Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conscious Capitalism, Tikkun Olam and the Jewish Tradition

Conscious capitalism describes the premise that an organization (government, nonprofit, or business) has an obligation to act not only in its own best interests but also in the interests of all its stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and society).

The concept was well-described in Patricia Aburdene’s book, Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism (published in 2007) that has been termed a “must read” by Patrick T. Parenty, Senior Vice President L’Oreal USA. Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Mother-Daughter Wisdom gushes that “Megatrends 2010 provides incontrovertible proof that doing good and giving back pays off for everyone.” “This book,” she says, “is thrilling."

Megatrends 2010 takes its name from John Naisbitt’s Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (1982), a book about the birth of the Information Economy. Ms. Aburdene says she was a “collaborator” on the earlier work. Her new one, she tells us, describes the social, economic, and spiritual trends transforming free enterprise into a new, more holistic version of itself.

Three years after the book’s publication, the term conscious capitalism is catching on.
Writing in Business Week recently about the Catalyzing Conscious Capitalism conference in Austin, Tx, in October 2009,  G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón, argue that “[m]aybe if members of the social responsibility movement were to spend less time hectoring companies about climate change, worker exploitation, and the like, and more time pointing out the greater profits these businesses could produce by implementing socially responsible ideas, they would be more effective.” Another major conference, Conceptualizing Conscious Capitalism - Issues, Insights and Implementation will be held May 24 and 25, 2010 at Bentley University, hosted by the University and the Conscious Capitalism Institute.

Conscious Capitalism is one of the hottest new ideas in business.

But is it really new?

Maybe the term is still new in English. On the other hand, “Tikkun Olam” (perfecting the world) the Jewish term for conscious capitalism, was coined long ago. It too has begun to enter the English language. My friend Dr. Eugene Korn pointed out that Governor Mario Cuomo used the term a number of years ago when speaking before the New York State Legislature.” Tikkun Olam, Dr. Korn rightly notes, “means taking responsibility for the material, moral and spiritual welfare of society-at-large.”

Conscious capitalism is a good idea, and hopefully, amid the detritus of the financial melt-down it is an idea whose time has come.

But it’s not a new idea.

The concept (and obligation) of Tikkun Olam has evolved over the millennia. As used in the Mishnah, redacted in the year 200 by Rabbi Judah haNasi (the Prince), the phrase is used legalistically. For example in the Talmud (Gittin 5:2),  we read that “indemnification…  and payment of maintenance [by a man’s heirs] to his widow and daughters  is not enforced from liened (encumbered) property, mip'nei tikkun ha-olam "for the sake of tikkun of the world" or “for the good order of the world.” In modern legalese, we might say that the secured party (the mortgage holder) has perfected his lien, and it would be unjust if to disturb it for the benefit of unsecured creditors.
The term Tikkun Olam originally referred to a practice that while not Biblically mandated, was decreed by the Rabbis as being necessary in the public interest, or in their idiom, to make the world a better place.

A further usage developed a bit later on. In an ancient prayer, Oleinu,  still recited today, the phrase used is l'takken olam b'malkhut Shaddai, "to perfect the world under God's sovereignty." The theocentricity of the thought expressed in the prayer is, in fact, a key element of the Jewish point of view. But as the Neurologist, Dr. Julian Ungar noted, it’s still a universal thought. Former US President George W Bush’s second inaugural address in 2005, (drafted for him by Michael Gerson), quoted from another part of this same prayer. The President contended in his address that the "great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations, with the "ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Whether he knew it or not, the President was quoting from the form of this ancient Jewish liturgical prayer that is recited on the High Holy Days ("ta'avir memshelet zadon min ha'aretz").

In the Biblical book of Lamentations traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, we read (1:3) that "Judah was exiled through poverty (oni),”referring to the forced Jewish exile to Babylonia after the destruction of the temple in 586 BCE. Rabbi Akiva explains in the Talmud (Pesachim 36a) that this means that exile came about because the people of Judea didn't fulfill the commandment of "Lechem `Oni,"giving bread to the poor (Deut.6:3) They did not give tzedaka (charity)  to those in need preferring to enrich themselves instead. In contrast, on Passover, Jews point to the matzah (unleavened bread) and declare in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the time, "This is bread for the poor (Ha Lachma `Anya)... Everyone who is hungry can come and eat" This proclamation fulfills the duty of giving tzedaka, a Hebrew word usually translated as charity, but which is derived from the Hebrew tzedek, which means justice or righteousness, an important difference.
For our discussion on conscious capitalism it is noteworthy that giving tzedaka  is not optional good works in Jewish law; it is mandated. Indeed, even one who is himself supported by the community is obligated to give tzedaka. Thus, conscious capitalism (tikkun olam) is required by Jewish law. At a minimum, the prescribed rate is 10% of after-tax income; 20% is considered “praise-worthy.” Sometimes (particularly among the Orthodox), the Hebrew term hesed (loving-kindness) is used to describe outreach to the less fortunate that is subsumed as part of tikkun olam.

The concept of tikkun olam continued to evolve during the first millennium of the common era, and in the Zohar ("Book of Splendor"), the foundational work  of Kabbalah (received wisdom) as Jewish mystical thought, is best known, tikkun olam takes center-stage. The Zohar  first appeared in the 13th century, and was published by Moses de Leon, who ascribed it to Shimon ben Yochai, the famous second century Rabbi.  It begins with God's creation of the universe. Lurianic Kabbalah, identified with its most famous expounder, my wife’s illustrious lineal ancestor, Rabbi Isaac (Yitzhak) ben Shlomo Ashkenazi Luria (1534 – 1572), particularly emphasizes this belief in our power to perfect the Divine creation. In Lurianic Kabbalah, God needed to contract, in order to create a space, in which to create the world. God then pours sparks of light into clay containers. But the containers are imperfect and shatter. The shards of broken pottery fall to earth, along with the newly liberated sparks of divine light. Creation gives way to calamity, as the world’s building blocks lie shattered and broken across the landscape. The role of human beings, Rabbi Luria concluded, was to do tikkun Olam, to fix the broken world by picking up the broken shards of pottery and liberating the divine sparks of light underneath. The Kabbalah teaches that God did not finish creating the world by the time He rested for the Sabbath. Rather, He left a corner of the world unfinished. He left disease and poverty, drought, starvation and injustice. The cosmos is unfinished, and perfecting God's universe is our task.

Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik affirms this insight, saying, “The peak of religious ethical perfection to which Judaism aspires is man as creator. When God created the world, He provided an opportunity for the object of His creation—man—to participate in creation. The Creator, as it were, “impaired reality in order that mortal man repair its flaws and perfect it.”(Halakhic Man p. 101).

In the 1950s, the phrase tikkun olam was used by Shlomo Bardin, the founder of the Brandeis Camp Institute (BCI) to emphasize the universality of the obligation to improve the world through acts of humanity. It sparked a whole new movement.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, head of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco, and leader of the Tikkun Community, an organization that claims 50,000 members nationally, has built his career around his passion for this form of tikkun olam. "The world can be fundamentally transformed and healed," Rabbi Lerner said. "Our whole religion is based on that insight ... that there will be a time when human beings are no longer facing the radical inequality and unnecessary suffering generated by war and poverty and political oppression."

This secular version of tikkun olam has been embraced by Madonna, who has studied Kabbalah but says she retains her belief in Jesus, as well as by Britney Spears, Demi Moore, and Gwyneth Paltrow (who is the daughter of an Jewish father and a Quaker mother, as noted in The Half-Jewish Book: A Celebration, by Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst) and others. Reportedly, Madonna has enlisted Rabbi Phillip Berg of New York's Kabbalah Centre, a former insurance agent formerly known as Feivel Gruberger to "tweak her tikkun." (Rick A. Ross, founder of The Ross Institute views Berg’s Kabbalah Center as a cult.)

Lurianic Kabbalah also inspired Bee Season, a highly praised first novel by Myla Goldberg, later made into a movie of the same name. Ms. Goldberg says, “For modern-day Jews who aren't so into the traditional and deistic elements of religion, tikkun olam provides a philosophy of volunteerism. This is the idea that the world is flawed, and the only way it's going to get better is if each individual does something to try to make it a better place. That's always had a lot of resonance for me.” Recently, Danijel Majcen, a Coatian, released a musical video called Tikkun Olam ( advocating perfecting the world and it was nominated for a Grammy.

Shai Agassi, originally from Israel, when he named his low-emission electric car infrastructure company Better Place, was undoubtedly as much informed  by tikkun olam, making the world a better place, as he was by the ideas advocated in Van Jones’ “Green Collar Economy” a book that highlighted the opportunities inherent in the “investment” wave of environmentalism and was a guiding light to him in planning his company. Mr. Agassi says his vision was inspired by a profound question posed at the World Economic Forum in 2005, “How do you make the world a better place by 2020?” He’s garnered so much interest that TIME Magazine named him to the 2009 TIME 100, the world’s 100 most influential people, and one of Time’s “Heroes of the Environment 2008.”

The essence of Tikkun Olam is that it’s mandatory. "We must dedicate at least part of our time, energy, resources to improving the lot of others," writes Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, in his book, The Way Into Tikkun Olam (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007)

This imperative is not in conflict with the thought that prosperity is good, as emphasized by Rabbi Daniel Lapin in Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. As Rabbi Lapin notes, making money honestly is not a morally reprehensible activity. Indeed, it is viewed as a Divine gift, and therefore carries with it a responsibility – an obligation - to help others less fortunate through giving.

Perfecting the world through selfless acts is a far cry, however, from living an ascetic life style. Judaism has always stressed the importance of a balance between spiritual and temporal needs. While Judaism certainly has had its ascetics, and some believed that asceticism was a route to redemption, asceticism was never a main-stream Jewish goal. In fact, the Nazir, or Nazerite, who took upon himself vows of abstention (in accordance with Numbers 6:1-21) had to bring a sin offering upon conclusion of his period of abstinence).

As Rabbi Louis Jacobs noted, in the Jerusalem Talmud it is said (Kiddushin 4:12 ) that a person will be obliged to give an account before God for every legitimate pleasure he has denied himself. 

Furthermore. we read in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 57b) that “three things give a foretaste of the world to come: Sabbath, sunlight, and Tashmish (intercourse). Tashmish of what? Shall I say in the bed?  [But] this weakens. It must be then stimulation of the orifices. Three things restore a man's good spirits: [beautiful] sounds, sights, and smells. Three things increase a man's self-esteem:  a beautiful dwelling, a beautiful wife, and beautiful clothes.”

No sign of asceticism in this quotation.

Giving tzedaka, however, certainly is a mainstream Jewish imperative. And in Jewish law, it is graded according to a definite  hierarchy. As codified by Maimonides in his monumental Mishneh Torah, in the Laws of Gifts [that Belong to] the Poor (my emphasis), there are eight levels of charity. The levels of tzedaka range from the lowest level (one who gives unwillingly) to the highest, “giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he no longer needs [help from other] people. For it is said, "You shall strengthen the stranger and the dweller in your midst and live with him" (Leviticus 25:35). That is to say, strengthen him until he is no longer in need or at the mercy of the community.” Importantly, making a loan, entering into a partnership or finding someone a job are right up there with outright giving as the highest level of tzedaka. As noted in the Wall Street Journal, in its review of Philantrocapitalism, Maimonides got it right.

Lo and behold. Not only do we see the mandate for conscious capitalism itself, but all of the recent "inventions" and “innovations” relating to the mechanisms for practicing conscious capitalism, (including microloans, job creation, job training, venture lending, and so on) have all been presaged, widely practiced and codified in Jewish law for nearly two millennia.

While Jews comprise perhaps 2.2% of the US population, and the world Jewish population of about 13.2 million is much less than a fraction of 1% of the world’s population of 6.7 billion, we can only hope that Tikkun Olam, in its secular form of conscious capitalism becomes in time a universal desideratum irrespective of religion or belief system.

(Thanks to my brother, Professor Jonathan D. Sarna and to my long-time friend, Professor Lawrence Schiffman for their assistance)

(A version of this article was published as an OpEd in the Jerusalem Post

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stare Decisis and Jewish Law

Recently, in a 5 – 4 decision, in  Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission the Supreme Court of the United States, overturning two precedents, struck down portions of the McCain-Feingold Act and held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment, potentially opening the flood gates for corporate campaign finance expenditures.

The Supremes’ decision shined a bright spotlight on an ongoing tension between stare decisis ("to stand by things decided," i.e., binding precedent) and “advisory precedent” in American, British (common) and Israeli law , among other legal systems. The decision has been much vilified and to a lesser extent praised by advocates of different points of view.
The tension between precedent and innovation is not new, and in fact goes back thousands of years.

It may be useful to consider the Talmud. Talmudic study has always been a marketplace of competing ideas and sometimes hairsplitting distinctions. Not only is the Talmud itself replete with controversy, but in the standard editions of the Talmud, the text is surrounded by commentaries and super-commentaries, and thousands more glosses have been written over the generations, many flatly contradicting each other.

What emerges out of all this seeming chaos is like the results of a spectroscopic analysis, with bands of different colors whose width represents the degree of consensus. On some issues, there is a wide band of a single color signifying broad agreement, while on others there is a colorful rainbow of narrow bands reflecting an enduring lack of consensus. Of course, the range of opinion is ultimately constrained by the Torah, which functions somewhat like the US constitution in establishing immutable boundaries.

Over the years, in a lengthy process, Jewish law, which was Rabbi- (judge) made) based on Torah mandates, became codified. Given the Talmud’s preference for inclusion and respect for multiple opinions, such codification was, to say the least, not without criticism. The principle objection was that codifications inherently violate the ancient precept that halakha (Jewish law) must be decided according to the later sages; a precept known as hilkheta ke-vatra'ei (the halakha follows the later decisors). This doctrine is essentially oppositional to the position of stare decisis which codification represents.

Menachem Elon, a Rabbi and Professor who was from 1977 to 1993 a Justice on the Israeli Supreme Court, and its Deputy President from 1988 to 1993 commented in his major work, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles: “This rule (that the halakha follows the later decisors) dates from the Geonic period (589 to 1038). It laid down that until the time of Rabbis Abbaye and Rava (4th century) the Halakha was to be decided according to the views of the earlier scholars, but from that time onward, the halakhic opinions of post-talmudic scholars would prevail over the contrary opinions of a previous generation[1].
Elon goes on to quote Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (1259 – 1327), known as the Asheri or Rabbenu Asher, “our teacher, Rabbi Asher” known as the ROSH. He famously said, “If one does not find their [earlier] statements correct and sustains his own views with evidence that is acceptable to his contemporaries...he may contradict the earlier statements, since all matters that are not clarified in the Babylonian Talmud may be questioned and restated by any person, and even the statements of the Geonim may differ from his...just as the statements of the Amoraim (rabbis living from 200 to 500 CE) differed from the earlier ones. On the contrary, we regard the statements of later scholars to be more authoritative because they knew the reasoning of the earlier scholars as well as their own, and took it into consideration in making their decisions[2].” My teacher, the late Professor Isadore Twersky of Harvard has extensively written on the tensions associated with codification.[3]
The basis for controversy about writing down laws rather than merely memorializing legal principles is because legislative law is inherently less flexible than Judge-made law. For this reason, other than the Bible, Jewish law was maintained as oral instruction until political instability prompted Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi and his rabbinic colleagues to redact the Mishnah, the older portion of the “oral law” in the late second century CE.
Of course, judges and litigants alike all crave certainty, which well-written codes provide.
As a result, and after a length evolutionary process, normative practice was codified by the Shulchan Aruch, (“the set table”) written by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) in Safed (Tzfat), in the north of Israel in 1555 - 1558, and first printed in Venice in 1565. It was adapted to the customs of Ashkenazi (German and Eastern European Jewry) with glosses written by Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Rema, who was the Maimonides of Polish Jewry) in a work known as haMappah (the tablecloth, first published with the Shulchan Aruch in 1569.

The Rema himself cautioned against over-reliance by judges on his own code, saying, “in any case, a judge must be guided only by what his own eyes can see.[4]”[11]. Many others voiced even stronger objections to codification.

Common law jurisprudence tends to follow the rule of hilkheta ke-vatra'ei. Decisions are based on case law, which need not be decisive. Cases are granted more or less weight in the deliberations of a court according to a number of factors, the most important of which is whether the precedent is "on point," that is, does it deal with a circumstance identical or very similar to the circumstance in the instant case? Also, when and where was the precedent decided? A recent decision in the same jurisdiction as the instant case will be given great weight. Next in descending order would be recent precedent in jurisdictions whose law is the same as local law. Least weight would be given to precedent which stems from dissimilar circumstances, older cases which have since been contradicted, or cases in jurisdictions which have dissimilar law.

Perhaps it is the inherent elasticity, flexibility, and somewhat controlled chaos of the Talmudic study that has enabled Judaism to renew itself and remain relevant after thousands of years, and it might well work in American law as well.

(My wife, Dr. Rachel C. Sarna, my brother, Professor Jonathan D. Sarna,Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, Rabbi Franklin Breslau, Rabbi StevenPruzansky, Esq., and Rabbi Emanuel Adler, Esq. assisted in the preparation of this  article. To all of them, my thanks.)

[1] Piskei Ha'Rosh [by Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel], BT Bava Metzia 3:10, 4:21, BT Shabbat 23:1
[2] Piskei Ha'Rosh, BT Sanhedrin 4:6, responsa of the Rosh 55:9
[3] Isadore Twersky, “The Shulhan ‘Aruk: Enduring Code of Jewish Law” in The Jewish Expression by Judah Goldin (ISBN-13: 978-0300019759), Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist (ISBN-13: 978-1590452752) and Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), (ISBN-13: 978-0300028461)
[4] Quoted by Elon, p.1356.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Can Google Translate the Bible?

Machine translation dates back to the earliest days of computing. “The Georgetown Experiment” in 1954 involved the translation of sixty Russian sentences into English. In an IBM Press Release issued back in the day, Prof. Leon Dostert hopefully predicted “that five, perhaps three years hence, interlingual meaning conversion by electronic process in important functional areas of several languages may well be an accomplished fact. (whatever he meant by that).
Recently, Google has been offering Google Translate, a free service, that provides immediate bi-directional translation in 55 languages, Hebrew Arabic, and Yiddish included.
It does a pretty good job with this blog, a result that is readily apparent if you pull down your language of choice and press translate.  But could it handle the Bible?
The Tanach, of course, has been translated many times.
Most probably, it was first translated (by hand, of course) into Greek for the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, around 250 B.C.E. This translation is known as the Septuagint, for the seventy scholars who labored over it. The Gemara in Tractate Berakhot 8a says,  Rav Huna bar Yehuda in the name of Rabbi Ammi: "one should always complete the reading of one's weekly Torah portion with the congregation.” This statement was interpreted to require the ritual of Shnayim mikra ve-echad targum, referring to twice reciting the Hebrew text and once reciting Targum Onkelos, an Aramaic  translation and commentary on the Pentatuch. Aramaic was the language of the Jews of Babylonia. Other early Jewish translations include the Targum Yonatan on the Prophets, and Targum Yerushalmi, both into dialects of Aramaic. Two other translations, composed at the beginning of the common era were the Peshitta into Syriac, and the Vulgate into Latin.
Over the years, the Bible  has since has been translated into at least 2,400 of the 6,900  languages listed by the “Summer Institute of Linguistics,” a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to study, develop and document languages.
A website called has 22 searchable translations into English, and 54 languages sport at least one searchable translation.
But Biblical translation is a treacherous business, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
The Talmud records (B. Talmud Megilla, 3a) that when Jonathan ben Uziel translated the Prophets into Aramaic that “the land of Israel quaked over an area of 400 parasangs by 400 parasangs.” Moreover, the Tosefta warns (Megillah 4:41 )that “he who translates a verse literally is a falsifier, and whomever makes additions to it is a blasphemer.” Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Undeterred by these dire warnings I fed the Masoretic text of the ten verses of Psalm 8, which the late Biblical Scholar, Professor Nahum M. Sarna called “unique in the Psalter” into Google Translate. After all, I wasn’t the one doing the translation, so the risks seemed manageable.
No. dice. The translation was unintelligible.
A few examples amply make the point.
The Jewish Publication Society’s translation of 1985 (NJPS) renders verse 3 as “3From the mouths of infants and sucklings You have founded strength on account of Your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger.” Google came up with: “from infants, links - I founded - a goat: John   For Tzorrich; disable enemy, revenge.” NJPS renders verse 5  as “4When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You set in place;” the best Google could do was “that - see Shmich, act Azvatich  D- Moon and stars, which shank.”
A side-by-side comparison of the Hebrew, NJPS, and Google’s translation is available at
56 years after Dr. Dostert’s  prediction, human study and effort is still as indispensible as ever for understanding and appreciating the Tanach. 

Judaism, the Bazaar, Chaos, and the Internet

The Cathedral, the Bazaar, Chaos, the Internet and Judaism
 By David E. Y. Sarna
In Googled: The End of the World as We Know It[1], the fascinating insider’s tale of Google’s successes and challenges deftly written by Ken Auletta, we are reminded of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a seminal paper by Eric Steven Raymond, first delivered at a Linux developers conference in 1997; It’s also available in book form[2]. The paper expounds on the merits of “bazaar-style” software development in contrast to the top-down, centrally controlled management style used in most corporation.
I happened to be reading Auletta’s book on a recent Friday night, after our Sabbath dinner. It suddenly dawned on me. Raymond could just as well have been describing Judaism as the community of Linux users. (For those who have been asleep, like Honi the Circle-drawer  whom the Talmud says [3] fell asleep and awoke after 70 years, or Washington Irving’s character Rip Van Winkle, who similarly fell asleep for twenty years), Raymond is referring to Linux, the Unix-like free and open source operating system software  originally written in 1991 by Linus Torvalds and now used on about 60% of the world’s computer servers, according to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft[4], who said about the statistic,  “I don't like it. ... We have some work to do."
While a bazaar may not be the first descriptor of Judaism that comes to mind, it is apt. Walk into most any decent-sized Yeshiva, or even into a synagogue, during most parts of the service, and you confront a cacophony of voices. As Raymond says, “No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here.”
In comparison, in most cathedrals, silence is golden.  
In a Yeshiva, you usually study together with a study-buddy, a “havruta.” Kent Beck's “extreme programming” technique for rapid, more bug-free development is similar. He suggests deploying coders in pairs each one looking over the other’s shoulders[5].
The Talmud has been likened to hypertext, as is it full of internal links, as Jonathan Rosen observed[6].
Like the Internet, Judaism is highly decentralized, a property which provides for inherent fault-tolerance. While some countries, such as the United Kingdom have chief rabbis, others, like the United States, do not. There is no supreme ecclesiastical body. No one person or group is “in charge.” Each synagogue has its own customs and rituals, based on a common core. Just as the Internet has some major paths and core routers (the Internet Backbone), so too Judaism has its major strands, often called Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.  But actually, it has many more strands than Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors of ice cream.
There are (self-described) fervently Orthodox, (haredi), Hassidic Orthodox, plain old Orthodox, “Modern Orthodox,” (also self-described), right wing, left wing (no Blue dogs that I’m aware of). There are groups who consider themselves  “Yeshivish,” “Litvish” (based on the study methods popular in pre-War Lithuania), feminist, anti-feminist, and so on. And that’s just among the Orthodox, who comprise perhaps 11% of the total, according to the late professor Daniel J. Elazar who founded the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which keeps track of such things. He also said that at the very least the Orthodox represent 20 percent of the affiliated American Jewish community.
There are similar divisions among the more “liberal,” “progressive,” and reconstructionist strands.
Judaism has its core principles, but even these, other than monotheism, and a belief that God is a “unity unlike any other possible unity” (Maimonides) are much debated.
The Rabbi in Judaism is primarily a teacher, and a decisor. He is by no means an intermediary between man and God. It’s not so well known, but a Rabbi is not needed even to solemnize a Jewish wedding; a thing of value (such as a ring), a marriage contract and the attestation of two valid witnesses suffice.
Reynolds says that “the developer who uses only his or her own brain in a closed project is going to fall behind the developer who knows how to create an open, evolutionary context in which feedback exploring the design space, code contributions, bug-spotting, and other improvements come from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people.
So it is with Talmudic study, and it has always been so for nearly two millennia. It is a marketplace of competing ideas. Not only is the Talmud itself replete with controversy, but in the standard editions of the Talmud, the text is surrounded by commentaries and super-commentaries, and thousands more glosses have been written over the generations, many flatly contradicting each other. What emerges out of all this seeming chaos, is like the results of a spectroscopic analysis, with bands of different colors whose width represents the degree of consensus.  On some issues, there is a wide band signifying broad agreement, while on others there is a colorful rainbow of narrow bands reflecting an enduring lack of consensus. Of course, the range of opinion is ultimately constrained by the Torah, which functions like a constitution in establishing boundaries.
This healthy tension between authority and opinion is nowhere more evident than on the Internet.  Google uses its famous (and secret) PageRank methodology, named after Larry Page, the co-founder of Google[7], to give great weight to authority and frequency of citation in its rankings. Yet, by attempting to index all of the pages in the Internet, it doesn’t totally disregard minority opinion or comments by individual bloggers; it just pushes their pages further down in the rankings of the search results that it presents.
The bazaar appears to operate on the edge of chaos, as does the Yeshiva. But there is order in chaos, as the famous French polymath Henri Poincaré (1854 – 1912) first identified. And this near chaos is not a bad thing, as Madhu M. Kurup pointed out: “From elementary chaos theory and evolutionary biology, we know that the most adaptive, dynamic and successful systems operate at the edge of chaos. Too much rigidity and the system dies as it cannot evolve. Too much chaos and the system is destroyed.”[8] Chaos Theory was popularized by James Gleick in his 1987 best seller, Chaos: Making a New Science[9].
Rabbi Abraham Issac HaCohen Kook (1865–1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine was notable for building bridges among the various factions in Judaism. He famously called for and envisioned a spiritual renaissance where "the ancient would be renewed and the new would be sanctified."
While a patent examiner in 1871 (the year that Mark Twain was granted his first patent) is reported to have resigned, believing that everything possible had already been invented, the US Patent Office denies this as a myth, and we know that innovation in both technology and Talmudic study are free-wheeling, ongoing, and never-ending processes.
Perhaps it is the inherent elasticity, flexibility, and somewhat controlled chaos of the bazaar that has enabled Judaism to renew itself and remain relevant after thousands of years, and it bodes well for the future of the Internet as well.

[1] ISBN-13: 978-1594202353
[2] ISBN-13: 978-0596001087
[3] BT Taanit 23a
[5] see Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change, ISBN-13: 978-0321278654
[6] The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rose (ISBN-13: 978-0826455345). See also
[9] ISBN-13: 978-0747404132

Jewish Marriage Lasts Because It's Not Forever

Elizabeth Gilbert’ and Ann Patchett have written extensively about modern marriage. A recent "conversion" between them brought into sharp relief for me the contrast between Jewish ideas of marriage and what Patchett and Gilbert  describe (and which is presumably representative of what many think). They speak of marriage as a “curious amalgam” of “a lifelong, unbreakable contract to God, sealed by a priest” and “a bond of love, an expression of individualistic choice.”Gilbert also notes that “Americans marry more – and sadly, divorce more – than anyone else in the industrialized world,” and considers a modern marriage “as a car strangely fashioned out of an old abandoned horse carriage, built upon the framework of a mule cart.

Jewish marriage is quite different.

Not Forever
For starters, Jewish marriage is not presumed to be forever. Despite Jewish marriages involving no undertakings of permanence (no “until death do us part” vows), Jews exceed all other ethnic/racial and religious groups in being married (65 percent of Jews vs. 57 percent of non-Jews), even though most Jews apparently marry at somewhat later ages than non-Jews do. Eighty-two percent of Jews vs. 71 percent of non-Jews grew up in an intact family. With 21 percent never having been divorced, the divorce rate among Jews is lower than all other groups except Asians (11 percent) and Catholics (20 percent) according to Dr. Tom W. Smith (Jewish Distinctiveness In America: A Statistical Portrait). The divorce rate is lower still among observant Jews. Judaism recognizes that marriage, like everything worthwhile in life, requires dedication, effort and energy. And even when two people are meant for each other, it is possible for them to ruin their marriage. That is why Judaism allows for “no-fault” divorce.Divorce.

Divorce Biblically Sanctioned
Divorce is Biblically sanctioned; (a sefer kritut, a bill of divorcement) is mentioned in Deut 24:1-3) and serves as a writ of manumission that frees the women to marry another man (except a cohen).- Judaism recognized the concept of "no-fault" divorce thousands of years ago. It has always accepted divorce as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one. Judaism generally maintains that it is better for a couple to divorce than to remain together in a state of constant bitterness and strife.
While technically, the husband must issue the divorce, known as a get, to the wife,  and it must be given of his “free will,” the wife may sue in rabbinical court to initiate the divorce, and the rabbinical court can order the husband to grant his wife a divorce.

In the olden days,  a recalcitrant husband who refuses the court's order to issue a divorce could be flogged until he says, “I want to;” nowadays he may be subject to moral suasion, ostracism, tort liability, and in Israel, to incarceration, until he agrees. There is even a possibility of a rabbinical court annulling the marriage ab initio in some circumstances. (In fairness, it must be noted that the wheels of justice can sometimes turn slowly, leading to a small number of women becoming agunot (anchored), prevented from remarrying because they cannot finalize a divorce).

Both Spouses Must Willingly Consent
From the days of the Biblical Isaac marrying Rebecca (Gen 24:57), in Judaism, both husband and wife must willingly agree to the marriage.
Originally, a husband could arbitrarily divorce his wife without her consent, even though he remained obligated to support her ( according to most opinions, for at least a year), or for longer, if the marriage contract so provides. However, about 1000 CE, Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, (c. 960 -1040) best known as Rabbeinu Gershom, “the light of the diaspora” called a synod that among other decrees, prohibited polygamy and required the consent of both parties to a divorce (it also prohibited reading of private mail).

Property Rights Respected
A married woman retains ownership of any property she brought to the marriage, but the husband has the right to manage the property during the term of the marriage and to enjoy profits from the property in return for his obligation to support her; in the event the marriage is dissolved, she takes her property back.

Sexual Relations Required
Regular sexual relations are expected between husband and wife. This obligation is known as onah. A sustained refusal to have sexual relations constitutes valid grounds for divorce.

Love Not Mentioned
Kabbalistically, marriage is understood to mean that the husband and wife are merging together into a single soul, and a man is considered "incomplete" if he is not married, as his soul is only one part of a larger whole that remains to be unified. In Judaism, marriage is not solely, or even primarily, for the purpose of procreation. Traditional sources recognize that companionship, love and intimacy are the primary purposes of marriage, noting that woman was created because "it is not good for man to be alone," (Gen. 2:18) rather than because she was necessary for procreation.
Nevertheless, the Jewish marriage contract (ketubah ) itself, (which has existed in essentially the same form at least for 2500 years - the oldest ones were found on Egyptian Elephantine Island -  is essentially a statement of undertakings; notably absent is any mention of romance or love.


Love, in the Jewish tradition, is something that develops over time, from shared intimacy, shared values, and shared aspirations. Therefore, it cannot be demanded, promised or legislated.  We  read that “Isaac brought her [Rebeka] into his mother Sarah's tent (Sarah was already deceased), and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her"  (Gen 24:67). Unlike the popular ditty, “first comes love, then comes marriage…” in traditional Judaism, first comes marriage, then comes love. As Sam Walton, founder of WalMart famously said, “expectations are the key to everything.” Perhaps it is the different expectations from a Jewish marriage that helps contribute to the high rate of marriage and low rate of divorce in the Jewish community.

(Thanks to my Professor Jonathan D. Sarna and to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky for their assistance)