Is the New Torah doomed to the same fate as New Coke?

The problem with Torah and Judaism is its inability to speak to the people living within the context of a modern and developed western civilization.

The solution is to ‘water down’ and to ‘soften’ the restrictions, to create a more embracing system and ‘do away with’ the strictures of an archaic lifestyle, much in the way that more progressive streams of Judaism have done.

On a superficial level, the suggestions seem rational and logical, but do statistics vouch for such a revamped system?

In the recent Pew study of the state of American Jewry, nearly nine in ten Orthodox Jews (87%) and two-thirds of Conservative Jews (69%) describe being Jewish as very important in their lives. Far fewer self-identified Reform Jews say being Jewish is very important to them (43%). Among Jews who are unaffiliated with any particular Jewish movement or denomination, just one in five say being Jewish is very important to them (22%).

Superficially, a dilution of product may seem to improve the product, but as time goes on the watered-down product itself becomes even more distasteful than the original.

In his 2005 book, Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell explored the phenomenon of sip testing. The general idea promoted through the Pepsi Challenge was a series of soft drink taste-tests that seemed to conclusively prove that Americans preferred Pepsi to Coke.

Each ‘candidate’ in the challenge sampled a small sip from two unidentified cups. The results suggested Pepsi was the drink of preference in an overwhelming number of tests. This made Pepsi a serious contender for the first time, and left Coca-Cola fearing that it might haemorrhage market share. However, Gladwell presented evidence that Pepsi’s overwhelming success over Coca-Cola in those tests was not evidence of a real preference, but rather a result of the flawed nature of the ‘sip test’ method itself.

His research showed that when offered a quick sip, tasters generally preferred the sweeter of two beverages – even if they preferred a less sweet beverage over the course of an entire can. Gladwell argued that just because a taster prefers a single sip of the sweeter beverage, it doesn’t mean he’d prefer to have an entire case of it at home.

Coca-Cola found this out the hard way when it introduced “New Coke”, a soft drink completely redesigned to match Pepsi’s success in the sip test. The results were catastrophic. When Coke returned to their original formula, the error was corrected and Coke has consistently outperformed Pepsi in virtually every market.

When the product is a better product, the only way the competitor can steal market share is by distorting the results by using flawed measures of success. Coke’s success is in not having changed its product. That being said, Coke has always revamped its image. Marketing is the key to its success. The jingles, the slogans and the bottles have moved with the times: “Coke is it”, “Can’t beat the feeling”, “Things go better with Coke”, “Enjoy”, “Share A Coke”.

In this area, the Torah world is guilty as charged. There have been many eras and generations where the Orthodox establishment refused to engage the market on its terms. At times we have tried to proffer our classy product in antique-like packaging, and the market refused to buy.

Speak to any baby-boomer and see if their Rabbi was approachable, warm and caring; the results speak for themselves, with an entire generation or more of Jews losing interest − not in the product, but in its packaging.

It took until relatively recently for the modern Rabbis of the last 30 years, and more so today, to learn to engage and connect with modernity, and we see that the tide is being stemmed.

Our ‘Coke’, the Torah, is the perfect product. The marketing team, however, needs to consistently revamp and up its game.


About the Author
Rabbi Krebs was born to a traditional family in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1997 he and his entire family moved to Sydney where he studied a BCom -Finance and Information Systems- at the University of New South Wales. It was during this time that he decided to explore his Jewish roots and spent time at Yeshiva in the old city of Jerusalem. Upon completing his degree Rabbi Krebs made Aliya to Israel where he has served in the Israeli defence force. He initially studied in the famed Yeshivat Har Etzion under the tutelage of Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein. His subsequently began studying for his semicha under Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Chaim Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar, Efrat. In 2007 Rabbi Krebs was appointed as the fulltime Rabbi of Kehillat Masada. He is a qualified Psychotherapist and Professional mediator.