Ready For Renewal

Like the Israelites who left Egypt and faced the terrifying choices of freedom, modern Jews face the challenge of responsibly establishing new guidelines and directions for the Jewish community.

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Provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordains Conservative rabbis at the American Jewish University.

Ours is an age of unparalleled uncertainty. While we ransack the past and its accumulated wisdom for guidance today, we also know that the degree of change in every aspect of our lives is without precedent. Groping in the dark, treading uncertainly down a path not previously taken, modern humanity doesn't know its destination and isn't even sure it is enjoying the trip. And we have good cause for our doubts.

Consider the degree of changes that this century alone has witnessed. At the turn of the century, a mere ninety years ago--a single lifetime really--wars were fought using foot soldiers, ships and bullets. Tanks, planes, missiles, nuclear bombs, space satellites, submarines, all of these techniques of killing are new to our time.

Advances in Science

We think nothing of picking up a phone and calling anywhere in the world, we schedule a flight halfway around the globe and get there within hours. We are preceded by the forms we had our office fax, which arrive there with the speed of the spoken word!  If we like something we read, we copy it--no big deal. Few type anymore, at least not into typewriters. When I was a freshman in college, only the wealthy students had electric typewriters. Now everybody has their own personal computer.

Advances in science have extended human life almost to its limits, have burned a hole through the ozone layer, have provided us with Agent Orange and penicillin. We now expend great skill and energy to teach developmentally-disabled children, and abandon pregnant teenagers to their own resources.

At the turn of the century, men were secretaries and women stayed at home. Now women are secretaries and no one is at home. Women can vote, and female politicians act just like their male counterparts (surprise!). Men and women no longer have an unwritten code telling them how to act with each other. The divorce rate is at a record high, which just might also mean that unhappy marriages are at a record low.

In every area of human life, we find murky transitions--we don't have the comfortable consensus and social standards that guided our grandparents a hundred years ago. We don't know where we are going, and we're not sure we want to take the trip at all. 

That same situation faced Moses and the children of Israel when God commanded them to leave Egypt. Granted, slavery was bad. People suffered terribly from its oppression.The Jews were not allowed to have male children, the work was a great strain. Yet it was also a pattern of life that had endured for four hundred years, something the Jews knew from the inside. There were no surprises, no unpredictable moments.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.