A survey of topics of discussion in the Orthodox internet world would reveal that not much has changed since the 19th century. The same questions keep being debated and discussed: Bible, Evolution and the question of Exclusion vs. Inclusion. Some of the details have changed, but the essential positions have not.
While these topics are certainly very important, excessive focus on them threatens to divert attention from additional challenges to Judaism that are just around the corner. The breakneck speed of scientific discovery and technological advance have brought to the fore a number of serious philosophical and halachic challenges which require attention.
Take the massive advances in robotic and biological technology and their various implications. For instance, we are fast approaching the point where entire organs and limbs can either be cloned or replaced far more cheaply than today. While this technology is meant primarily for those who were disabled, it’s not hard to imagine perfectly healthy people augmenting their bodies much like they do with plastic surgery today. Many in the technological and scientific community are even talking of a “singularity” where technology will take over or at least allow humans to transcend their biological bodies.
What does Judaism, and more specifically, halacha have to say about all this? What do they say about what it means to be human?
Or take another issue: given the recent discovery of far more “inhabitable” planets than previously thought, how does Judaism deal with a universe that is not barren but possibly teeming with life – both philosophically and halachically (should we ever develop warp drive)? What is the status, for instance, of conscious, sentient beings beyond Earth? And should religious Jews even contemplate leaving this planet to colonize the stars or stay put?
Orthodoxy is often accused of ‘living in the past’ and avoiding new challenges. Here’s our chance to be ahead of the pack.