“God Is In the Crowd” by Tal Keinan— A Look at Jewish Identity

Keinan, Tal. “God Is in the Crowd: Twenty-First-Century Judaism”, Spiegel and Grau, 2018.

A Look at Jewish Identity

Amos Lassen

Tal Keinan is social activist, a business leader and was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and he is concerned with modern Jewish identity. He is also the author of “God Is in the Crowd” in which he sets forth his proposal for finding relevance and meaning in Judaism in order that it continue to succeed in the modern era. Keinan presents this through his personal story and even though I know nothing about the man aside from what I have read here, he is convincing and writes from the heart and mind. Of course there will those, including myself, who wonder if he has the qualifications to make the statements that he does but I figure if Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks approves wheat he says, there must be something to it.

Keinan looks at the fact that the concentration of Jewish people is concentrated between two hubs, America and Israel. Keinan says that the result of this is the loss of “the subtle code of governance that endowed Judaism with dynamism and relevance in the age of Diaspora.” This code comes from Francis Galton’s “wisdom of crowds,” in which a “group’s collective intelligence, memory, and even spirituality can be dramatically different from, and often stronger than, that of any individual members.” Without this code, this ancient people, the Jews, and the civilization that it has brought into being will become extinct soon. Keinan suggests that a new code that proposes a new model for Judaism and for community be written. He weds narrative to theory to better demonstrate Judaism’s importance and value to humanity and chart its path into the future via the use of social science, economics, religion, and national identity.

Keinan takes us into his childhood and his assimilation as an American Jew. He grew up secular but culturally Jewish, but started becoming more religious at Exeter school in New England. He decided to learn as much about Judaism as possible, and eventually made Aliyah to Israel, qualified for the IDF air force. He developed a financial fund and microloan program and divides his time between Israel and the United States. Keinan sees himself as a moderate somewhere between religious Zionists and secular Israelis.

By interspersing his ideas of 21st century Judaism with his own personal history, he is able to present a clear picture of Jewish values, practices and survival. This is an independent view of the demographic challenges facing the Jewish people in this century. The demographic problem is real and two of Keinan’s ideas deserve consideration. He suggests using “technology and the Internet to determine the “crowd wisdom” of the world’s Jews” and broadening the powers of Israel’s President by making that office responsible for questions dealing with the Law of Return and conversions. All in all, this is quite a fascinating read and I hope that I will still be around to see where Judaism is going.

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