism”. His recent book “Judaism in a Digital Age” will be the subject of his talk tomorrow night.
If you would like to read more about Rabbi Schiff’s provocative writing, you can read this article
From the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. I want to highlight two passages from Rabbi Schiff’s interview:
You say in the preface that this book began as you were struggling to understand why the non-Orthodox movements were on the decline, and that it evolved from there. Can you describe that evolution?
I think that the important thing to understand is that we’ve gone through a big transition. And that transition is already evident all around us. We can see congregations that were once powerful, dominant players in the Jewish landscape now weakening and merging. And in many ways, the younger generation is turning less and less to the sort of institutions and the forms of Judaism that were strong in the second half of the 20th century. So that seemed to me to be something that required explanation because the rabbis of today are not profoundly different from a generation ago, and the programs are not much different, and nor are the Jewish practices. So what exactly happened that caused this significant and obvious decline in these forms of Judaism?
I came to understand that what we were experiencing was something within Jewish life — and particularly non-Orthodox Jewish life — that was part of a much larger phenomenon. And as I explored the rise of the “digital age,” I found that many think of the big changes going on around us as being technological developments. But technology really has an extraordinary impact on every part of our civilization — and most certainly on structures of meaning, which is what Jewish life really constitutes. . . .
If people think that my analysis is wrong, I look forward to engaging in conversation about that. I think that what we really need to try to figure out is why are we in the circumstances we’re in. So if my explanation is incorrect, then I really want to hear what people think might be the alternative analysis — because the only other analysis that I usually hear is that we simply haven’t yet found the right silver-bullet type of rabbi or program or synagogue structure, and once we do, all will be well. And I’m pretty skeptical of that approach, as the book lays out.
As we grapple with the future of our congregation, Rabbi Schiff’s perspective is quite timely. I really hope that you will join us for this important discussion.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian