The iPhone 7 will officially be released tomorrow and already people are wondering how the phone will function without a port for earbuds. “Star Trek” – the TV series turned movie series turned cultural phenomenon – turns 50 today and fans are debating whether or not the most recent installment lives up to the ideals and standards of the original. Here in Summit, NJ, our kids returned to school wondering how this grade will be different from the ones that came before.
In other words, the world is moving – whether we like it or not.
The way that we respond to change says a lot about us. Do we cling to older, more familiar technology because we know how to use it? Do we hold our noses and avoid new movies and TV shows in order to watch oldies to which we know all of the lines? Do we reminisce fondly over teachers from years past while complaining about the policies of this year’s educators?
Do we adapt or do we reject?
Hopefully, we do a little of both. We should certainly appreciate all that has come before, but we should also try to learn and grow from new experiences. This blending of the old and new is central to Judaism.
Judaism is certainly an ancient tradition, but it has always sought to incorporate modern ideas into the system.
In this week’s Torah portion – which is entitled “Shoftim” (Judges) – we read about the qualifications for those who would adjudicate cases. The Torah tells us readers to appear before “the magistrate in charge at the time (Deut. 17:9).” A judge cannot simply be an expert of the law. A judge must also understand the world in which the court operates.
Judaism no longer has judges as described in the Torah. However, contemporary community leaders must make decisions about how Judaism will be practiced. And those choices will determine the extent to which Judaism survives. The Judaism of the 15th or 18th Century will simply not work in the 21st Century. Our tradition must evolved and grow. However, it cannot change so much as to be unrecognizable to those who know and love it.
So, an iPhone has to act and look like an iPhone. A Star Trek movie has to feel like a Star Trek movie. A new school year has to build on the previous years. Similarly, Judaism today must be an extension of what came before, but also speak to our lives today. Sounds easy, right? I hope we get better reviews than the iPhone 7, the new Star Trek movie and the first day of school.