Inside the Making of a Jewish Revolution
And why "Do-It-Yourself" Judaism is the next great Jewish revolution already taking place right before our eyes.
Future of Jewish is an audience-supported publication by people passionate about the Jewish future. To receive new premium content and support our mission to make Judaism one of the world’s bright spots, become a subscriber!
Please note: This essay is for our premium subscribers. To read the full piece, and to get access to our growing library of other subscriber-only essays and videos, become a premium subscriber!
Once upon a time, in the second century CE, there lived a Talmudic leader named Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.
When Rabbi Azariah replaced Rabban Gamliel as head of the beit midrash (Jewish study house), he suspended Rabban Gamliel’s rules which offered beit midrash access to only the most elite students.
Rabbi Azariah removed the doorkeeper tasked with preventing students who did not meet Rabban Gamliel’s scholarly standards. And he had 400-to-700 benches added to the beit midrash to accommodate the waves of new students who seized the opportunity to study.
“Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah’s unexpected decision paid off,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote. “On the day that the beit midrash was opened to the masses, the Talmud says, the most difficult legal problems were solved.”1
This story is one example of a Jewish revolution. Analogous to political revolutions, Jewish revolutions are noncumulative developmental episodes in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by a new, incompatible one.
Jewish revolutions are, in short, how Judaism functions and progresses. Against the perception of Judaism as a linear accumulation of knowledge and experiences, Jewish revolutions show that Judaism has evolved in leaps from one “paradigm” to the next.
When a certain paradigm is enough to account for Judaism and the Jewish world as they are perceived, “normal Judaism” can function, elaborating knowledge and experiences within the paradigm. “Normal Judaism” is defined as firmly based institutions, traditions, practices, activities, and customs that we as the Jewish People, or a particular subset of us, acknowledge as offering a foundation for its further employment.
But when a paradigm enters a crisis, the search for a new paradigm is on. Ultimately, this leads to a Jewish revolution, marking a shift, even a rupture, from the preexisting paradigm. Well-known Jewish revolutions include:
The creation of Judaism by Abraham and Sarah
The Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt
Building of the First Temple in Jerusalem
Founding the State of Israel
“Do-It-Yourself” Judaism (the current one)
This essay details the nature and necessity of Jewish revolutions, how they transform Judaism, the invisibility and resolutions of Jewish revolutions, and how progress is achieved through them.
Finally, we then look at why and how “Do-It-Yourself” Judaism is the current Jewish revolution already taking place right before our eyes.