One of the fundamental concepts I’ve long found important to my personal connection to Judaism is the Jewish propensity for self-criticism and -reflection — the tendency to look deeply inward, guided by long-held values and religious precepts. The desire to look critically upon oneself and one’s own community and leaders (quite literally one’s “tribe”) is an essential aspect of Judaism in my mind.
With no established global Jewish leader, Rabbis, prominent Jewish thinkers, and “ordinary” Jews take it upon themselves to diagnose and seek to improve Judaism, to help sustain it as a religion and tribe of people, and to keep it relevant and grounded in its core principles. In a global society that’s growing increasing areligious, the need to reaffirm the meaning and importance of Judaism is an important job, and a mantle that has been taken up by Jews around the world.
God Is in the Crowd: Twenty-First-Century Judaism, by Tal Keinan (Spigel & Grau 2018)
Tal Keinan is one of those individuals. Keinan is a US-born Israeli emigre who rose up the ranks of the Israeli Air Force (an extremely rare accomplishment for an ordinary Israeli, let alone a Jewish-American “outsider”), before transitioning to the private sector via a Harvard MBA, eventually becoming the founder of a global asset management firm (Clarity Capital), with offices in New York and Tel Aviv.
Given Keinan’s background as a Jew who has lived and participated in Jewish communities and non-profit leadership organizations in both Israel and the major center of Jewish diaspora today, the US, Keinan takes it upon himself to diagnose the various internecine conflicts currently taking place within 21st century Judaism, including:
- Between diaspora Jews and Israelis over Israeli culpability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Growing intermarriage and dissociation with Jewish life and traditions in the US, Israel, and around the world
- The widening divide in Israel between three distinct camps:
- The territorialists fighting to expand Israeli borders via the active expansion of its legally ordained land rights
- The secularists, the generally moneyed, educated, and English-speaking population that is based in Tel Aviv and the surrounding suburbs
- The theocrats, the ultra-Orthodox Jews who prioritize study and a maintenance of “traditional” values above all else
Keinan deftly demonstrates that these conflicts are unsustainable and represent a real threat to not only Judaism as it is currently recognized, but also the future of the state of Israel and its sustenance and sustainability as an autonomous global home for Jews.
Keinan’s ambition in this book is impressive, as the book itself manages to not only survey the varied and diverse issues stated above with a remarkable amount of clarity (sorry) and firsthand insights, but also offers some non-traditional solutions that would serve to improve these issues. Ideas include anointing a Israeli President voted on by Jews around the world to represent the interests of global Jewry (in concert with the Israeli-focused, parliamentary-elected Israeli Prime Minister), as well as an endowment fund paid for by Jews put towards the funding of summer camp experiences, post-high school service projects, and tuition for college education for all eligible Jewish children.
These solutions are ingeniously designed to provide “skin in the game” for Israeli and diaspora Jews alike by providing participation in the democratic process, as well as monetary commitment to the Jewish cause for participating parents, while simultaneously exposing young, impressionable Jews to their counterparts from different countries and levels of observance. Both of these initiatives would create crucial crosscultural connections, while binding them together via their common identity as Jews.
While the book relies a bit too much on concepts from his personal trade, financial markets (including a century-long “moving average” of Jewish thought), and at times delves too deeply into memoir and autobiography, losing the thread and not always additive to the broader book, it is a worthwhile and important read for Jews seeking solutions and ownership over our current state of affairs.