This symposium is inspired by the great paradox of current Jewish life. On the one hand, there is the unprecedented power, affluence, and influence of the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry. On the other, there are the external and internal vulnerabilities that the Jewish people experience. These trends now interact within a highly complex and increasingly global environment.
In such circumstances, few of the dynamics that have been shaping Jewish life for millennia can be counted on to continue for very long. External to Judaism is the accelerating pace of philosophical, technological, political, and societal change that creates tremendous pressures on societies to adapt. Just consider the dramatic changes in Europe and the Middle East over the past 50 years, which affected the lives of most Jews, to see how much drama the future holds.
Yet the Jewish people have proven their outstanding capacity to adapt, and key characteristics that have allowed them to do so in the past will continue to serve them in the future. First, Judaism will continue to hybridize four founding stories—as a religious community, a nation, a people, and a light unto the nations. Second, the “architecture” of the Jewish people as a global web of communities will remain exceptionally resilient and responsive to change. Third, Judaism and the Jewish people will continue to balance innovation and tradition, flexibility and rigidity, insularity and openness.
The confluence of these fundamentals establishes a few certainties about the future of Diaspora Jewish life in 2065. Judaism will have evolved communally, even among the Orthodox, with new types of communities, new forms of organizations, and many new and different institutions. Furthermore, Jews will continue to wander in search of security, freedom, and prosperity. Thus, a vibrant Diaspora will persist alongside Israel, not only in the United States; and the likely imminent decline of European Jewry may be offset by the rise of Jewish life in East Asia, particularly in China. The movement of Jewish populations will continue to follow the rise and decline of global power and prosperity. Paradoxically, these dynamics of adaptation are the constant of the Jewish people, and they will persist in ways that are both predictable and surprising.
By 2065, the real drama will have unfolded in and around Israel, where Zionism’s quest to establish the nation-state of the Jewish people will have been tested. The Jewish state will be judged on the manner in which it ensures its survival; on its ability to combine democratic and Jewish values throughout the entire population of the country; on its progress in resolving the predicament with the Palestinian people; and on its capacity to nurture a model society of economic growth and social justice, stemming from a healthy political system.
Amid all this, Jews will continue to provide leadership in humanity, armed with the Torah and with the power of the Talmudic process to create original interpretations to meet radically evolving conditions. In fact, as the world changes and faces a mix of ethical, societal, and environmental challenges, the unique voice of Judaism may be even more pronounced. With an ancient mission to be a light unto the nations, the global movement of Jews committed to tikkun olam is likely to grow—and might even lead Judaism.
Finally, leadership will remain crucial, but it will need to be qualitatively different. Leaders who respond to big-picture challenges and opportunities will determine the fate of the Jewish people in 2065. This will be a dramatic time, perhaps as dramatic as the decades that followed the destruction of the Second Temple. Only then, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai needed to reinvent Judaism in a condition of powerlessness; now we must do so while being a superpower.
In 1898, not many people would have predicted that by 1948, 6 million Jews would be intentionally wiped out. Or that a Jewish state with international recognition would exist in the Jews’ ancestral homeland.
It has always been hard, of course, to predict what might happen in 50 years. But it is even harder to do so today, because the world appears to be speeding up at an ever-increasing pace.
I suspect that many of the political and security problems now facing the Jewish people will become much worse over the next 50 years. The Iran deal, foolishly agreed to by world powers, might lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that will make Israel’s position considerably more precarious. The Islamic State (or similar organizations that might come after it), which like other fascist regimes includes a core component of anti-Semitism in its ideology, will spread beyond its Middle Eastern and North African base. Anti-Semitism in Europe will continue and possibly become worse as memories of the Holocaust fade. And extreme anti-Israelism—that vicious offshoot of traditional anti-Semitism—will spread further among Western liberal elites (and among radical Jews).
Yet in spite of this, I remain an optimist. After all, for thousands of years Jews have survived occasionally genocidal aggression directed against them, forces that some other nations might not have had the resilience to endure.
And Jews are much better equipped to survive over the next 50 years than they were in the past. This is largely thanks to a strong and prosperous Israel, which knows how to defend itself and provides a haven for other Jews should they wish to live there. Indeed, in some ways, Jews are now in a better position to handle future dangers than many others are. It is a complete reversal of the previous situation. The Jews of France can go to Israel, but where can the French go?
Israel has a growing population and vibrant economy. One recent survey rated it the fourth-best country in which to raise a family. Another survey found it to be one of the world’s happiest countries. Most of all, it has a remarkably resilient democracy with a fiercely independent judiciary, media, and NGO sector. As for the military, there has never even been the hint of a coup—as there would have been in many other countries in Israel’s position. As the Middle East disintegrates, Israel will eventually be recognized internationally as a stable force. America and other Western countries may even draw closer to Israel and turn to it for advice and help as the problems of radical Islamism spread.
But if (heaven forbid) future American presidents continue the policies of Barack Obama and distance the United States from Israel, Israel will form closer ties to other world powers, notably China, India, South Korea, and Japan—a shift that is in fact already beginning.
As long as Israel remains strong, and I believe it will, the Jews of the world will be in a much better position in 50 years than they have been in for most of their history. Look at the plight of today’s Kurds or Yazidis, and think of the Jewish past.
Tom Gross is a British-born journalist and foreign-affairs commentator specializing in the Middle East.
I can think of two authors who discerned the future with stunning accuracy. One was Jan Gotlib Bloch, aka Ivan de Bloch, a Polish banker and peace activist, who foretold in Is War Impossible? (a book first published in French in 1898) the chain reaction that was to take place in 1914: a global European war turning into a lethal stalemate, social upheaval, and revolution. Another one is the French right-wing historian Jacques Bainville, who predicted in Les Conséquences politiques de la paix (The Political Consequences of the Peace), an essay published in 1920, why and how the Versailles treaty would lead to a second world war one generation later.
The key to both Bloch’s and Bainville’s effectiveness was that in order to understand how the world might turn in the ensuing years or decades, they devoted much attention to the world as it was in their own time. If we are to apply a similar approach to Jewish life in the coming 50 years, either in America, Israel, or elsewhere, we would be well advised not to ignore some crucial changes that are already under way—especially in the interlinked matters of demography and lifestyle.
In 1939, the population of the world was 1.6 billion, and there were about 17 million Jews: In other terms, Jews accounted for approximately 1 percent of the entire human population. In 1970, 25 years after World War II and the Holocaust, the world population was 3.6 billion and the Jewish population over 12 million: Jews accounted for 0.3 percent only. Today, the world population is estimated at 7.5 billion, and the Jewish population is at 16 million at best: The ratio is only 0.2 percent.
The demographic decline is even more marked in Europe and North America, the two areas that, until now, have been both the major centers of Jewish life and the leading actors in world politics and economics. The global European population, Russia included, was 470 million in 1939, and the Jewish European population was about 10 million: Jews thus amounted to 2.1 percent. Today, the respective figures are 740 million and 1.5 million: The ratio is 0.2 percent. In the United States, where the global population doubled, from 133 million in 1939 to 320 million today, the Jewish population seems to have remained almost at the same level, from 5 million then to about 6 million today: Jews dropped from 3 percent of the American population to less than 2 percent.
Indeed, the spectacular demographic rise of Israeli Jewry, from 600,000 in 1948 to more than 6 million today, has compensated in some ways for the decline elsewhere. On the other hand, much of Israel’s strength and resilience has derived, to this day, from the strength and resilience of the Jewish elites in the West, above all in the United States. It is not clear whether Jewish life in the Diaspora, and Jewish American support for Israel, are sustainable in a dwindling demographic environment.
Which brings us to the even more far-reaching issue of Jewish identity and lifestyle. The Jewish people is currently splitting into sub-currents that have less and less in common. According to a 2013 Pew survey, 9 million adult Americans claim a Jewish heritage, but only a bit more than one half of them (5.3 million) fully identify as Jews, and an even smaller group (4.2 million) identify as Jewish by religion. Then the latter group splits again between a Reform-Conservative majority (about 80 percent of the religious affiliated American Jews) and a small but growing Orthodox minority (20 percent).
According to a 2015 Pew survey, there is a sharp divide between Orthodox and non-Orthodox American Jews on almost every issue, including the actual practice of religion, support for Israel, and American politics. The main difference, however, is in intermarriage. Among the Orthodox, it is still an exception. Among the non-Orthodox, it tends to be the rule. Since only 20 percent of the intermarried Jews are raising their children in the Jewish religion, one wonders whether American Judaism as we know it today is not going to collapse and vanish, to be replaced by a much smaller but much more Orthodox Judaism. Some Orthodox Jews may see it as a blessing in disguise. The overall loss for Jewish life could, however, be unfathomable.
On the face of it, the situation is much more secure in Israel. Most Israeli Jews take their religious affiliation for granted, and one Israeli Jew out of two is following an Orthodox or semi-Orthodox lifestyle. Intermarriage in Israel is low and confined, more often than not, to marriage with Russian Israelis of patrilinear Jewish descent.
But things are actually more complex. If the old divide between secular and religious Israelis tends to recede, new divides are emerging among the Orthodox, between non-Zionist Haredim and Zionist Orthodox, and even between Haredi-leaning Zionist Orthodox and more liberal-leaning Zionist Orthodox. These developments are compounded by the growth, and the growing Israeliness and assertiveness, of non-Jewish groups in Israel—Druze, Israeli Arabs, non-Jewish Asian or African immigrants, non-Jewish Russian immigrants—who by now amount to more than 20 percent of the 8.3 million Israeli citizens.
It is not unlikely at all that Jewish and non-Jewish subgroups in Israel will enter into strange new alignments in the coming decades. Some Haredim are considering a complete secession from the present Israeli society and tactical alliances with the Israeli Arabs. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party is explicitly advocating a closer alliance between religious and secular Zionists, but he is also supporting a more thorough integration and Hebraization of the Israeli Arabs. The center and left parties think of even more diverse coalitions.
Indeed, trends can be adjusted or reversed. And the Jewish people have usually been very good at that. Still, one should heed some warnings.
Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think tank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum. He sits on the board of governors of Consistoire, the National Union of French Synagogues.
Yossi Klein Halevi
Fifty years from now, the Jews will either become a God-centered people again or Judaism will be a dying faith.
One of the great Jewish casualties of modernity has been Judaism. The God-centered faith of the Jewish past has scarcely survived the combined onslaught of the European Enlightenment, the Holocaust, Americanization, Soviet Communism, and secular Zionism. Today Jewishness is about peoplehood, ritual observance, Torah study, tikkun olam, Zionism, defense against anti-Semitism—everything but God. Each of those facets of contemporary Jewish life is worthy in itself. None of them—including ritual observance and Torah study—necessarily involves a conscious relationship with God.
Re-sacralizing the Jewish people—restoring God to the center of Jewish life—involves two simultaneous processes. The first is placing God back at the center of our communal religious life, so that the primary purpose of prayer, for example, will no longer be strengthening Jewish community but establishing a living link with God. The second is defining the goal of a religious Jewish life as the creation of a personal connection with the Divine. In other words, Judaism would become religious again.
Jewish religious institutions of the future will be centers for spiritual growth, focusing on the refinement of one’s personality and traits, with special emphasis on Jewish meditation techniques. The explicit goal will be attaining a direct experience of the Divine Presence. Such institutions existed throughout premodern Jewish history—in ancient times as schools of the prophets, in medieval times, as schools of the kabbalists.
The Judaic schools of the future will produce an old/new kind of religious leader, whose authority will come from his or her ability to speak from personal spiritual experience. The emphasis will no longer be on faith but knowledge—no longer believing in God but knowing God.
Unlike previous Jewish schools for mystical development, the new schools will include exposure to the wisdom of other faiths. The next step in the evolution of the interfaith encounter will be shifting from dialogue to shared spiritual experience. Interfaith will become a great spiritual adventure, providing access to one another’s inner worlds.
The future schools of Jewish wisdom will produce leaders able to both teach the seekers of other faiths and learn from them.
The schools will most likely be based in the land of Israel. The Jewish return home has created both the need and the possibility for a deep renewal of the Jewish spiritual tradition. Students will come from the Diaspora and return home to energize their communities. In that way the prophesy will be fulfilled: “From Zion will come forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem.”
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where he co-directs the Muslim Leadership Initiative. His book Like Dreamers won the Jewish Book Council’s 2013 Everett Book of the Year Award.
Let me be honest. I have no clue what the Jewish condition will be in the year 2065. In fact, I am hard-pressed to predict what things will look like tomorrow.
Indeed, had I been asked to participate in a similar Commentary symposium in 1965, could I have foreseen the Six-Day War only two years later, and its aftermath?
Or the astonishing success of the Soviet Jewry movement at a time when the word emigration was absent from the Kremlin’s lexicon?
Or the downfall of the USSR and its satellites, and the rebirth of Jewish communities in places where Jewish life was assumed to be nearing its end? Or, on a related note, that nations such as Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania would one day speak of Israel as a “strategic” partner?
Or that Germany would become the home of the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world?
Or that Israel would sign peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994?
Or the remarkable flourishing of U.S.-Israeli relations, even as France’s close ties with Israel withered?
Or the recrudescence of anti-Semitism in Western Europe, fueled principally by elements of a growing Muslim presence and an extreme right-wing backlash to this immigration?
Or Israel’s population more than tripling from 2.5 million to more than 8 million?
Or the rescue of tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, who for centuries dreamed of Zion but, in their isolation, thought they might be the only Jews on Earth?
Or the toppling of the remaining barriers to full Jewish participation in American life, with Fortune 500 executive suites, Ivy League presidencies, and presidential candidacies now wide open to Jews?
Or Israel’s foreign-policy pivot to Asia, with India as a showcase of new friendships?
Or the emergence of the Internet, creating previously unimaginable forms of Jewish connectivity, JDate among them?
Or the ordaining of women rabbis, the establishment of LGBT-friendly congregations, or the development of Chabad’s worldwide outreach network?
No, I could not have foreseen these startling developments in 1965.
So what is even remotely foreseeable from today’s vantage point?
First, Israel will continue to grow and thrive. True, the religious, social, and ethnic fault lines in Israeli society will not suddenly disappear. But the state will somehow manage them and blaze a trail in the 21st century as a global, sought-after leader in entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, water management, counterterrorism, renewable energy, medical research, and breakthrough technologies.
Second, while Israel’s neighborhood might possibly improve one day, affording new opportunities for regional cooperation, in the meantime the Jewish state will be ready for whatever ominous new threats surface from both state and non-state actors. As the story goes, God was so angry with the world that he announced, in two weeks’ time, a massive flood as punishment. On hearing this news, the French president told his citizens that the world would come to an end in 14 days, so there would be no more work, just joie de vivre, until the last minute. Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister informed the Israeli people that “we have exactly two weeks to learn how to live underwater.”
Third, the universal vaccine against anti-Semitism is unlikely to be discovered by 2065. For a while, many thought that post–World War II liberal democracy was the antidote, but the rise of Judeophobia in several Western countries, abetted by the receding memory of the Holocaust and its lessons, means that all bets are off.
Fourth, America’s special ties with Israel will come under increasing challenge. There are seismic demographic changes happening in the United States, many college students are being exposed to the BDS movement on campus, and, with the passage of time, fewer Americans are able to recall the events of 1967 and how Israel unexpectedly became an “occupying power.” Absent an Israeli–Palestinian peace accord, the battle for American public opinion will grow still more intense.
Fifth, even as Jews confront the inevitable external challenges, there will be no shortage of internal debates and divisions that stretch the notion of am echad, “one people,” to the breaking point. To cite just one telling example, the fast-growing Haredi population at one end of the spectrum will be matched by the equally fast-growing population of Jews with an attenuated identity, two groups with essentially nothing in common. Then again, we’ve just about always been an argumentative and fractured people, sometimes, alas, to the point of self-destruction, so why should that suddenly change?
And sixth, in 2065, Commentary will hold a symposium on the next 50 years of Jewish life, and the magazine will have no difficulty identifying another group of contributors willing to ignore the late Yogi Berra’s sage words: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
Prognostications can be alarming or comforting. No one wants to say “it depends.” But increasingly, I believe that “it depends” is the only meaningful answer to the question of where the Jewish people will be in 50 years. It depends upon how we answer a different question: “What transmits?” What of how we define our community can and will transmit to our children and to theirs? In my experience, what transmits is a sense of community propelled by shared values centered around the guiding principles of Torah. But in order to create this Jewish future worth having, we must renew our commitment to mutual respect and tolerance. Differences will abound, including differences on principle. Debate and even schism will continue. But the prerequisite for peoplehood requires that we practice respect and tolerance. This commitment doesn’t happen by itself but is one that we strengthen and nurture together. We Jews are a family whose ideologies and passions differ tremendously on matters of policy, politics, social issues, and even faith. But we must learn to disagree agreeably. Our sense of peoplehood depends on it.
The age of diversity is upon us. We needn’t debate whether it’s a value or a condition; it is a reality of the current state of Western civilization. While there are goods that come from it, challenges also abound. It is harder to make peoplehood meaningful without education leading to a shared sense of history and (I daresay) destiny, language, values, practice, and faith. It is important for organizations such as Yeshiva University to continue to produce leaders of texture. It is also important that Jewish education, both formal and experiential, be proffered to Jews of diverse backgrounds, leanings, and aspirations. Birthright is a valuable inoculation of peoplehood, but not sufficient to sustain it. Jewish camping, in whatever type of program, is important. Day schools, a renewed congregational-school structure, and continuing education are simply necessities. Israel, the idea and reality, must remain a core element in the story of the Jews.
I believe that in the future modern Orthodoxy will have to play a larger role in working for and with the broader Jewish community. In all denominations, those who are learned and passionate must seek to accept greater responsibility for serving and leading our community in all its dimensions. We are increasingly a community of communities and should treat that as a strength.
Finally, the federation system remains a necessary organizer of the community. Beyond a community chest, it needs to be the skeletal structure of the body politic of the Jewish people.
I know we always look for radical solutions. Perhaps it’s radical to restate truths that are difficult but truths nonetheless.
But I must return to my premise: We need to behave civilly, to disagree agreeably, and to accept people as created in the image of G-d. It can’t go without saying, because it all too often does.
Our sages in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, teach that the First Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed. The story of the second destruction, in this oft-quoted Talmudic passage, is more complex. It attributes this destruction to sinat chinam, or “baseless hatred.” Of course, we disagree with one another over what we believe are causes of principle. But how do we disagree? Hatred is baseless. It is cynical, it destroys, and it suffocates the light. Disagreement can be in the name of Heaven. Our differences are no excuse for the disdain of others. We can disagree agreeably.
The answer that our condition in 50 years will be self-determined is not wholly true, but it is largely so. Will we be a people divided by our politics, our religious views, and our backgrounds, or will we be a people of diversity and common commitment, with some common boundaries? I hope and believe we can be the latter. We strive not for uniformity but for unity. Uniformity is not achievable and is not the goal anyway. Unity, on the other hand, is not just a nicety but our oxygen. Without it we choke; with it we stride purposefully into the future.
Richard Joel is president of Yeshiva University.
Contemporary trends might not persist, and all bets are off in the case of plague or nuclear holocaust. But, barring such a disaster, I expect that in 2065 our international Jewish community will be fragmented among three sectors: the Amish; Jewish human beings; and descendants of Jews, who sporadically use Jewish technology. Each group will articulate a unique approach to what Judaism means.
You can’t miss the Amish. Ultra-Orthodox Jews will continue to reproduce at very high rates and reproduce their culture both among the home-born and others attracted to their all-consuming way of life.
Amish life requires ever more rigid enclaves, which will be partly physical and concentrated in homogenous neighborhoods. But the most important boundaries are ideological, walling off “authentic” Judaism from society’s contaminating influences. Being an Amish Jew means not only wearing the uniform and speaking the language, but also greatly, exclusively valuing Jewish tradition, which is by definition the only right way to live. The Amish don’t waste time on goyish books when there is Talmud to be studied, and don’t apply goyish values to inherited norms, putatively unchanged since God gave them. Perfect Jewish life cannot be attained in the diverse world; it requires retreating to a monochromatic micro-community. Fifty years hence, a huge percentage of those remaining Jews will join them behind these walls. But they will be irrelevant, since they will obsess over halakhic minutiae, like microscopic biota in the water, but have nothing to say about the wider world beyond Jewish observance.
Next will be the Jewish human beings. This demanding path aspires to remain faithfully Jewish by recognizing that our tradition is one particular response to universal questions. Jewish human beings know that Judaism is not the world’s only religion, yet it is the only one they follow; that Am Israel is not the world’s only nation, yet it is their family.
Jewish human beings will actually practice Judaism, behaving along a spectrum stretching from liberal Orthodoxy to reasonably traditional Reform. They will mark Shabbat and holidays, perform ethical commandments, and eat with discipline. They will study Jewish texts and worship in Hebrew. They will belong to Am Israel globally and locally. They will share memories of a past and a vision of the future, or in Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s terms, “covenants of fate and destiny.” The next decades will be religiously fruitful for Jewish human beings, as they apply inherited religion to changing society. Because this path is intellectually and spiritually demanding, there may not be too many Jewish human beings, at least in North America. But it is the only path worth walking.
Finally, there will be descendants of Jews, people with a Jewish grandparent or two, who sporadically use Jewish technology. Massive exogamy and defections of the home-born prevent me from being too sanguine about how many Americans will identify as Jews in 2065. Already more than 2 million have a Jewish parent but do not consider themselves Jews. Presumably that number will grow.
I envision the descendants of Jews espousing two values I find difficult to affirm. First, Jewish identity will be increasingly post-ethnic. Twenty-first-century Americans will consider identity an evolving and malleable mélange of influences, something we adopt, reorient, and shed, not something stably ascribed based on one’s ancestral culture. Descendants of Jews—especially those who also have grandparents from other cultures—are unlikely to feel that they share a “covenant of fate” with other Jews. As Shaul Magid argues in his book American Post-Judaism, many won’t consider themselves members of an ethnos at all.
But—thanks to the pintele yid within and the inherent power of this magnificent tradition—many will still behave as Jews, at least sporadically. Some will eat matzah at seders with (deracinated) Jewish themes. They’ll do tikkun olam. Some will be moved to tears by the shofar. Many will marry beneath a chuppah, perhaps in ceremonies combining Jewish elements with other faith traditions. But probably they will view these as—in a phrase we hear nowadays—“spiritual technologies.” As with Yelp or WhatsApp, a great app can enhance your life. Judaism’s best apps will inspire, illuminate, and challenge, like a Thich Nhat Hanh book or a meditation. But using awesome technology is probably insufficient to structure a textured identity or connect people to a “covenant of destiny.” I expect most descendants of Jews will not choose to be Jews themselves. But at least some will be Jew-ish, which is better than nothing. So we Jewish human beings will leave the light on for you.
Jewish life, whether in the general community of Jews or in any particular community of Jews, takes place under the roof of an “existential triangle.” In its vertices are the three major ingredients of contemporary Jewish existence: people, religion, and the State of Israel. Each vertex of the existential triangle is a whole world, but at present we are interested in just two of its components, namely its ideals and its present historical processes. The logic of our brief discussion will, then, be this: Given the present historical processes that take place under a vertex of the existential triangle, to what extent will its ideal be significantly implemented during the coming 50 years?
We start our survey near the vertex of the State of Israel, which is the youngest among the three vertices and in a sense the clearest. The independence of the state was proclaimed in 1948, but it is still in the process of being established as a fully fledged state. The ideal is fourfold: (1) to take the Jews out of Exile; (2) to take the Exile out of the Jews, i.e., to instill into the practices of Israeli Jews a sense of responsibility, not only to what happens in the natural self, family, and community spheres, but also in the national one; (3) to establish the internal constitutional, institutional, and cultural framework of the democratic nation-state of the Jews; and (4) to establish the external conditions of peaceful coexistence with all neighboring states and peoples.
Israeli society has been undergoing three important historical processes, among others. On a societal level, there have been integration processes of significant minorities into many parts of Israeli society. The Druze are almost fully integrated, whereas the ultra-Orthodox minority and the Arab minority have already made large steps in their integration processes. On a cultural level, the borders have been blurred between religious and nonreligious forms of life.
Elements of religious traditions are in the process of becoming natural elements in the culture of nonobservant persons. On a political level, a mixture of views, previously ascribed either to the left or to the right, is in the process of becoming dominant for most of the left, the center, and the right: The two-state solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the only justifiable and reliable one, and the future borders are not going to be those of 1967 but ones that include settlement clusters within Israel.
Given these processes, a 50-years extrapolation will give us reasons to assume that part four of the ideal, peaceful coexistence, will be significantly closer to having been obtained. As a result, Israel will become more attractive than it was, and part one of the ideal, taking the Jews out of exile, will be significantly closer to a satisfactory level, which has never meant full implementation.
The historical processes of minority integration and cultural mixture facilitate a process of shaping the nature of Israel as both a full democracy of high moral and ethical standards and a nation-state of the Jews, which takes on the responsibility to secure Jewish existence, continuity, and cultural advancement everywhere. Part three of the ideal of Israel, shaping the internal framework, will thus be practically completed. Part two of the ideal, instilling a sense of national responsibility, will probably stay the way it is, kept intact by the historical processes we mentioned. Many men and women shoulder the State of Israel, in a most impressive manner, while many confine their national responsibility to being law-abiding citizens. This probably, but unfortunately, seems to be the natural distribution of responsibility among citizens of any new state and society.
What will happen in the existential triangle under the vertex of Israel will have much impact on what happens under the vertex of the Jewish people. It may be assumed that the historical developments of Israel will significantly weaken Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments. The Jewish life everywhere will thus be less problematic in major respects. The people’s ideal of survival and continuity will obtain.
Nothing much happens under a religious vertex during a half-century, all the more so when under consideration are denominations of entrenched defensive conservatism. One may assume that most religious denominations, particularly those whose major residence is in Israel, will get rid of much of their defensive nature and get used to the idea that by and large they do not have real enemies, but only well-meaning neighbors who insist on having their own different Jewish identities. The religious ideals will remain the same, secure, and unfulfilled.
Asa Kasher is Laura Schwarz-Kipp Professor Emeritus of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice and professor emeritus of philosophy at Tel Aviv University.
Ibelieve Judaism will be thriving in 2065. I say this not because of any profound analysis but because I cannot bear to imagine what it would mean for our lives if it is not. Perhaps it is better to say that Jews should be thriving, as Judaism means so many different things to different people. My own background and beliefs lead me away from institutions and faith and to dream of a 2065 in which every individual who identifies as a Jew, and who is identified as a Jew, is treated with respect and lives in peace.
Of course this is also my desire for everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike—to have the individual freedom and rights modern society has struggled to attain. But to say that Jews will have obtained freedom from hatred and prejudice by 2065 means that our world will have come very far toward our goals as a society. For if Jews are thriving and living without fear everywhere in 2065, then democracy and liberty are thriving everywhere.
This equation is based on the simple and terrible fact that Jews have long been the canaries in the coal mines of human rights, dictatorship, and war. Jews and Israel are still primary targets of terrorists and dictatorships, from supermarket murderers in France to the brutal authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and all the way to the Kremlin. Anti-Semitism today, whether religious fundamentalism or cynical political exploitation, is rife among the forces of anti-modernity, the “time travelers” who wish to turn back the clock of human progress.
The ongoing resurgence of violence against Jews in supposedly liberal and free Europe indicates the dangers of complacency even in the most unlikely places. The Obama White House is more hospitable toward the sworn enemies of Israel (and of America) than any U.S. administration in history has been. The accelerating trend is to move away from the values of liberty and the policies of strength and deterrence that won the Cold War. Into this vacuum have stepped the dictators, the radical mullahs, and the proverbial barbarian hordes of ISIS—along with their acolytes and admirers in the free world. As just enough U.S. senators lined up along partisan lines to support Obama’s terrible Iran deal against a veto, the Democrats need to ask themselves if they are going to step into this historical turning point as the party of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton or of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.
It is no doubt as politically incorrect to openly correlate the principles of modern civilizational progress with the success of Judaism as it is to call them “Western” values, but I’m afraid we cannot withstand much more correctness at the expense of these principles. The only way to reverse our dangerous course is to speak out and fight without quarter against the moral equivalence that is as much an existential threat as guns and bombs.
As for the question of whether or not Judaism may suffer defeat through victory via assimilation and harmony, I have trouble seeing this as a threat. If the forces of modernity and freedom triumph, leaving the Jews of 2065 no longer targets of a unifying hatred, should we object? The ideas of man are not eternal, not even the oldest and most powerful ones. Judaism is not a mathematical truth that will outlive our species. The negative pressures of ignorance, bigotry, and violence can be replaced with the positive forces of education, community, and tradition. If the victory of tolerance and democracy comes at the cost of losing that part of one’s identity associated with prejudice and the threat of genocide, then I look forward to celebrating my 102nd birthday in such a world.
Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion, is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and the author of Winter Is Coming.
Morton A. Klein
Fifty years from now, the Jewish community will be thriving; Israel will be in the midst of a golden age. Israel and the Jewish people will have prevailed over threats experienced today and in the near future. Worsening anti-Semitism during the next half-century’s initial years will be followed by a stronger, more united Jewish community.
The Iranian nuclear threat will have been dealt with. During the first few years of the next half-century, Iran will continue moving toward nuclear-weapons capability and developing missile-delivery systems. But Israel will destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability—something that Israel has spent years training for. A new U.S. president may assist this effort.
During the initial decades of this 50-year period, competing radical Islamic groups will wage internecine warfare, wreaking an enormous toll on the lives and economies of many of Israel’s neighbors, creating nightmarish conditions, and reducing these countries’ capacities to harm Israel. Arab nations and economies will collapse.
In Europe, the large influx of Muslim migrants will continue to bring instability, increased anti-Semitism, and economic weakness. These conditions will also cause a dramatic increase in aliyah to Israel (and result in smaller, weaker Jewish communities in Europe). Likewise, faced with growing anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses and a weakening American economy, more American students will attend college in Israel, and more American families will make aliyah. The rise in aliyah will greatly strengthen Israel by 2065.
Israel will emerge as one of the world’s strongest, most stable economies. The world’s voracious appetite for Israel’s high-tech products will lead to greater reliance on Israeli inventions and industries. Haredi communities will continue joining Israel’s high-tech sector, becoming a positive economic force.
Current Jewish population trends will hold, significantly transforming the Jewish community’s composition. Orthodox Jews will continue having large families; by 2065, the Orthodox Jewish population will be proportionately and numerically far larger than it is today. By contrast, the numbers of secular and non-Orthodox Jews will decline, due to extremely low birthrates, intermarriage, and “drop outs” from the community.
This shift toward Orthodox Jews will ensure an increasing proportion of Jews who are highly committed to Israel. Orthodox army officers—who today already are 40 percent of Israel’s officers—will predominate. In the United States, increased Orthodox Jewry will change Jewish voting patterns. In 50 years, politically conservative and Republican Jews will have grown to be approximately equal in number to their liberal brethren.
Israel and the Jewish community at large will also have developed and enhanced important alliances by 2065. China will become an even larger trading partner with Israel. Alliances with moderate Muslim states that face common enemies will have continued to develop. Today’s small cadre of moderate, pro-Israel Muslim intellectuals, working to redefine Islam in a nonviolent manner, will have expanded their work and enabled new alliances to form.
And, in the wake of radical Islamic terrorists’ brutality toward Christians and others, Christians and others will increasingly see Israel as their only true friend in the Middle East, a beacon of tolerance, light, and stability in a barbaric world. After facing the reality of radical Muslim onslaughts that seek to destroy the Western way of life and impose Sharia on non-Muslim countries, non-Muslim nations will turn against radical Muslims and their states and recognize Israel as an important ally. BDS will collapse. The world’s Christians and Jews will enjoy an unprecedentedly strong alliance.
The Jewish people—and the world—will have also realized that appeasement of radical Islamic terrorists only encourages more terror. Israelis will better understand that concessions such as evacuating Jewish communities from Gaza, empowering and bringing the PLO into Judea/Samaria under the Oslo accords, releasing from prison terrorists convicted of murdering Jews, only led to more terror. Violence in Europe and elsewhere will lead to an appreciation of Winston Churchill’s warning: “Those who appease the crocodile will simply be eaten last.”
In every generation, as the Passover Haggadah foresees, enemies will rise up against the Jewish people, but each time we will overcome our enemies and prevail. We have always emerged to rebuild and become stronger than before. Fifty years from now will be a time of regeneration, hope, new opportunities, and stronger Jewish communities.
The Torah promises that the Jewish people will be an eternal people. Unlike politicians, G-d keeps his promises.
Jerusalem, 2065. I’m surprised and grateful to still be alive.
The most dramatic change in Jewish demographics and culture during my lifetime has been the almost complete disappearance of Jewish communities outside of Israel. Europe went first. In the equilibrium between Christians and Muslims that emerged from the resurgence of Christianity in Europe in the 2020s, the right to persecute European Jews proved to be a negotiable commodity. By the time the Second Treaty of Westphalia (Faliyye al-Gharbiyye), dividing Europe into Christian and Muslim territories, was signed in 2048, the last remnants of Europe’s Jews had emigrated or converted.
The Jewish sojourn in the United States wound down in a somewhat different manner. Early on, the breakdown of traditional religion in most of the country presented increasingly significant challenges to the synthesis of Judaism and general culture. By the 2030s, all traditional sex taboos had been sublimated as food fetishes and public calls for restoring them had been criminalized. Loyalty to family, community, and nation had been replaced, for enlightened Americans, by devotion to a worldwide social network committed to patronizing the oppressed enemies of civilization and perpetuating the doctrines of the progressive faith. Since this new faith proved especially intolerant of the atavistic religious traditions it believed it was destined to supersede, those Jews who chose to maintain their distinct ethnic and religious identity were forced to build ever higher walls between themselves and their (real and virtual) neighbors.
As the social cost of self-segregation increased, the number of American Jews prepared to pay the price diminished accordingly. Many moved to Israel, and most of the rest assimilated, including those who had insisted that the new progressive faith was a purer expression of authentic Judaism than authentic Judaism was. These days the last remaining unassimilated Jews in the United States belong to several dozen Hasidic sects currently in litigation over the Satmar brand and a chain of messianic mega-shuls in the South founded by a philo-Semitic evangelical denomination that converted to Judaism en masse via an enterprising Chabad rabbi.
The Diaspora’s loss has been Israel’s gain. Islam’s struggle to destroy Israel has been largely defeated. Key contributing factors were the anti-Islamic awakening in Europe and the rapid emergence of algae as an inexhaustible alternative energy source. No less significant, however, was the ascendancy of technology as the decisive factor in warfare. Israel’s superiority in this area culminated in Iran’s bungled attempt in 2030 to detonate a nuclear device which resulted in a mile-wide crater where the city of Qom once stood, a failure widely attributed to Israeli sabotage and a great embarrassment to the Americans who had guaranteed they would prevent such sabotage.
But the difference between Israel today and Israel 50 years ago is not limited to the subjugation of kingdoms; indeed, it is mainly cultural. For the current generation of Israelis, Israel is a home, not a principle. As a result, they no longer expect the state to perform tasks better left to Jewish civil society. The state rabbinate, disbanded in the 2030s, is fondly forgotten. Judaism is the dominant culture in Israeli society, and consequently its practice is fluent and natural and less focused on exotic stringencies and haberdashery and other such costly loyalty signals. Jewish law is only lightly legislated, but widely studied and practiced. Jewish religious denominations no longer exist; individuals simply find their place along a continuum of options from deeply committed to slightly bemused. Non-Jews hold no special fascination for today’s Jews; they are neither feared nor envied.
It is the year 5825 and, in the eyes of this ancient Jew, the Jews are disconcertingly normal.
Moshe Koppel is a professor of computer science at Bar-Ilan University and chairman of the Kohelet Policy Forum.
The phrase “Jewish history” is misleading. There is only history, of which the Jews are a part, sometimes as movers, other times as objects, too often as victims. The Jews of Europe were destroyed because a force arose that nearly destroyed all of Europe in a total war. The Jews of America have prospered because America has prospered, thanks to its mastery of democracy and capitalism. The Jews of Russia were freed because all of Russia freed itself from Soviet Communism.
World-historical forces have made “Jewish history” as much as the Jews have made it, if not more.
Those forces made it in 1948 as well. The 600,000 Jews who created the State of Israel showed incredible grit. But they never would have succeeded had the Arabs not been debilitated and divided. Israel arose at an opportune moment, when the Arabs were still reeling from colonialism. That weakness has persisted to our very day and has manifested itself in our time in an Arab civil war. But by 2065, the Arabs will be a full century into postcolonial independence. Is it possible that they might finally be poised to destroy Israel, perhaps with the help of other Muslims, such as Iran?
“Israel is indestructible,” former Mossad head Efraim Halevy has said time and again. “I believe that Israel has a sufficient capability, both offensive and defensive, to take care of any threat, including the Iranian threat.” This is true—for now. But as Halevy has repeated again and again (in the debate on the Iran nuclear deal), “10 years is an eternity in the Middle East.” Israel has enjoyed a widening advantage over its adversaries since its establishment, especially since 1967. It is the inherent advantage of the West over the East. But might 50 years—Halevy’s eternity multiplied by five—be enough to erode or overturn it?
This is certainly the Palestinian-Arab view of Israel. According to a recent poll, more than half of Gazans and almost 40 percent of West Bankers think Israel will no longer exist at all in 30 to 40 years. They are about evenly split between those who think that Israel “will collapse from internal contradictions” and those who expect that “Arab or Muslim resistance will destroy it.” Ask them if Israel will exist as a Jewish state in a century, and the percentage of those who answer yes falls almost to single digits. This is the persistent idea of Israel as a Crusader outpost, fated to dissipate as a reunited Islam recovers and recoups its losses.
Over the next 50 years, Israel by its actions must show, decade after decade, that it is the Arabs, including the Palestinians, who have the most to fear from the future, unless and until they recognize Israel’s durable permanence. They are only halfway there. Two states bordering Israel have made a grudging peace, but Islamists, Sunni and Shiite, still think they can whittle down Israeli sovereignty by a thousand cuts. These are the people whom Israel must defeat and demoralize over the next 50 years. Forty years ago, in January 1976, Bernard Lewis accurately predicted “The Return of Islam” in these pages. The retreat of Islam as a radical political force is something that Israel must work to effect, by causing it to fail as thoroughly as Arab nationalism failed in 1967.
Because the Jews are now fully sovereign, they can act on history in ways once unimaginable, and Israel has the potential and the imperative to make history for others. It must plan to bend the arc of the Middle East yet again, in its favor. If Israel is to be secure, let alone flourish, it will have no choice.
Martin Kramer is the president of Shalem College in Jerusalem.
What will Jews, Jewry, and Judaism look like in 2065?
I’ll spare the reader the usual protestations about how difficult it is to make predictions and simply make them. Assertions as aids to thought are underrated.
In 2065, there will be enough Jews. It’s true that intermarriage and assimilation will continue on course, but two factors will more than compensate: a high birthrate among the religious and the emergence of a major phenomenon, the “New Jews,” reflecting a large number of conversions to Judaism from both the secular world and Christianity. And the newer Jews will on the whole be better Jews.
In 2065, world Jewry will be concentrated in Israel and America. America will be presiding over a “New American Century,” with a democratic China and India as key allies in maintaining a world order that is friendly to liberty. “New Israel,” freed of the delusions of utopian liberalism on the one hand and the dispiriting dominance of the rabbinate on the other, will be flourishing as a Jewish and democratic state. It will have successfully absorbed much of Judea and Samaria, enjoy strong regional allies in liberal democratic Iran and Egypt, and will have a not-too-dysfunctional Palestinian state existing next door in Jordan. The path to this happy outcome will not have been smooth, and the degeneration of much of Europe into an archipelago of well-preserved museum pieces amid a sea of low-grade chaos will be much lamented. But Western civilization will have learned to flourish without Europe at its center.
In 2065, Judaism will be strong, despite the fact that the two dominant Judaic strains of recent centuries, rabbinic and prophetic Judaism, will be in crisis. But thanks to a renaissance of several older Judaic traditions—biblical Judaism, historical and Zionist Judaism, and philosophic Judaism among them—what will be called “New Judaism” will be a vibrant and compelling force in the civilized world.
That’s my prophecy.
William Kristol is editor of the Weekly Standard.
Jay P. Lefkowitz
Predictions, especially those forecasting half-a-century into the future, should be made with great humility. On the day that Lord Balfour first expressed his support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, who would have predicted that 50 years later, a Jewish army would roundly defeat a coordinated attack on the Jewish state by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq and recapture the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in 2,000 years?
But with that caveat, here is my forecast: In 50 years, the American Jewish community will be much more divided, along religious and political lines, than it is today. As to religious life, we are seeing an explosive birthrate within the Orthodox community and especially among the ultra-Orthodox, who already constitute about 70 percent of Orthodox Jews, and whose population is expected to more than double in the next 20 years. Already, in New York City, more than half of Jewish children under 18 are being raised in Haredi homes. At the same time, the non-Orthodox Jewish community continues to shrink from a below-replacement birthrate (1.3 children per woman) and an intermarriage rate in excess of 70 percent. Thus, the center of gravity in the Jewish community will be significantly more observant. Most problematic, however, is that the two segments of the community are likely to grow further and further apart in the coming years because the ultra-Orthodox do not accept patrilineal descent and do not consider many of the secular Jews, especially those who are the products of intermarriage or non-Orthodox conversions, to be Jewish. Indeed, the oft-cited Pew report of 2013 observed that the second-largest-growing segment of the Jewish community is what it described as Jews of no religion—people who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” but who were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent or grandparent and still consider themselves Jewish aside from religion.
The growing bifurcation of American Jewry along religious lines poses a serious danger to the fabric of the American Jewish community. For the past 150 years, American Jews have sustained a broad network of organizations that have supported local Jewish communities and provided assistance to Jews around the world. It remains to be seen whether the next generation’s American Jewish community will feel a similar sense of broad, communal obligation. The non-Orthodox are gradually melting into the mainstream of secular America. And the ultra-Orthodox might over time come to resemble the Amish, who live deeply religious lives in insular communities largely detached from the American mainstream. That’s a perilous situation for a minority community that has always benefited from a synergy between the Orthodox and the nonobservant secular or cultural Jews.
Just as there will be a growing divide within the Jewish community along religious lines, there will also be a growing political divide. The Jewish community has been highly influential in the United States in large measure due to its enormous success. Despite making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, American Jews account for a vastly disproportionate percentage of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans and Fortune 500 CEOs, a third of the current Supreme Court, about a third of American Nobel laureates. And for most of the last half-century, support for Israel was the dominant unifying force in the Jewish community, even as most Jews voted for Democrats. Today, however, support for Israel is beginning to fracture, with significant portions of the American left becoming decidedly less friendly to Israel. While the Pew survey showed that a clear majority of American Jews say they are committed to Israel (a statistic largely unchanged over the past 15 years), it is unclear whether this level of support will continue given that the Pew survey revealed that almost half of American Jews don’t believe Israel is making a sincere effort to make peace with the Palestinians. This political divide has ominous implications for Israel. An indication of the rough waters that lie ahead was AIPAC’s effort to persuade members of Congress to oppose President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, an effort that failed even among most Jewish members of Congress, as the New York Times gleefully pointed out.
I am confident my children and grandchildren will still have vibrant American Jewish communities in which to live in 50 years. After all, Jews have survived far greater depredations in nearly every century than I anticipate the next 50 years will bring, at least in America. But the character of American Jewry will certainly change significantly over the next 50 years. And the likely result is that even if the community is roughly the same size, it will be more fractured, less successful, and less influential.
Jay P. Lefkowitz is a partner in private practice in New York and a member of Commentary’s board of directors.
Jon D. Levenson
What will be different about Jewish identity in 2065?
In the premodern world, Jewishness exhibited a unity that modernity has fractured, raising the now familiar question of whether the Jews constitute a religion, an ethnic group, a nation in exile, a culture, or whatever. With the ostensible discrediting of traditional religion by modern discoveries (especially scientific, philological, and archaeological), the ethnic and national definitions of Jewishness increasingly came to the fore. The Holocaust, which targeted persons of Jewish descent regardless of their religious identity, seemed to add credibility to the perception that ethnic belonging was essential but religious belief and practice were matters of only private concern, as indeed they are in modern Western states. That the Jewish state is not (at least in principle) biased toward or against religious practitioners is further evidence of the same change.
Evidence is mounting, however, that throughout the West, ethnicity and nationalism in general are now themselves in sharp decline. In America, there has been a massive elision of ethnic demarcations, evident in the enormous increase in intermarriage of all sorts: The Melting Pot has never worked better. A number of trends now influential among intellectuals reflect and reinforce the same development: a high estimation of cultural hybridity, a loss of the sense of natural meanings, the assumption that one’s individual self-definition is beyond critique, and an instinctive equation of patriotism with jingoism and of most group identities with prejudice, to name a few.
The Jewish implications are clear. Just as modernity saw the perception of the reality of God and the authority of Torah dramatically recede, so are we now witnessing an analogous diminishment of the social and cultural force of various secular ideas of Jewish peoplehood. Considering the high degree of acculturation among American Jews, this is hardly surprising. There is only so far that the Jewish community can travel on the residual momentum of a thick culture that for most American Jews is now three or four generations in the past. Even the emotional impact of the Holocaust will decrease when the event will have occurred in the time not of one’s parents or theirs, but of one’s great-great-grandparents.
Some may argue that the State of Israel is immune to these trends, and it is hard not to be impressed by the intense patriotism and sense of collective purpose evident among most Israelis. I suspect, though, that such traits are most common when states are young or beleaguered, and Israel has always been both. When the country is well over a hundred years old and if its relations with its neighbors normalize—could there be a larger if?—it is not hard to imagine the same worrisome dynamics gaining ground there as well. The Israeli post-Zionists may be a harbinger of things to come.
One great challenge the Jewish community might face in 2065, then, is recovering an intellectually defensible and encompassing vision of truth manifested in a system of practice that reinforces a distinctive identity. Barring the always possible resurgence of racial anti-Semitism, it is unlikely that heavy reliance on an ascribed status based on family origin will bear much fruit. What is needed is the achieved status that comes from an active and transmissible life regimen. If the new focus is authentic to the larger Jewish tradition, it will result in a dramatic reconfiguration of the demographic profile of American Jewry. Those groups that have convinced American Jews that the Jewish ethical tradition largely coincides with the progressivist social agenda are likely to atrophy because of their phenomenal success at doing exactly that. In particular, those who have accepted the sexual revolution and its various ramifications will face one of its grimmer consequences: a birthrate ominously below the replacement level.
Analogously, Jewish conservatives who hold an instrumental view of religion, treating it as useful to their causes and avoiding the nettlesome questions of theological meaning and personal practice, may find themselves wondering why a disproportionate number of those who agree with them were formed in ritually observant households.
To a significant degree, a new holistic conception of Jewish identity would be a return to the premodern model, but the formidable intellectual and practical challenges that modernity poses will remain. For most Jews, avoidance of the issues, reinforced by social isolation, will not be an option. But neither the concept of tradition nor that of modernity is so fixed as to eliminate the possibility of a new and more creative engagement of the two a half-century hence.
Jon D. Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard. His latest book is The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism.
Hal M. Lewis
As Kohelet, the book of Ecclesiastes, teaches, “the making of books is without limit.” The same, it must be said, is true about the making of predictions. One speculates about something as suppositional as the condition of the Jewish community 50 years hence with great humility. Doing so, however, is not entirely creatio ex nihilo. Trends already in evidence provide useful insight as to where we could be five decades from now.
I study, teach, and write about Jewish organizational leadership. It is safe to say that in 2065 the world of Jewish organizations will be very different from the contemporary experience. Declines in affiliation, memberships, and denominationalism—which have been long apparent—will become the new normal. Indeed, Jewish life will no longer be conducted within identifiable single-purpose facilities focused around worship, education, or social service. Completing a shift already in evidence, people will connect with Judaism and Jewish life outside the context of formal institutions.
A porousness of boundaries will characterize the Jewish experience five decades from now. Definitions of who is a Jew and what Judaism means will move from a finite set of options to limitless and protean possibilities. Technological advances that enable individualized explorations and an expansion of do-it-yourself Judaisms will embolden those who wish the Jewish experience to be whatever their highly idiosyncratic desires prefer.
Along with organizations, congregations, and non-Orthodox rabbinic authority, what we currently consider as “mainstream” and “periphery” will be completely upended. Sustained rates of intermarriage, combined with dramatic growth in the numbers of Jews of color, will mean the end of Ashkenazi hegemony in American Jewish life. With its passing will be the demise of its greatest creation, the so-called organized Jewish community (singular), as if it were ever really one or ever really organized.
Five decades from now, there will be far fewer Jewish-community professionals, educators, and clergy. Not only will the number of Jewish organizations have declined, owing to the fact that Jews, then indistinguishable from the broader culture, will no longer feel the need for their own tribal agencies. But fewer and fewer talented individuals will look to Jewish enterprises as secure and satisfying places to work. As a result, the decline of non-Orthodox day schools, synagogues, Jewish community centers, federations, and social-service agencies seems a likely eventuality, if not a veritable certainty.
These shifts will be set against the backdrop of a demographic explosion among the religiously far right. Predictions of ruptures within the Jewish people (already evinced in 2015 divisions over Iran “deals” and competing domestic political agendas) will, in retrospect, seem jejune. These rifts will be particularly palpable in connection with the issue of support for Israel. Where once Jewish groups proudly defined their mission as standing with Israel, such solidarity will no longer be in evidence. More than a century after the Shoah, Jewish groups will not be driven by its memories or the post-1967 survivalist mind-set, upon which so many philanthropic agendas were predicated. Rightward demographic and political shifts in Israel, moreover, which have been alienating to many Jews, coupled with an expanded Israeli economy that attenuates the need for worldwide charitable support, will mean the evanescence of traditional affinities between Diaspora communities and the Jewish state.
To the degree that Jews will be informed by a communal agenda at all, we will see a flattening of organizational culture. Where top-down leadership models were once de rigueur, Jewish enterprises in 2065 will embrace far less hierarchical structures, consistent with the way business in general will then be conducted. While Jewish communal life, such as it will be, will continue to manifest aspects of oligarchy and the golden rule—those who have the gold, rule—organizational charts for both volunteers and professionals will reflect far more flexible and less rigid paradigms of leadership.
Finally, in a not insignificant reversal of current patterns, vestiges of male-dominated institutional leadership will vanish. Rabbinical schools, including those on the left wing of what is today centrist Orthodoxy, will ordain women at disproportionate rates. Volunteer boards will be overwhelmingly female, and women will be the dominant force and primary audience for Jewish religious, spiritual, and educational enterprises. While this is likely to have positive impacts on everything from leadership styles to conflict-management techniques, 50 years from now the challenge will be how to reintroduce men to Jewish life.
Change is rarely as discontinuous as its proponents like to claim. The seeds for a very different Jewish world have already been planted. The question facing this generation is whether to deracinate or nurture them.
Hal M. Lewis is president and chief executive officer of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. He is the author, most recently, of From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership.
Joseph I. Lieberman
Let me begin my answer to Commentary’s question with some very good news. Fifty years from now, and, for that matter, 500 years from now and 5,000 years from now, there will be a world Jewish community.
I believe that the Jewish people will exist forever. I hold this belief as a matter of faith based on divine promises, but also as a rational conclusion based on the multi-millennial history of Jewish survival. Jews are here to stay.
Ironically, I am more confident about making such a prediction about the eternality of the Jewish people than I am about predicting exactly where we will be 50 years from now.
Nevertheless, Commentary’s invitation to do so is irresistible, so here goes:
There are visible trend lines in the Jewish community, but recent history should make us modest about predicting whether they will continue. The worst period in Jewish history—the Holocaust—happened in our time and has been followed, miraculously, by arguably the best period in Jewish history. Israel was re-established as a Jewish state on its historic land, and millions of Jews live in America, which has given us more freedom, opportunity, and acceptance than we have ever received anywhere outside of Israel.
Now many people fear that this golden age for world Jewry may be ending and history is beginning to move in the wrong direction. In Europe, anti-Semitism is back. In America, assimilation is diminishing the Jewish population. In Israel, threats from foreign enemies—particularly Iran—are more realistically existential than they have been since the modern state was created in 1948.
I don’t deny these unsettling developments, but I believe we will overcome them. My vision of where the Jewish community will be in 50 years is optimistic, based on what I have experienced in my life and the strengths that I see in the Jewish world today.
Fifty years from now, Israel will be stronger in many important ways than it is today. There will be a coming together of Israel and its Arab neighbors, stimulated in the first instance by their shared fear of Iranian aggression but ultimately by their willingness finally to acknowledge their shared interest in peace and regional economic cooperation. At some point, there will probably be a major military conflict in the Middle East with Israel and the Arab world on one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other. At the same time, or perhaps separately, the gifted and diverse people of Iran will rebel against their corrupt, fanatical leadership. The government’s response will be as ferocious as Assad’s has been in Syria. But having learned the dreadful consequences of passivity in Syria, the Western world, the Arab nations, and Israel will support the rebels in Iran, and ultimately they will succeed in overthrowing the old order and establishing a new Iranian government that respects the human rights of its people and enjoys peace with its neighbors.
This victory will enable Israel, the Arab world, and Iran to establish full, mutually beneficial diplomatic and economic relationships. It will also finally usher in the long elusive two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
The U.S.-Israeli alliance will continue to be strong, but with a changing base of support in America made up of more and more evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Hispanic Americans. The U.S. will not be Israel’s only good ally. There will be others, beginning with Israel’s regional neighbors and extending to some of the new superpowers, particularly India.
Inside Israel, the religious awakening that began in the Orthodox community will spread to non-Orthodox Israelis. They will express their natural yearning for spirituality and reconnection to biblical history by forming one or more new religious movements that will be uniquely Israeli, largely traditional, but decidedly egalitarian.
In America in 50 years, there will certainly be more Orthodox Jews. The birthrate-driven demographics are real. Orthodox Jews will realize, as their numbers grow and they are welcomed into all areas of American professional, business, political, and cultural life, that they have a responsibility to get involved and assume positions of communal leadership that they have traditionally shunned. Parts of the modern Orthodox community will join with parts of the traditional Conservative community to constitute, formally or informally, a new denomination between the Orthodox and Conservative movements. The Reform movement will find creative ways to engage more Jews—including those who have intermarried—and their children. Overall, the American Jewish community will be smaller in 50 years (but not that much smaller) and will continue to enjoy good relations with other Americans and the fullest range of opportunities for leadership in all segments of national life. Sometime in the next 50 years, there will be a Jewish American, probably a religiously observant man or woman and probably a Republican, who will be elected president or vice president of the United States. The ticket he or she is on will carry Florida without any problems with hanging chads. And that will make me very proud, happy, and patriotic wherever I will be.
One other prediction I make with confidence is that during the next 50 years, the Chabad movement will continue to grow in America, Israel, and everywhere else in the world, bringing more and more Jews into Jewish experiences, learning, and values.
In sum, I foresee a Jewish community centered in Israel and America that will be different in 50 years, more diverse and religious than it is today, and just as strong, dynamic, and influential.
For me, one of the best expressions of the Jewish view of history is still found in the closing words of President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, which inspired me to enter public service: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
The long-range future of the Jewish community is guaranteed. It is between now and then that we all have a lot of work to do. Based on our past and present, I am confident we will do what has to be done.
Joseph I. Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, is senior counsel at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.