“The formulations of the highest truth need a constant revision, and even more surely do the forms in which that truth is clothed.”
So wrote the distinguished 19/20th century scholar Israel Abrahams in Aspects of Judaism.
One of the highest truths is the power of living in relationship, community. It is one of Judaism’s superpowers.
Struck down by a horrible virus this Shabbat, three households of our family did not miss out. We were able to be part of our congregation’s service, wish everyone Shabbat Shalom and ‘join’ Kiddush and Havdalah. How could we do this whilst we were spluttering and without infecting our fellow congregants? We were of course online.
From the first Shabbat of lockdown my synagogue The Ark, along with many other Progressive communities, moved online. That didn’t end with the pandemic. This week, we celebrated our 200th online Havdalah. Our adult learning numbers have increased tenfold and our congregations for services are more than double what they were. We are now a fully hybrid community, meeting and valuing our personal connections in the Ark Sanctuary and fusing all the small Ark Sanctuaries of our homes.
Technology at its best is there to support the development of human life, including Judaism. The emergence of online tools such as Sefaria is a good example. The challenges of technology are more about overcoming our fear of it, for nearly every solution is available to us if we ask.
The benefits are profound. Amongst our members, there is a clear efficacy in mental wellbeing for those who are housebound or isolated and accessed or built their community online. The real power of caring for each other is in creating a caring community.
Judaism provides a weekly foundation for this, Shabbat. The Kiddush Zoom Room and weekly Havdalah have become pillars of extending the notion of a caring community. It is not about numbers but the quality of environment into which people enter. The ‘welcomers’ are as important online as in house. The feedback to the rabbis and care coordinators as vital.
Israel Abrahams continued his thought: “When dogma takes the place of love, religion is dead.”
Our truth and our tradition (its clothing) adapt to new environments. Jethro recommended to Moses the foundation of our judicial system; the rabbis radically altered tradition and saved our destiny. Time will tell if we educate Judaism appropriately now at a young age and then provide the means to connect when more mature. Judaism is unwavering. I feel positive.
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