I’m off to Vegas for my first visit to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and I’m struck by the fact that this is the biggest trade show in the United States. The exhibition spills over from the convention center into pretty much every hotel. There’s not a room left at the inn! (i’m staying at a friend’s house)
Clearly there’s something about consumerism and electronics that makes CES a Mecca for these 4 days in January.
So, as I prepare myself for my high-tech Hajj (cf heb. Hag) I started ruminating on technology and Judaism.
I first heard the word technology and Judaism mentioned in the same breath (don’t remember if it was an in-breath or an out-breath) when I saw the book: The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul™ written by Yehudah Berg of the Kabbala Centre™.
As Berg writes: “Moses combined the power of certainty with a very powerful spiritual technology. He had possession of a formula that literally gave him access to the subatomic realm of nature.” Berg has an image of the 72 names that, according to him, if you own and scan has the technology to make miracles.
According to Berg: “The 72 Names are each 3-letter sequences that act like an index to specific, spiritual frequencies. By simply looking at the letters, as well as closing your eyes and visualizing them, you can connect with these frequencies.”
Remember the Bible Code… Since it first came out, there’ve been two sequels! “Bible Code III – Saving the World is the focus of this riveting new book about the Bible Code, a miracle proven real by modern science. For 3000 years a code in the Bible remained hidden. Now it has been unlocked by computer—and may reveal our future. The code was broken by a world-famous Israeli mathematician, then confirmed by a senior code-breaker at the top secret U.S. National Security Agency. And it keeps coming true”
Other Rabbis and teachers who I deeply respect and who are doing some of the most important work in Jewish Education, such as Amichai Lau-Lavie of StoraTelling, may not have drunk the Torah-Technology Kool-Aide but they have, at a minimum, borrowed the “Technology of the Soul” language and speak of “The Seder a Jewish Technology, (A brilliant lecture.. by the way) and the Shofar as an ancient technology
Well as they say at CES about technology duds like the Diamond REO and Zune mp3 players.. I say about Technology for the Soul… “I’m not buying”.
Technology according to The Oxford dictionary is: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry:.. from Greek tekhnologia ‘systematic treatment’, , from tekhnē ‘art, craft’
Technology provides a solution to a problem via man’s artifice.
In Pirke Avot Chapter 4, Mishna 5
“Rabbi Tzaddok said, Do not make the Torah into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself or a spade (axe) with which to dig.” The most quoted interpretation of this Mishna is provided by Maimonides:
Talmud Torah 3:10 “Anyone who decides to be engaged in Torah [study] and not to work, and will be supported by charity – this person desecrates God’s name, degrades the Torah, extinguishes the light of our faith, brings evil upon himself and forfeits life in the world to come; since it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world. The Rabbis said (Avot 4:5): Anyone who derives benefit from the words of Torah in this world, forfeits his life in Olam haBa. They further commanded and said: (Avot 4:5) Do not make them [the words of Torah] a crown to magnify yourself or an axe with which to chop.
Dr. Maimonides was not a big fan of professional Jews…nor would he approve of the growing Haredi Welfare State…. but with so much talk about the Technology of the Torah, I’d like to suggest an alternative interpretation. Don’t make the torah into a tool…. don’t make the torah into a technology. The Torah; its rituals and study are many things, but they are not a button to be pressed or lever to be pulled. The Torah is not a Technology..
If you’re tempted to think that Judaism is some sort of solution technology you might want to re-read God and Job’s dialogue chapter 38 – 42 known as the “whirlwind speech” and you might remember the Talmudic open question of Evil befalling the righteous and the prosperity of the evildoers (Zadik veRah lo, Rasha veTov lo). No, the Torah is not here to explain away evil let alone change the outcome of natural events.
As it is written in Ecclesiastes – Kohelet, [7:23] “All this I tried to understand with my wisdom; I said I will figure it out, but it is still distant from me”
The Rabbis teach that this refers to Solomon stating that he understood the entire Torah, except for the chapter of Parah Adumah – The Red Heifer – which remained elusive –despite all his inquiry. The Red Heifer was a cow whose ashes were used to purify the impure, but which made the pure priest, who administered the ashes… impure. MeTaher et HaTemayim, umetameh et haTeharim. (see also Bemidbar Rabbah 19:6).
Elswhere the Rabbis write:
In everything that G-d taught Moses, He would tell him both the manner of contamination and the manner of purification. When G-d came to the laws concerning one who comes in contact with a dead body, Moses said to Him: “Master of the universe! If one is thus contaminated, how may he be purified?” G-d did not answer him. At that moment, the face of Moses turned pale.
When G-d came to the section of the Red Heifer, He said to Moses: “This is its manner of purification.” Said Moses to G-d: “Master of the universe! This is a purification?” Said G-d: “Moses, it is a chok, a decree that I have decreed, and no creature can fully comprehend My decrees” (Midrash Rabbah, Kohelet 8:5).
The image of God studying the Torah and declaring the enigma of one man’s purity as another man’s defilement is powerful and has always stayed with me. To me Torah contains neither a secret code nor a technical solution to life’s problems, large or small. It is not so much an answer, as it is a question… less of a solution and more of a challenge.
So for technological solutions to all my “needs” (real, perceived and “needs” I don’t even know I have…) as well as a peek at the newest 3D TVs.. I’ll join my Rebbes; David Pogue and Walt Mossberg and make my pilgrimage to CES in Vegas.
As for Judaism.. it’s not a technology and it won’t be at CES.. it’s a wonderful tradition of learning and practice designed as Abraham Joshua Heschel said to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” and there’s no App for that…..