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  • Writer's pictureRuth Schapira

Judaism as a Perennial Polysystem

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

A recent New York Times op-ed article by Mark Bittman, the well-known chef and author, mentioned a new effort in agriculture. The proponent of this new system is a man by the name of Wes Jackson. He advocates for a shared system in farming. Rather than maxing out the soil with one crop only, how much more efficient it would be to plant crops that can co-exist, and even mutually benefit each other by being planted in near proximity. Not only that, the crops would come up year after year!

The author calls that a “perennial polysystem”. These quotes struck me:  “If you look around you’ll see that essentially all of nature’s ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that’s nature’s instruction book.”

“……In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers.”

What an incredible way to define centuries of Jewish  history! Judaism evolved through processes of change, warding off challenges throughout the centuries, but we survive, as a polysystem.

The one-crop model is not nearly as efficient as the one that is sustained through diversity. There is much to learn from this.

We’re seeing struggles now that challenge many deep held beliefs about Judaism.  We are going through an intense period of change. Yet, in some of our lifetimes drastic changes already took place, and we survived. Millions perished. Millions began anew. A new home became a  haven. Now our new home faces yet more challenges, internally and externally.  Judaism is being redefined as I write this, with many developing incredibly creative responses to continue the expansiveness that is Judaism.

Discussions about the recent Pew Study abound. What will we do with this information? How will we respond? What new developments will occur to meet these challenges? Every prophet made us stop and take notice, and we desperately needed their warnings. Let the Pew report on American Judaism be our substitute prophet, warning us so we can respond. The Perennial Polysystem of Judaism will survive this too.

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