The Uberfication of Judaism

We’re in the midst of the Uberfication of Judaism.  We shouldn’t be surprised, as most of Western world is also in the midst of the Uberfication of society.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love Uber.  Whenever I’m traveling, I use Uber.  I literally push a few buttons and voila, there’s a clean car waiting for me outside my hotel or restaurant.  When I reach my destination, I get out — no tip, no awkward fumbling for cash.  I say ‘thank you,’ I get out of the car and I’m on my way.

Uber is all about me and thus, Uber reflects the ‘me’ society in which we live.  This is nothing new.  Uber is only the most recent iteration of the atomization of our society, of the demand for radically individualized services.  Uber is the natural outgrowth of technology that is making community as we once knew it obsolete.  No one really buys ‘albums’ anymore, even in digital form.  People buy individual songs.  People literally create their own ‘albums’ by downloading individual songs.  And, of course, you don’t really have to buy songs any more.  You can listen to Pandora or Spotify and using one of their algorithms, you can listen to only what you want to listen to.

Unsurprisingly, this radical individualization has found its way to the Jewish world.  There is a small but growing group of Jews around the country that want an Uber-fied version of Judaism — on call when they want, to take them where they want when they want.  This is the Uberfication of Judaism.  Independent minyanim, do-it-yourself haggadot, websites that allow anyone to create a service, a wedding, a naming or a funeral—all are signs of the Uberfication of Judaism.  I would not be surprised to learn that someone is working on an Uber-rabbi app:  push a few buttons on your iPhone and the nearest rabbi appears at your location to officiate at your bar mitzvah or wedding.

The Uberfication of Judaism is most evident at Bar Mitzvah.  There is a growing movement that seeks a path toward a private bar or bat mitzvah, for a host of reasons.  For some, they want to have a ceremony at a unique location that varies from a Jewish camp where the parents met to the Staples Center.  For others, they’ve simply never been affiliated with the formal Jewish community but want the ‘cultural’ experience of a bar/bat mitzvah.

The Uberficiation of Judaism presents such a tremendous challenge to us because of course it runs counter the basic core of Judaism, community.  Judaism is by design a communal experience.  Judaism encourages — in fact demands, communal participation.  This is the reason you need 10 people to for a minyan; the reason you need witnesses for a wedding and the reason that bar mitzvah is a lifecycle meant to take place in front of a community.

I could easily view this trend with disdain.  I could easily dismiss those inclined to follow this path as people who want a minimalistic Jewish experience of which I want no part.  As well, I could view this as a threat to synagogues, which in addition to being the most significant Jewish institution, is also the way I make my living.  However, I believe that’s the wrong way to view this.  These are people who want to be connected in some manner to Judaism — and that’s a good thing.  Thus it falls to us in the institutionalized Jewish world to figure out how to respond the Uberfication of Judaism and adjust accordingly.   The ability to change and adapt to the world has been a hallmark of Judaism.  When the Temple was destroyed, we changed.  When Jews came to the New World, we changed again.  And, when we had a chance to embark on the sacred task of building the Jewish state, we rose to the challenge.

I am unwilling to believe that the community I love, the community that through history has met every challenge, is unable to overcome the challenge of the Uberfication of Judaism.  I see this as a great opportunity.  At Temple Judea, we are at this very moment in the process of creating a wonderful, new bar/bat mitzvah program that will meet the needs of this moment in Jewish history.  And, we will be stronger for it.

About the Author
Joshua M. Aaronson is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana, California. He is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
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