Erica Brown

The Big Question

In this past month’s Atlantic Monthly, “The Big Question” for June was: “Which Current Behavior Will be Most Unthinkable 100 Years from Now?” Melinda Gates said there would be no more birth control pills. Daniel Dennett said there would be no more unsupervised home-schooling. Rebecca Silverman wrote that there would be no more football, and Katie Rophie said there would be no more sadness.

What a great Jewish question to pose to a Jewish brain trust! So, I made my own temporary think tank. Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna thinks that a century from now, “in most synagogues and temples, the announcement ‘please open your prayer book to page __’ will be unthinkable. Prayer books will by then have been replaced by electronic devices.” The Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, Nathan Diament, said, “It will be unthinkable that we once had such a costly and decentralized Jewish education system under which the costs of, and barriers to, providing Jewish education were left to be set by independent schools and borne by individual families — rather than being truly a communal enterprise.”

On the family front, Emory University Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt believes that in 100 years, “Everyone will put on their pre-wedding to-do list to get tested for Jewish genetic diseases. We may not have cured all the diseases that are found primarily among Jews but we will have eliminated them because everyone is tested. It will be seen as ‘stupid’ not to do so.” She also added that no traditionally observant parent would let a daughter get married without a halachic pre-nup. 

One hundred years from now, Steven Bayme of the American Jewish Committee believes, the agunah problem will no longer exist: “The phenomenon of women ‘chained’ to husbands refusing to issue a get or bill of divorce will disappear … and Jewish endogamy, or in-marriage, will be non-existent outside Orthodox precincts given high rates of Jewish assimilation, the tiny percentage of Jews in American society, the celebration of mixed marriage as a phenomenon by the general American culture and its pervasiveness within non-Orthodox sectors.” The Jewish community, he believes, cannot “uphold the norm of in-marriage” and needs to articulate in a more compelling way “the importance of marriage between Jews — whether by birth or by choice.”

Yossi Prager, executive director of the Avi Chai Foundation, says that, “It will be unthinkable for Jews to have to convince each other or non-Jews that Judaism is both a glorious religion and an enduring nationality. With the pendulum having swung back toward religion and communitarianism, Jews will be proud carriers of the covenant with God undertaken at Sinai.”

Shifra Bronznick of Advancing Women Professionals & the Jewish Community claims, “It will be unthinkable that paid family leave is considered a discretionary benefit. Every Jewish nonprofit will offer their employees generous paid family leave.” Sign me up.

Rabbi David Wolpe thinks, “The question we will not ask is whether Jews should eat animals (no).” Good thing he didn’t write what one scholar who asked not to be named believes, “In a hundred years there will be no Conservative movement.”

In a hundred years, “The Israeli political spectrum will no longer be defined by the overarching issue of providing land or not to the Palestinians as has dominated the Israeli political debate since 1967,” contends think-tanker David Makovsky. About time. Harvard professor Ruth Wisse adds that a century from now, “All Jews would have realized that the Jewish people repaired the world when it recovered its political sovereignty in the Land of Israel so that God could enjoy the weekly entry of Sabbath to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Rabbi Larry Hoffman believes that, “It will be unthinkable to allow synagogues to languish through lack of communal funding and attention. … Synagogues are the single best bet for providing communities of purpose and memory, healing and hope. Yet instead of investing in synagogues, we starve them to death and wonder why they are dying.” Professor of Jewish education Jon Levisohn argues that, “In 100 years, it will be unthinkable to instrumentalize Jewish education … in the service of some vague and thin and poorly conceived far-off outcome like ‘Jewish identity.’ We will all recognize the truth in Franz Rosenzweig’s teaching about education that ‘all recipes produce … caricatures of men’ (sic), and that the only recipe ‘is to have no recipe.’”

Hmmm … lots to consider. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” A hundred years is a long time when you think about what we didn’t have 100 years ago. It’s short, however, in the life of the Jewish people and in the shelf life of great universal truths. So don’t wait. What can we start changing today?

Erica Brown’s column appears the first week of the month.

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is the Vice Provost for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University and the director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–Herenstein Center. Her latest book is Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books).