In 1953, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson launched the Shofar Campaign, instructing Chabad rabbis to make certain that the Shofar would be heard by Jews wherever they maybe during the High Holy Days. The idea of the “moveable feast” is not a new concept in religious practice. Portability enables folks removed from the formal structures of religious life to also embrace and benefit from the tradition.
In 2023 as we prepare to observe Rosh Hashonah 5784, more than ever Jews will have the opportunity to observe the High Holy Days, enjoying a variety of new offerings and social media options. Based on some of our research, we have observed that since Covid significant numbers of Jews have turned to social media as a means of observing the high holy days and other religious practices, reminding us how technology is revolutionizing our lives.
But well beyond, particular religious ritual or practice, a new conversation has emerged over the interplay between religion and technology in an age where we are consumed by the imprint of social media and other factors on our lives and behaviors.
As writers assess the impact of the internet on religious practice, some have concluded that it “has proven to be both a blessing and a curse to organized religion”. While concurring that the new technologies have provided “a way for to further personalize one’s religious experience”, religious affiliation has declined since its inception. The spread of information as provided by social media is “chipping away at America’s faithful.”
As the technology revolution unfolds, there are alternative ways in which we see human beings engage with religious ideas and practices. More recently, some writers have been addressing the natural affinity between religion and technology.
For a thousand years in Western culture, the advancement of the mechanical arts — technology — has been inspired by deep religious desires of transcendence and redemption.
Referencing “religious millenarianism” David Noble in his innovative new book, The Religion of Technology outlines the complex connection between the ideas of religion with the capacities of technology.
A ‘new millennium’ mentality developed, making explicit use of the fruits of technology. …No longer were people expected to face a bleak history passively and blindly. Instead, people are expected to consciously work on perfecting themselves — partially through the use of technology.
The linkage of technology with religion in general, and Judaism in particular, raises some interesting possibilities as well as certain specific understandings:
Man was created with a mission to rule over the world and to subdue it. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean that we are to understand our world in order to master our environment. We are commanded to build bridges and to move mountains in order to improve our quality of life.
The Midrash describes an exchange between the Roman General Turnus Rufus and Rabbi Akiva, in which the General asks, so why do Jews circumcise their sons? 
Do Jews believe that they can improve on God’s creation of man? Rabbi Akiva placed grain and bread before the general and asked him which one he would prefer to eat. The general made the obvious choice and took the bread, which clearly represented man’s improvement on nature. Just as baking bread is an act of improving wheat, so is circumcision an act of improving man. The moral of the story is that our mandate is to improve the world. Judaism does not consider the world to be complete without the input of man. We are partners in creation in all aspects of the world, including technology.
As AI (artificial intelligence) increasingly plays a role in reshaping both how we access information and allows us to master new knowledge, Judaism may well be a beneficiary of these modalities of inquiry. Of particular significance, “spiritual technology,” involving the increased interplay between technology and spirituality, introduces various initiatives designed to enhance a person’s religious practices and identification.
As we enter this New Year, increased attention is being given to the profound impact of how technology is reshaping our lives and more directly, our religious connections. It is a new moment of creativity and a time of innovation, whether one speaks about changes in our liturgy and musical options, learning pods or educational program offerings, social justice advocacy and community organizing. The Jewish world is undergoing a transformation of offerings!
Indeed, as Rabbi David Lyon has so eloquently stated:
Judaism has benefited from modern technology. We have preserved and distributed Jewish learning on the internet (Sefaria.org; myjewishlearning.com, etc.) even as we read from the Torah scroll and livestream worship services. Judaism thrives because technology is a means of creating ‘communities of continuity’.
As we embark on this New Year, may we benefit from these extraordinary Jewish resources designed to enrich our lives and enhance of our spiritual journeys.