With the outset of modernity in the early 19th century, religion faced an immense challenge. With all the new scientific knowledge that was suddenly available and with the breaking down of old boundaries and time-honored truths, religion seemed in urgent need of updating. It needed to be palatable to the modern taste. At the time ancient wisdom seemed retrograde and doomed to become relegated to museums and libraries, certainly not something intelligent people could incorporate into their lives.
The new movements such as Reform and Conservatism updated the Jewish religion and simultaneously made changes to it. At the time this served a purpose and both of these movements grew rapidly. Now, however, we live in a postmodern world. Society is turning its back on modern ideology. Young people are turning to spirituality for answers. In fact, many are finding that ancient wisdoms have more relevance to their lives then modern science, philosophy and psychology. The wisdom ancient rabbis distilled into the Kabbalah can now be found prominently displayed in bookshops all over the Western world. Spiritual teachers from every faith are sought out for the wisdom they have imbibed from ancient teachings.
This postmodern rediscovery of ancient wisdom maybe also what Derida meant by Deconstruction. For better or worse, we now live in an era where there is no metanarrative. In the postmodern world, hierarchies and boundaries are deconstructed and not respected—what was seen as sacred by the modern world is no longer seen as such.
Young people especially seem to be rejecting modern ideals. For example, United States Census Bureau statistics show that there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of stay-at-home moms in less than 10 years. Despite the progress feminism has achieved for women, more young mothers today are choosing roles that are more in keeping with ancient values than modern ones.
In his response to the question about the Conservative movement’s future, David Shneer, director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, says that many American Jews find Conservative Judaism uninspiring because the movement does not foster a deep sense of spiritual calling and mission in its leaders. This sense of calling is something he thinks has fostered the dramatic recent growth of around the world. However, he misses the main point. has had such staggering success primarily because modernity has failed. In a postmodern world, people know that science and technology have not answered man’s deepest questions and have certainly not satisfied the human desire for fulfillment and spirituality.
The really progressive person has moved beyond the modern belief in and reliance on human achievements, intellect, and science, yet employs all that modern knowledge in approaching and finding real values in the traditions and wisdoms of our ancestors. Clearly modern Jewish Movements must learn to embrace postmodern attitudes, which include embracing traditional and ancient wisdoms, or face further decline.