Note: This question was submitted by three students at an exclusive public school. Future influencers? Who can say?
Dear Rabbi Simon
We are doing a project on Judaism for school. We were wondering about your opinion surrounding the following questions: How internally diverse is Judaism (eg. race, sexuality, gender)? How much does Judaism evolve and change in the modern day?
We would really appreciate your opinion on these matters.
Alisa, Harry, and Eduardo
Dear Alisa, Harry and Eduardo
Thank you for your questions about Judaism for your school project.
At the outset I will say that Judaism is an ancient and numerically small religion (0.15% of the world population), which has given rise to the two “daughter” religions of Christianity and Islam. The latter two have spread throughout much of the world by conquest and conversion. Judaism has done very little of either of these (although we are scattered throughout the world nevertheless, due to expulsion, religious persecution and migration).
To answer your “race” question, Jews are collectively descendants of the ancient Israelites of Biblical times, ie roughly 3000 years ago. For this reason, Jews tend to be of broadly similar ethnic and racial origins, with only a small number of those of native African, native American, or Oriental extraction. (Over the centuries, Judaism has absorbed a number of converts (not that many). Many more in the modern era, ie late 20th c. until today.) Of course, as an indigenous Middle Eastern people, there are a large proportion of Jews who derive from Arab lands. They were nearly all driven out in the course of the 20th century. Today they live in Israel, USA, Europe and elsewhere.
With regard to sexuality, assuming that this is an innate proclivity, we can presume that the sexual tendencies within the Jewish community are the same as in the wider society. Ditto for gender!
The question of Judaism evolving with modern times is a nuanced one. While there are progressive expressions of Judaism, in my view our religion has the capacity to remain true to itself by applying the ancient teachings and principals of the Torah (Hebrew Scriptures), as elucidated in the Talmud (200 BCE to 500 CE), to changing times. Although the modern world is dramatically different from ancient or medieval times, the fundamentals of the human condition are unchanged. I would add that many—from within the Jewish world as well—have expected that Judaism cannot survive in changing times. Yet, as Mark Twain (is imagined to have) said, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Your school project is itself proof that Judaism is still around.
So in simple English I would say that Orthodox Judaism continues to apply ageless values to modern times.
I hope this is helpful.
I wish you much success in your project. Keep your minds open and learn lots!
Rabbi Rashi Simon