HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
The Excellence of the Jewish People: Past, Present and Future
Gidi Grinstein is the author of Flexigidity and founder of the Reut Institute, “an innovative policy and strategy group designed to identify the gaps in current policy and strategy in Israel and the Jewish world, and work to build and implement new visions.” This interview is published in partnership with the Jewish Book Council.
Tell us what you mean by “flexigidity.”
Flexigidity is a portmanteau word combining “flexibility” and “rigidity” to capture the secret of Jewish survival, resilience, recurring prosperity and leadership throughout the generations, which stems from the unique manner in which Jewish society blends new and old, innovation and tradition, flexibilities and rigidities, hence flexigidity.
Does “flexigidity” define the particular excellence of the Jewish people?
Flexigidity describes a set of societal mechanisms that are unique to Jews. While I would not say that it describes Jewish “excellence,” it does capture in my view the uniqueness of Judaism and the Jewish people, which has structurally led to its outstanding performance, i.e., to its remarkable resilience, prosperity and leadership.
The characteristic of flexigidity—a combination of what is untouchable and what is negotiable—is not unique and exists in every human being and every organization. In the USA, the Constitution represents rigidity, but the work of Congress, States and districts, as well as the market system and democracy, ensure flexibility. But Jewish Flexigidity that is the unique manner in which Jews do so, is indeed Jewishly idiosyncratic.
You discuss Jewish variety in numerous areas: mission, law, place, language, etc. This variety is often a source of confusion and conflict among Jews today. How in your view has this variety provided a source of strength for Jews in the past?
The Jewish people evolves through tensions that are structural and institutional, never to be resolved, rooted in the notion of Elu ve-elu divrei Elohim chaim (both are the words of God). This is a crucially significant survival mechanism that ensures a brutally honest debate about the condition and direction of our communities.
Why do you think this signature Jewish characteristic has been breaking down in recent times?
In Flexigidity I express the concern that these societal mechanisms that have ensured our collective survival and success are being eroded both in Israel and in the Diaspora, primarily in the USA. This is a reason for deep concern.
How can Jews regain our flexigidity today?
My book calls for more leaders to frame their leadership in the context of the “big picture” of Jewish history and society, and thereby to become “flexigid leaders.” This would require, among other things, dealing with the fundamental challenges facing our people, investing in capacities and institutions and building lasting coalitions across Jewish society.
Explain how flexigidity can help Jews confront the main challenges we are facing as a people.
Flexigidity is not a tool we use, but a description of how we evolve and adapt as a people. Therefore the flexigidity of the Jewish people will help it adapt. It is what allows us to gravitate out of Europe and to grow our Far East communities. It also helps Judaism contend with technological and scientific advancements. For example, if one day Jews will want to observe Shabbat on Mars, there will be multiple rabbinic views on how to do so.
What implications does your book have for Jewish education today, both in the Diaspora and in Israel?
My book offers a big-picture, birds’-eye view of Jewish history and society, which is often lacking. It helps frame present challenges in the context of the legacy and destiny of the Jewish people. And, through its web platform (flexigidity.com), it allows for a global conversation about the condition and direction of our people.
If you were designing a Jewish school to instill flexigidity, what would it look like?
It would be a school where students and teachers are always discussing what is essential and cannot be compromised as opposed to what is negotiable and can be adapted, and why. It would be a school where every issue is taught within a broad context that connects past, present and future. It would be a school where students are brought up to understand that both conservatives and reformers are essential for Jewish adaptability, they are intertwined, interconnected and interdependent, and therefore, disagreements notwithstanding, they must accord each other respect.
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