THE FUTURE OF JEWISH SPIRITUALITY
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dror, edited by Tsvi Bisk
Judaism as a Value Tropic System
And Let There Be Light
Concepts of Time
Material and Non-Material
Living in “Cyberia”
The Nature of Jewish Spirituality
Determinism and Volition
Defining our Terms: What do we mean by Religion & Spirituality?
The Evolution of Jewish Spirituality
The Search for Spirituality in Cyberspace
Spirituality in Real Life
Spirituality versus Religion not Secularity versus Religion
Religious and Spiritual Revival – The Spiritual Paradox
Talmud and Hypertext
Kabbala in Cyberspace
From Information to Action – From Torah to Mitzvoth
I wish to deal with potential Jewish spiritual renewal on the background of current fears of Jewish assimilation in the Diaspora and growing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel and the Diaspora.
I suggest a third alternative: a heterodox Jewish spiritual renewal made possible by a new, spiritual ecology developing within cyberspace; a spiritual ecology whose potential Jewish component might be able to contribute particular added value for young in Israel and the Diaspora. I advocate the spiritual approach of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who wished to 'renew the old and sanctify the new'. I want to explore the potential of cyberspace to 'renewing the old and sanctifying the new' in order to make Judaism more relevant to young Jews.
Rabbi Kook was a rare 20th century phenomenon – a religious mystic who took an active interest in practical human affairs. Most non-Jewish mystical systems require people to divest themselves of the restraints of material/physical existence in order to enable their souls to unite with the ineffable, to achieve 'unio mystica' – the union of the individual human soul with the Godhead. Kook, however, strove to combine the communicable with the ineffable, to infuse the physical life of the individual with religious purpose. Self-abnegation was not part of his system. Like another Jewish thinker, Abraham Heschel, Kook saw endless inherent spiritual possibilities in our mundane physical existence. For both these thinkers the purpose of the religious discipline was to reconcile the spiritual with the physical. This was to be done by investing the physical with spiritual meaning and acknowledging spiritual merit only as it is manifested within the physical world.
Judaism as a Value Tropic System
Torah, as it is meant to embody all of Jewish tradition, is an inherently value-tropic system. It is a system that constantly tends towards values and not just a system that passes on information. Human beings are cultural and symbolic creatures as well as economic; they cannot live without values. The moral and spiritual desert created by an intellectual culture of valuelessness and the implications of the subsequent moral and spiritual vacuum have been discussed in previous chapters. The growing realization that this state of affairs cannot continue has become dramatically self-evident. A renewed search for value-laden, or at least value-tropic, systems has become manifest in recent years.
Value oriented social thinkers are seeking to “mine” intellectual raw materials out of older traditions such as Utopianism. Utopianism, like Judaism, is essentially value-tropic. My axiomatic assumption is that the Jewish spiritual tradition, an ancient value-tropic system, might contain spiritual raw material that could be of value to the modern Jew, as well as to the world at large. Both the values and the metaphors of Judaism might have a unique and special role to play in the emerging, multi-dimensional, spiritual ecology implicit in the very nature of cyberspace.
And Let There Be Light
This section will relate to the spiritual implications of the light metaphor; especially as information technology is increasingly becoming based on light by way of emerging technologies.
The first thing that God “says” in the Bible deals with light. The Jewish tradition is replete with references that connect mind and consciousness with various aspects of light. Light is a powerful and consistent metaphor in Judaism as well as other cultures. The Hebrew term “hitbonenut” is usually translated as “meditation”. In the Kabbalah it refers to protracted concentration of thought on the “supernal lights” of divine worlds. There is a Jewish concept of God we call the “Shekhinah” – the “Divine Presence”. It implies a numinous immanence of the presence of God in the world.
Rav Kook’s writings in particular contain much about the spiritual dimensions of light and imply that the very medium of light has its own inherent spiritual characteristics. This could be considered a Jewish anticipation of Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum that “The Medium is the Message”. This traditional Jewish view, that the very medium of light carries its own inherent spiritual and intellectual potential, finds its parallel in European intellectual history, as reflected in the historical designation Enlightenment.
Although dubbed the “patron saint of the media age” McLuhan was a deeply religious person. Born a Protestant he converted to Catholicism and received a rigorous Jesuit education. He would relate that he began every day by reading a chapter of the Bible in English, Latin, Classical Greek and Hebrew. One can only speculate why he would read the same chapter in four different languages. I would like to think that it was in order to see the “same” text from four different linguistic perspectives and thus gain deeper insight into the endless ways that we might understand something. I see this echoed in the Jewish tradition of Pilpul and Kook’s metaphor of “Lights” and feel deep brotherhood with McLuhan’s spiritual discipline.
The word “Lights” was Kook’s governing metaphor. His works had names like “Orot HaQodesh” (The Lights of Holiness) and “Orot HaTorah” (The Lights of Torah) and “Orot HaEmunah” (The Lights of Faith). A web site of his writings is www.orot.com. His consistent use of the plural “lights” rather than the singular probably reflects the same kind of spiritual intuition that motivated McLuhan to read the Bible in different languages. Different “lights” shed different perspectives in the same way that different languages do. When we speak about shedding light on something (to “see” it) doesn’t what we see depend on the light we use? And shouldn’t we try to “see” it from as many different perspectives as possible in order to approach understanding?
The metaphor of light informs a worldview that celebrates the constant search for truth, for Enlightenment. This is suggested in the Jewish injunction to be partners with God in the ongoing act (Mitzvah) of creation. Light discloses reality and facilitates enlightenment. This enables us to widen our range of activity and our ability to create. Kook writes: “The more we increase knowledge, increasing spiritual illumination and a healthy physicality, so will this wondrous light shine in us, a lamp on the path of our life” (Orot HaEmunah, pg.80)
Kook refused to see a sharp dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, maintaining that all that was essential to human life was potentially sacred. All the advances in science were part of the intellectual growth of humankind, and if these advances appeared to undermine religion, there was no reason to suspect their intrinsic value. In his view what was wrong was not the progress of science but that the intellectual level of religious thinking did not proceed at an equivalent rate.
The physical concerns of human beings are inseparable from their spiritual aspirations. His view was that “the sacred and the profane together influence the spirit of man and he becomes enriched through absorbing from each whatever is suitable”. In other words for holiness to be achieved, the sacred and the profane must be synthesized. He saw the “Torah of God”—the written Torah and the “Torah of Man” – the Oral Torah converging “and the two lights make a complete world, in which heaven and earth kiss”. (Orot HaTorah, Chap. I)
Kook’s spiritual intuitions regarding light have been affirmed by modern science. The two great paradigm shifts of modern physics – relativity and quantum mechanics – derived from the exploration of anomalies in the behavior of light and both led to radical new understanding of the nature of light. Light seems to occupy a very special place in the cosmic order of things. In some ways light is more fundamental than time, space or matter. This may also be true of the “Inner Light” of consciousness.
Modern physics teaches us that light is a fundamental characteristic of the universe. We know from quantum physics and Planck’s constant that it is light, rather than “matter”, “energy” or “time” that is at the core of our Cosmos. Planck’s equation holds that quanta of light are also quanta of action.
Philosopher/Scientist Peter Russell posits that physics, like Genesis, suggests that in the beginning there was light, or rather, in the beginning there is light, for light underlies every process in the present moment. Any exchange of energy between any two atoms in the universe involves the exchange of photons. Every interaction in the material world is mediated by light. In this way, light penetrates and interconnects the entire cosmos. An oft-quoted phrase comes to mind: ‘God is Light’. God is said to be absolute and in physics so is light – the speed of light is the cosmic constant; the absolute.
Consciousness is often spoken of as the “Inner Light”. Light seems in some way fundamental to the universe. Its values are absolute, universal constants. The light of consciousness is likewise fundamental; without it there would be no experience. Does physical reality and mental reality share the same common ground and does this commonality depend on our understanding of light?
The Jewish tradition in the Kabbalah anticipated this association between the inner and outer worlds. But until now all of this was considered to be within the realm of the esoteric – wisdom for the “initiated” few. Now these traditional teachings as well as their correlations with modern developments in physics, the life sciences and psychology are accessible to everyone in cyberspace. Scientific research in the 21st century might be able to actualize the Kabalistic ambition to develop a science of the “Neshama”, literally a science of the human spirit. This will almost surely derive from a deeper understanding of the pervasive role of light lying behind every material and psychic activity in the universe.
In other words not only can the Jewish tradition contribute to the more general spiritual ecology now evolving in cyberspace, it can also use the spiritual potential of cyberspace to give its own tradition new meanings and new dimensions. Indeed, cyberspace might be the very vehicle that the Jewish spiritual heritage has been waiting for in order to realize its own potential. It could certainly offer greater opportunities to explore the spiritual potential of the Kabala and the rest of the Jewish spiritual heritage – especially its explorations of the sacred dimensions of 'Being' when 'Being' itself has been radically redefined by virtual reality and cyberspace. Where are we when we are located at our email address and what are we when we travel in cyberspace? Both our location and our travel are being defined by light.
Concepts of Time
The Jewish concept of time is different from the Greek/Western concept of time. Western tradition treats time as being “isomorphic”: that is to say that all 60-second minutes are exactly the same. This is a secular view of time. This universal/uniform concept of time was essential to the intellectual and technological development of the West. Without it we would not have the clock or the clockwork universe or Newton’s concept of absolute time – all of which were necessary pre-requisites of the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.
Yet, undifferentiated time is spiritually one-dimensional. It is a concept that has indirectly contributed to the apparent emptiness of modern life which asks us to "kill time", to "fill time", to have "free time" but does not enable us to develop a sense of unique or special time, to sanctify time. It does not give us a sense that “the time of our lives” has some kind of special meaning, a sense that the time we spend living is not meaningless.
The Jewish tradition, on the other hand, makes qualitative distinctions between different types of time. It might be termed “anti-isomorphic”. The Jewish Sabbath is “sacred” time because it is literally set aside, separated from the rest of the week, from “regular” time. Its sacredness lies in its aim to enable human beings to become more in touch with their essential human being by separating them from distracting daily routines. The primary purpose of the Sabbath is not to achieve mystical communion with God but to enable meaningful communion with one’s own human self.
Consequently, a 60-second minute on the Sabbath is essentially different from “profane” or normal time. During this “time” the human spirit has the potential for different/special spiritual experiences. What potential significance might this anti-isomorphic concept of time have in a cyber world ruled by nano-seconds? Such a question offers Jewish thinkers rich opportunities to “renew the old and sanctify the new”. Unfortunately most modern Jewish thinkers are past not future oriented.
A notable exception would be Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik who claimed that there is an essential difference between the Jewish perspective of history and the secular perspective of history. The secular world generally sees history as an unfolding out of the past, as if the past is pushing history forward. But Judaism believes that it is actually the future that is activating history. History is being pulled not pushed towards the future. This is a much more amenable view of history if one is a futurist or a neo-utopian thinker. Judaism is essentially futuristic – i.e. positing a future vision and working towards that vision instead of deterministically being pulled along by inchoate events.
Material and Non-Material
Jewish civilization has been unique in human history in that while being preoccupied with the physical life of its adherents, its particular characteristics are essentially non-material. Buildings do not characterize Judaism but rather ideas. Since the fall of the Temple, Judaism has been an information/wisdom civilization, a civilization indifferent to the external package and preoccupied with the content and meaning of our physical existence on this earth and constantly searching for the spiritual potentialities of our physical existence on this earth. It celebrates the human mind and abstract thought as they pertain to life. The medium of its messages is “non-material” – writing and talking – and not material buildings or works of art. This might explain why archeology has had such a difficult time in chronicling the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.
Cyberspace is essentially a “non-material” medium. We use the term “non-material” in its popular sense and not in the Philosophy or Physics sense. Cyberspace is after all the product of a physical material universe that exists objectively. It is not a Platonic idealistic construct. In the popular sense it is however definitely non-material and indicative of a revolutionary change in human civilization.
The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter. In technology, economics and the politics of nations, wealth – in the form of physical resources – has been losing value and significance. The powers of MIND are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things.
In the First Wave economy, land and farm labor are the main “factors of production”. In the Second Wave economy, the land remains valuable while “labor” becomes massified around machines and larger industries. In a Third Wave economy, the central resource – a single word broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology and values – is ACTIONABLE KNOWLEDGE. (Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Charta for the Knowledge Age; August 1994; www.townhall.com)
Once a small number of thinking human minds molded, moved and manipulated great masses of matter and masses of other human beings (agriculture and industry being products of the human mind). Today an infinitesimal amount of matter (the chip) serves great masses of individual human minds molding, moving and manipulating great masses of information and ideas.
Living in “Cyberia”
Cyberia is a double play on the words Siberia and Suburbia that has gained currency in cyber culture. It signifies an actual space where millions of people live, work, play and envision their futures. Cyberspace is a theoretical representation of digitized space. Cyberia is the reality of that representation.
Author Douglas Rushkoff has written two books on Cyberia: Cyberia, Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace (1994) and Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace (2002). He claims that the technological strides of postmodern culture, coupled with the rebirth of ancient spiritual values, have convinced a growing number of people that Cyberia is the dimensional plane in which humanity will develop. Hit “Cyberia” on search and you will find more than 100,000 sites listed.
The Nature of Jewish Spirituality
How might we explore the interrelationship between technology and spirituality through a Jewish prism and what the implications of this interrelationship would be for humanity’s spiritual quest? This must be a departure from conventional thinking about computer mediated communications. Many people might even doubt the propriety of the notion that spirituality is a valid topic for discussion in regards to cyberspace. This is a perspective that views cyberspace and the online world as only a function of wires, silicon, software, electronic circuits and algorithms. This would be a limited view of human spirituality. All technical developments are products of the human spirit in the broader (and certainly Jewish) sense of that term.
The Jews have never dichotomized the concepts of body and spirit – in contradistinction to the western tradition that has its roots in Plato, Christianity (Augustine especially) Descartes and others. The Hebrew word “nefesh”, which is usually mistranslated as soul, refers to the entire person: body and mind as one. This reflects modern concepts of intelligence as being a consequence of the interactions between body and brain. A particularly cogent presentation of this view is to be found in Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.
As mentioned both Kook and Heschel held this view. Both would almost certainly intuit that the new technological functions of material society present us with new spiritual opportunities. They would have held that technological innovation is not counter to spirituality but reflects the inherent greatness of the human spirit and the means by which we might expand humanity’s spiritual potential.
Developments in the general culture reflect this approach. The dominant cultural symbol of the late 20th century and early 21st century is the picture of the blue marble of earth hanging in the inky blackness of Space. It has become a spiritual icon of our age and is a consequence of the greatest technological achievement of our age.
If one were to examine the writings of the late Enlightenment thinkers one would conclude that they viewed the Industrial Revolution as a significant spiritual event. They felt it would provide infinitely greater opportunities for the creative human spirit to express itself as well as provide the means to liberate the human spirit from its preoccupation with getting the most basic necessities to sustain a bare physical existence. Before industrialism human beings were one step above the animals, spending their entire existence obtaining the means to subsist. Post-industrialism, technology and especially cyberspace present us with the means to climb several steps up the spiritual ladder, to get closer to the “Godly”.
The entire Kabbalistic system, cleansed of its accretions of mystical superstition, might, therefore be the most suitable metaphor for the cyber age. Could it be that Jewish tradition has anticipated the potential of the human spirit and that Jewish tradition has had to wait for humanity’s innovations to enable it to reach its own spiritual maturity?
In this connection we claim that the significance of cyberspace goes far beyond the technological facticity of its wires and electronic circuits. Its historical significance (like Space exploration) is essentially spiritual. We do not make the claim that cyberspace itself is spiritual or that the search for spirituality will be limited to cyberspace or that cyberspace will usher in the messianic age. We have outgrown the naiveté of modernism that viewed technological progress and moral progress as coeval.
What we are saying is that more and more people will be “living” more and more of their lives in cyberspace and, therefore, this requires us to explore the spiritual potential of cyberspace both generally and jewishly. We are saying that cyberspace might be particularly suited to the Jewish spiritual tradition.
Determinism and Volition
The Jewish tradition has a beautiful saying: HaKol Tsafui vey HaRashoot Netuna. A literal translation would be “All is foreseeable (determined) but the decisions are up to us (volitional)”. In its original formulation it is meant to correlate the apparent contradiction between an all-powerful all-seeing God (who already knows everything that is going to happen) and the ethical obligations of sovereign individuals, which by definition requires free will. In other words God has determined everything already but free will (volitional good or evil activity) is still the preserve of every individual human being.
I would like to secularize this particular Jewish tradition and posit that this could be the slogan of a value-laden Social Science or of a Neo-utopianism. Notwithstanding the wishful thinking of romantic primitivists, no force on earth can prevent the technological revolution from progressing at a breathtaking pace – that is determined (HaKol Tsafui). Indeed, even today we could say the “change in the rate of change” forces us to be part of a world to which we must adapt in real time. But what we do with this self-evident reality is completely up to us, that is to say it is volitional (HaRashoot Netuna).
Every language of the human race is blessed with two sacred words: ‘yes’ and ‘no’. What shall we say ‘yes’ to and what shall we say ‘no’ to and what can we say ‘no’ to and what should we say ‘no’ to? We cannot say ‘no’ to technology and human innovation per se. In the moral realm this would be to deny the very thing that makes us human: our creativity. Indeed the human ability to create (tools, art, music, organization, technology, science, mathematics) is what makes us Godlike and is what is meant when the Bible says we were created in the image of God. God creates and man creates and no other creature on the face of the earth creates.
The Jewish tradition says that man is a partner with God in the ongoing act of creation. This is a Jewish anticipation of the evolutionary attitude, one that implies that human creativity is a necessary part of God’s creativity; that God’s creation could not exist without human beings. Such a view invests daily mundane tasks with great spiritual potential and more efficiently addresses the spiritual needs of modern men and women than a view that posits that human beings must deny or subsume or escape their physical/material existence in order to achieve spirituality.
In the practical realm it is impossible to say ‘no’ to technology. Human beings cannot forget nor can they deny what humanity has created. Radical primitivists who view technology as satanic and whose ambition is to negate the Industrial Revolution and to return to a standard of living of pre-Carolingian Europe are missing the mark. Not only is the call to give up soap and hot water and live in teepees unlikely to generate much resonance amongst the vast majority of the human race but it is spiritually bankrupt. What would be the level of the human spirit in a society in which people die before the age of 35, are illiterate and live their entire lives in physical pain and abysmal superstition and ignorance – the prevailing pre-industrial reality?
Ever increasing technological innovation is a deterministic given reflecting the very nature of the inquiring human spirit (HaKol Tsafui); it cannot be stopped and should not be stopped, unless one’s hatred of humanity is equivalent to Hitler’s hatred of the Jews.
If continued technological innovation is a deterministic given (HaKol Tsafui) what we do with it is a moral, volitional decision (HaRashoot Netuna). If human society is to be a human society it must be value-laden; these values must be chosen/volitional values adopted by free, sovereign autonomous human beings (HaRashoot Netuna). Cyberspace is humanity online and wherever humanity goes so too does the contemplation of what it means to be human and that must include humanity’s spiritual quest. The question for Jews is: does the Jewish tradition have a special contribution to make to this all-human quest and can Jewish individuals derive unique added value out of this Jewish tradition to the extent that it will inculcate the ambition to explore and delve into that Jewish tradition?
Defining our Terms: What do we mean by Religion & Spirituality?
What we mean by religion (small r) is that 3,000 year old heritage of religious wisdom, ritual, tradition and communal and collective practice that all Jews have come to see as being uniquely Jewish. What we mean by Religion (big R) is the current religious establishment dominated by unimaginative Rabbis. For some Jews r = R, for others they are two separate rubrics in which R acts to the detriment of r and disabuses many young Jews from even trying to develop Jewish ambitions.
Religion (big R) is essentially institutional, religion (small r) is essentially communal, and spirituality is essentially individual; Religion coerces us, religion communally obligates us, spirituality requires that we examine our own selves and endeavor to gain insight into or connect with a “divine” source on an individual basis without the unnecessary mediation of either institution or communal tradition. There is no prohibition on using institutional or communal traditions to facilitate one’s personal spiritual quest but spirituality is, by definition, subjective and individual. The personal attempt to cultivate a sense of connectivity to something beyond our daily preoccupations is not dependent on doctrine, institution or tradition but only on the individual’s personal free will (HaRashoot Netuna). What do we mean by divine?
The Random House College Edition Dictionary (1968) offers several definitions:
1) of, pertaining to, or preceding from a god, esp. the Supreme Being
2) godlike; characteristic of or befitting a deity
3) The spiritual aspect of man; the group of attributes and qualities of mankind regarded as godly or godlike.
If we choose to use the third definition then connecting with a divine source means nothing more than connecting with one’s own spiritual potential as a human being and aspiring to live according to the second definition (imitatio Dei: to imitate God). In other words even Jews who do not believe in a transcendent, supernatural God, as per the first definition, can aspire to a rich spiritual life within the Jewish tradition.
We would further claim, in keeping with the researches of Prof. Joseph Levinson that the metaphysical concepts of a transcendent Supreme Being are Hellenistic accretions not necessary to the Jewish system. Prof. Levinson goes so far as to say that Judaism is not even a religion, in the western sense of that term, but rather a life system for human beings living on this earth. He acknowledges, however, that both these concepts are practically necessary for most Jews even if they are not conceptually necessary for a Jewish worldview. He posits that as the Jews evolve to ever-higher levels of understanding we might even be able to shed these concepts and arrive at the core of the Jewish insight about existence.
This jibes, somewhat, with Dr. Arthur Green’s definition of Jewish spirituality. He claims it is distinct from most non-Jewish concepts of spirituality, which are “inevitably opposed in some degree to corporeality or worldliness (all apologetics notwithstanding)” In this view Green would be a disciple of Kook and Heschel.
Authentic Jewish tradition sees spirituality as the consequence of living and working in this world. “Ruhaniyut”, the Hebrew equivalent of the term “spirituality” is a medieval “Hellenist” accretion found neither in the Bible nor in the early rabbinical sources. 
The above definitions of ‘divine’ and ‘spirituality’ are important if we want to cultivate the spiritual ambitions of Jews (perhaps the majority today) that do not and cannot believe in a transcendent Supreme Being and require a Judaism that reflects this.
The Evolution of Jewish Spirituality
During the biblical period the Jews had cultivated concepts of holiness connected with sacred space (the Temple) and sacred time (Sabbath and holidays). Following the fall of the Temple and the almost total dispersion of the Jewish People sacred time and the sanctification of daily activity became dominant. Jewish spirituality, therefore, is neither a doctrine nor an attempt to transcend or escape the limits of one’s earthly existence. It strives to be a celebration of self vis-à-vis the wonder of existence; it is both a self-exploration and a self-realization. It is in no way a denial of self and in no way a call for selflessness. As we have discussed in previous chapters, Judaism is a system of behavior that places absolute responsibility on the individual self for that self’s actions.
In the Jewish spiritual tradition the desire for selflessness would be synonymous with the desire to abrogate one’s individual ethical responsibilities. For if one is selfless, i.e. without a self, than how can one be moral or ethical? Furthermore, how could one be a communal being with communal responsibilities if one does not have a sense of one’s self?
It is here that the Jewish spiritual tradition can offer rich resources with which to build a bridge over the modern chasm of radical individualism and undifferentiated “social responsibility”. The later requires one to subsume one’s own individuality into the “general will” (to use Rousseau’s chilling phrase) and the “greater good” (that unspecified and unlimited utilitarian concept). This is a question that has begun to preoccupy social thinkers over the past several decades. How can we repair the damage to our social fabric caused by the adolescent self-indulgence of radical individualism without falling into the totalitarian trap of Rousseau’s “general will” and the undifferentiated majoritarian democracy that was its consequence?
“Ruah Ha-Qodesh” (the holy spirit), in the Jewish tradition is nothing more than a human state achieved as culmination of moral, virtuous and responsible deeds in one’s worldly existence. It is not an ethereal otherworldly concept; it is an earned product of living in this world in a virtuous manner. It is an earned (i.e. causal) state of affairs and not something given freely by the “Grace” of God. It is not deterministic (HaKol Tsafui); it is volitional (HaRashoot Netuna). It is not the product of a free gift of God; it is the product of individual responsible effort. It is man striving to realize his very being as being in the image of God by acting in a godly way, which means by creating. In this context any denial of technology would be a denial of the very ability to be spiritual, to realize oneself in the image of God.
We would reiterate that the life of holiness, of achieving the Holy Spirit can only be achieved by means of the requirements of a 'this-world sustenance'. For the Jew, the entire world is potentially holy space and we can only realize holy time within this space not by separating ourselves out from it. Indeed given the Einsteinium concept of Space/Time as a unicom this Jewish intuition might have anticipated the inherent spirituality of cyberspace (which is also cyber time). Indeed, cyberspace could easily be renamed cyberspace/time.
The Search for Spirituality in Cyberspace
Peter Russell, cited above, has described the development of a universal cyber consciousness in his book The Global Brain. He bases much of his thinking on the concept of the “noosphere” developed by the Jesuit philosopher/scientist Teilhard De Chardin. This is an evolutionary concept of the human spirit that envisages the development of a global consciousness enveloping and defining the entire planet. The Israeli thinker Mordechai Nessyahu, completely ignorant of the work of de Chardin and Russell, expanded this vision to include the entire Cosmos in his life work entitled Cosmotheism. Nessyahu envisaged the evolution of consciousness through the prism of Jewish tradition and saw the entire Cosmos as eventually becoming a conscious entity.
Ken Wilber has defined spirituality as “the basic desire to find ultimate meaning and purpose in one’s life and to live an integrated life”. It is this basic desire which drives the Arts and the Sciences. This search for meaning/purpose/wholeness and integration is a lifelong process – a never-ending process and task. A mature person recognizes this as a process and realizes that he or she will never arrive at a definitive answer but also realizes that a life without this search is an impoverished one-dimensional life. For a mature person spirituality does not merely provide peace and contentment, it also profoundly unsettles and acts as a spur to constantly improve the human condition in each of us personally and in general for the entire human race. “Tiqun Olam” (literally “repairing the world) is, therefore, an essential part of the mature person’s spiritual project.
A childish person, on the other hand, demands simple clear answers immediately and is thus easy fodder for cults, religious charlatans and political fanatics. An empty minded person does not even recognize the need to ask any questions about meaning and might be described as spiritually deprived; someone who believes that God created the universe so there would be a place to put shopping centers. An evil person would try to manipulate this search for his or her own narrow ends. Indeed, Fascism and Stalinism might both be seen as having been a perverted manipulation of 20th century man’s search for meaning.
Spirituality in Real Life
The word for craftsman in Hebrew is “ooman” (and for artist “oman”) which comes from the same word root as faith, belief, AMEN. It implies that even ones daily occupation must be endowed with a sense of sanctity: that creativity of any sort, no matter how mundane, has “cosmic” value (apropos the butterfly effect of Chaos Theory) and that this is what is meant by “being created in the image of God”. Just as all that God creates is sacred so too must we strive to sanctify all that humanity creates.
The Jewish tradition could contribute to the modern concept of “work” because it affirms that work should not be laborious routine that dulls the soul but a creative celebration of the spirit. The Third Wave and cyberspace in contradistinction to the First and Second Waves enables “laborious soul dulling work” to be replaced by a creative celebration of the spirit. The Jewish tradition and cyberspace meet.
Spirituality versus Religion not Secularity versus Religion
In Israel this new dichotomy has become palpable. Israel seems to be experiencing a two-pronged sociological phenomenon. On the one hand there is the continued politicization of religion into Religion and the creation of ever-growing walls of separation, mistrust and even hatred between secular and religious people that stems from religious politics. On the other hand there is a growing spiritual quest that lies increasingly outside of the Orthodox religious establishment and seems to have no need of Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist alternatives. Where once Jews saw the synagogue and organized Jewish community as having the monopoly on spirituality, organized Religion today projects a decidedly anti-spiritual image that has alienated and apparently will continue to alienate many young Israelis from seeking religious sustenance within the Jewish tradition. This may be why so many young Israelis, belatedly aping the American 60’s generation who also rebelled against traditional institutional forces, are seeking spiritual sustenance not in Judaism as it is practiced in Israel but in the Far East: India, Japan etc.
Here we see a repeat of the paradox that we discussed in a previous chapter. Just as the self-proclaimed “authentic” Zionists of Gush Emunim have turned so many young Israelis into post-Zionists or even anti-Zionists in the name of Zionism so has Israel’s religious establishment, representing so called “authentic Judaism”, turned so many young Israelis into post or anti-Judaism Jews in the name of Judaism. Considering the centrality of Israel for world Jewry this situation is creating a general Jewish spiritual crisis. Jewish spiritual ecology in Israel and the Diaspora is increasingly impoverished because of the monopoly of Orthodoxy in Israel.
As with natural ecologies, mono-culturalism leaves a system prone to disease and collapse. It is rich variety that provides us with natural and cultural and spiritual resilience. Israel’s spiritual mono-culturalism greatly weakens Jewish spiritual strength and the ability for Jewish survival. Israel, created to strengthen and preserve the Jewish People, is weakening the spiritual immune system of the entire Jewish people by sanctioning a monopoly of the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism while delegitimizing all other interpretations of Judaism. What an irony given the historical ambitions of the Zionist founding fathers.
Religious and Spiritual Revival – The Spiritual Paradox
The last several decades of the 20th century were witness to a massive worldwide religious revival. This was in total contradiction to the prognostications of Social Scientists that religious observance was on the wane and that religions in general were going to have less of an impact on society. The hypothesis that civilization was about to become totally secular has not realized itself. The human situation is much more complex and paradoxical.
Globalization is a secular phenomenon since it is based on trade, production, finance and communications, which are all secular activities. But secular globalization does not provide meaning and as it expands there seems to be an expanding need for spiritual exploration and spiritual development.
The paradox is that the global increase of secular activity and secularity appears to be creating an ever-growing need and space for spiritual initiatives. Cyberspace is the most dramatic example of how technology (a human creation for human use on this earth and thus secular) is providing the “space/time” for new kinds of spiritual endeavor.
Futurologists who use historical analogy as their primary methodology might have predicted this. The last great religious revival in the United States, for example, was when the American economy shifted from an agricultural to an industrial society. When people are buffeted by powerful cultural changes, which they do not control and often do not even understand, the need for some kind of spiritual sustenance grows in direct proportion to the radical nature of the change.
Fritjof Capra analyzed this in his highly original, now classic, book The Turning Point. People who live through turning points, who find themselves in those historical creases between two eras when old values appear to be eroding and new values are not yet self-evident, often experience great anxiety, feel themselves adrift and search for answers outside their own mundane material existence.
The most common and often easiest answer is to be found in traditional religion, especially the most fundamentalist religions. These radiate such absolute sureties in their answers that they make their adherents feel safe within the tremendous storms of change. Religions that are more ambiguous and heterodox, that celebrate the question more than the answer do not do as well in such periods and indeed appear to lose ground. People in these historical creases do not go to church to hear more ambivalence, they want to hear answers. They want to hear people who really know.
These traditional religious systems may appeal to certain kinds of spiritual laziness. “I may not know and may not have the ability to know but I do know who knows”: the priest, rabbi, qadi or minister. How do I know he knows? Because the members of his congregation or community all tell me he knows. Since a great deal of the spiritual search of the alienated individual has to do with finding a community and being part of something, the communal affirmation and identity just adds to the surety.
We must not ignore the sociological and psychological aspects of this modern spiritual search. When a group demonstrating concern embraces lonely, alienated people it can be irresistibly attractive. This is the tactic of cults as well as the more established proselytizing religions: identify lonely, confused people; tell them they are even more lonely and confused than they think they are and then tell them that your group has the answer. At this point they are introduced to members of the group who relate how confused and lonely they were and how the group has now answered their needs – “empirical proof”.
In addition, traditional religions have been around for centuries and this longevity gives them authority. Who are we after all to question the accumulated wisdom of generations? And even if I as an individual do not know, then I can assume that God at least does know and the historical staying power of traditional religious frameworks indicates to me that God is speaking to humanity through the prism of these religions.
A second path would be more inner-directed; it would seek out spiritual traditions that seem to appeal to our own intuitive senses. These traditions are often less authoritarian and more dependent on the individual’s own interpretation. These traditions may have more relevance for the individual that takes responsibility for his or her own life than the more outer directed religious traditions. In the Jewish community especially we seem to be witnessing a collective “no” to organized religion and a collective “yes” to spirituality. This has become so pronounced that many Diaspora synagogues are attempting to combine traditional practices with innovative spiritual initiatives within the walls of the synagogue. This may explain why some of the more mystical sects of Hassidism (those that combine “spirituality” and traditional rituals) have been doing so well while other expressions of Judaism appear to be in decline.
In the Jewish and Israeli context the paradox might be described in the following way: the number and percentage of young Jews and Israelis being turned off by organizational Judaism is directly proportional to the number and percentage of young Jews and Israelis engaging in some kind of fashionable spiritual quest - New Age, Far Eastern or Jewish mystical.
Naisbitt, in his book Megatrends wrote that the world is undergoing a revival in religious belief and spiritual quest. This revival is not occurring in mainline churches and synagogues. They have been in decline for decades. The new trend is in multiple options: individuated, networked processes, outside of mainline institutions. The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of our expanding concepts of what human possibilities are, facilitated by technology. What could the Jewish contribution be to this endeavor?
Talmud and Hypertext
It is useful to use the method of historical analogy in order to explore the spiritual potential of any new medium. For example, as Prof. David Porush has pointed out, it is undeniable that the organization of the Talmud page greatly influenced the intellectual and hence spiritual development of the Jewish People. Its multi-level associative layout had an inherent ability to stimulate creative thinking and the essential limitlessness of alternative solutions to problems or dilemmas.
Studying the Talmud combines the precision of deductive logic with the creativity of associative thinking. This combination of intellectual precision and creativity molded the Jewish mind for centuries. This may be one reason why the Jewish People have produced so many intellectual pioneers as western civilization underwent its secularization process over the past several centuries. It is certainly not because the Jews are inherently more intelligent than non-Jews (any perusal of Israeli politics should disabuse one of that false assumption).
It is interesting to note the congruence between the medium and the message, as developed in the printed Talmud page and its potential ramifications for the Internet and web site design. The Talmud is proto-hypertext in nature; it is always self-referential: Talmudic discourse is the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of what the Talmud itself means. Talmudic discussions about what the Talmudic text means always refer to each other over the entire wide range of Talmudic literature. The printed Talmudic page (as distinct from scribed Talmudic scrolls) made the self-referential proto-hypertext nature of the Talmud even more profound.
The congruence between the self-referential nature of the Talmud and the self-referential nature of cyberspace is what we want to explore. Can Jews use cyberspace to develop new methods of imparting their tradition in the same way that they used the new medium of print after Gutenberg? Moreover, can they modify the very way the medium is used in order to better reflect its inherent Jewish potential in the same way that the Talmudic page is a modification of the linear print format made possible by the invention of print?
Most web sites that deal with Jewish materials, like most websites in general, usually encode linear text (like the printed book) but in electronic format. Even when images, music and video are added they are still for the most part organized in linear format. But when virtual reality realizes its potential we are likely to see a much richer set of options. How can we use these new media tools in an authentically Jewish manner whereby the cyber medium can become congruent with the cyber message?
Such adaptability has become a Jewish cultural characteristic. The invention of the printing press enabled the Jews to use books to disseminate information and knowledge to the Jewish community. In addition to conventional linear print, the Jews also developed unique ways to organize and use of print.
Apropos our admonitions against the “Nation that Dwells Alone” syndrome, the “inventor” of the Talmudic page as we know it was a non-Jew, Daniel Bomberg. In other words, two non-Jews (Gutenberg and Bomberg) indirectly laid the foundations of Jewish culture as it has been practiced for the past 400 years.
Because Church authorities forbade the printing of the Talmud by Jews, Bomberg, a 16th century Christian Venetian printer (born in Antwerp), perceived a potential market for his services and printed several editions of the Talmud. Faced with a problem of organization inherent to the Talmud he was forced to invent the Talmud page, as we know it. When the Talmud consisted of series of scrolls of various commentaries the problem of organization did not exist – a student moved from scroll to scroll. But the printing of the Talmud as an all-inclusive entity presented a different challenge. How was one to organize the commentaries on commentaries on commentaries?
Bomberg “liberated” the typography of the printed page from its linear form. He achieved a work of art in which the medium is indeed the message. Looking at any printed book, regardless of language or content (including the book you are now reading), we see an orderly procession of words representing ideas lined up in a lockstep form like soldiers in a line. This forces the reader to see and read in a linear lockstep model.
The Talmud, on the other hand, has an open format that invites the reader into what is in effect a “symposium”, much like the ancient Greek Symposia. The Talmud organizes its knowledge base as an ongoing multilogue, more extensive than a dialogue between only two persons, across time and space. This is similar to the Internet, which is also a multilogue discourse across space and time. The Talmud page has the oldest and most authoritative texts in the center of the page with succeeding margins of commentaries unfolding around it.
The fundamental concept of the Talmud and hypertext might be analogous. In the Talmud page the little notations on the side of the page are like hot buttons, the different commentaries are like “frames” a common HTML implementation process. Different sections of the text are read as accompaniments to each other at different times and speeds.
Beyond these physical similarities, hypertext and the Talmud imply a way of knowing that is different from the linear book format and design. The Talmud medium captures the noise of the symposium, a hot and multi-voiced discussion. Sometimes we know the names of the speakers and sometimes we do not – much like chat rooms, bulletin boards and email postings on the Internet. Talmudic debate and discussion extends over vast stretches of space and time. The central texts are from about 1500 years ago which themselves are based upon biblical references of 3000 years ago.
Digital technology has the capability of adding entire new dimensions to the Talmudic tradition. Both Talmud and hypertext are texts –words on paper. But we will soon be dealing with hyper media, not only words, but images, sounds, music and perhaps even touch and smell when virtual reality realizes its potential. What the digital world could accommodate and make available to the human spirit boggles the imagination.
Kabbala in Cyberspace
The metaphors of Kabbala are particularly apt. One, the Tree of Life, models the universe as various aspects of the divine. Its graphic depiction is composed of 'the ten sefirot' and 22 connecting lines representing each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The energy that progresses through the 'sefirot' is light, the same light that is the foundation of quantum mechanics and cyberspace.
We will not attempt a detailed analysis of the vast world of the Kabbala and the study of the sifirot. Suffice it to say that there are many that are intrigued with the potential correlation between these various subjects and perceived synergies between Kabbalic insights and models and the essence of quantum mechanics and cyberspace.
The Kabbala sees God, the cosmos, human spirit and knowledge as composed of one unified and unifying essence – light. Other spiritual traditions also correlate light with human energy centers. The Hindu concept of Chakras – wheels of light as described in the Vedas is one example.
The ten dimensions of the Kabbalistic universe, as represented by the ten sifirot, could also be utilized as a metaphor for the ten-dimensional “super string” theories of contemporary physics as well as for the inherent complexity of the human mind. The Kabbala sees every aspect of the world – spiritual, psychical or material – as being composed of varying degrees and combinations of these ten dimensions. These include the human qualities of will, wisdom, love and compassion.
The ten dimensions of the Kabbalistic universe constitute a sophisticated guide to the “divine” inner nature and the psychological development of the human personality. They form a set of archetypes through which spirit is structured both in the Cosmos and in the human mind.
One of the sefirot called “Tiferet” might be the most appropriate to our attempt to spiritualize cyberspace. It is the most central and interconnected part of the Kabbalistic network of energy movement. The one through which individuals might channel their own internal “divine” human energies through their own psyches and in the process transform themselves and the world at large – “Tiqun Olam”.
From Information to Action – From Torah to Mitzvoth
I have made three axiomatic claims in this essay:
1) Judaism does not separate body from spirit; it is in the corporal/material world that we fulfill our spiritual potential and not outside of it.
2) “Torah” – as it is meant to mean the totality of Jewish tradition – is value-tropic.
3) HaKol Tsafui vey HaRashoot Netuna — i.e. we can foresee every trend but what we do with it is up to us.
In other words, Jewish spirituality must be renewed within the real technological world we live in; it must strive to exploit the spiritual potential of this new technology as well as to provide cogent answers to the spiritually searching individual in the 21st century. Putting medieval Talmudic debates on the Internet or data basing the entire Jewish tradition may be a valuable tool but it has nothing to do with the spiritual/religious renewal we are talking about here. This too is just information. Having information is one thing, knowing how to use it is quite another. Knowing Torah is not the entire story, indeed those in the Jewish world that “worship” Torah knowledge itself might even be accused of “Avoda Zara” (literally idolatry).
Once you “know” you are admonished and obligated to do. This is what the Jews call ‘Mitzvoth” which are actionable commandments to act in this world. In other words the covenant of Israel is not only information based, it is mitzvah based and by definition must be directed towards the purpose of “Tiqun Olam” – “Repairing the World” – this World.
For more articles by Dr.Moshe Dror www.global-report.com/thehope/c17-moshe-dror
Tsvi Bisk & Moshe Dror: Futurizing the Jews: Alternative Futures for Meaningful Jewish Existence in the 21st Century Praeger, 2003
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction – The Task of the Jewish Futurist
Chapter One – The World We Live In
Chapter Two – The Triumph of Zionism
Chapter Three – Zionism in the 21st Century
Chapter Four – The Special Case of American Jewry
Chapter Five – Israeli Grand Strategy: A Historical Critique
Chapter Six – Reinventing Israeli Grand Strategy
Chapter Seven – Reinventing Israel-Diaspora Relations
Chapter Eight – The Future of Arab-Jewish Relations
Chapter Nine – The Future of Ethnic Relations and Israeli Culture
Chapter Ten – The Future of Jewish-Christian Relations
Chapter Eleven – The Future of Jewish Identity
Chapter Twelve – Futurizing Jewish Education
Chapter Thirteen – The Future of Jewish Spirituality
Chapter Fourteen – The World Jewish Community in Cyberspace
To order as e-book - http://www.amazon.com/Futurizing-Jews-Alternative-Meaningful-ebook/dp/B000PC0VRU
 Taken from Chapter 13 of Tsvi Bisk & Moshe Dror’s book: Futurizing the Jews: Alternative Futures for Meaningful Jewish Existence in the 21st Century. This piece represents the compressed essence of the most original aspects of Moshe's thinking with contributions by his coauthor Tsvi Bisk. The list of contents of the book is given at the appendix, with contact information.
 Cohen, A., & P. Mendes-Flohr. Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, New York: Free Press, 1972; pgs 903,4
 Renamed Cosmodeism by Tsvi Bisk as Cosmotheism has been co-opted by a neo-Nazi group in the United States
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