Yoav Ben Dov once wrote an article in which he divides the history of culture and its metaphors into 3 eras: the organic, the mechanic and the digital. This view seems to be generally true and is widely supported by other major era differentiations such as the three wave theorem of Alvin Toffler or the tribal-mechanical-electronic stages in the mcluhanesque divisions of history.
In this context I have come up with 3 different models of Judaism parallel to these 3 technological eras. These models enable us to understand Judaism in relation to it's surrounding technological environment, and offer a sort of McLuhanesque reading to Jewish history.
The Organic Jew – The organic Jew is the one who is sometimes called the "Simple Jew". This is the Jew who relates to God and religion in an organic fashion – meaning in a natural, direct, undogmatic and manner. Organic Judaism (I refer here to Talmudic times until the time of the Rishonim, but most of all to the time of the scriptures) is a Judaism without clear boundaries. A Judaism which the believer can still shape in different forms according to his understanding – in a way derived of the pre-industrial existence which is closer to the organic world. This begins with the direct and unique relation that each of the characters in the scriptures has with God, the anarchistic tendencies of the Talmud such as in the story about Rabbi Yosi Hagalili who would eat milk with poultry and the descriptions of the simple Jews in the stories of the Baal Shem Tov. The organic Jew manifests a world view in which religion is still a natural and inseparable part of Man's existence and the relations between Man and his God are organic, living and dynamic.
The Mechanical Jew – With the advent of the moveable type and printing technology which Mcluhan calls the first assembly line and the presenter of mass production, so arrives also a new kind of Jew, an assembly line Jew who is created in a uniform Shape.
The standardization of Talmudic [and other] texts which occurred throughout the world as a consequence of the move to print technology has caused the unification of the Halachic [Jewish law] norms. This process which brings about Orthodox Judaism is the direct result of the Gutenbergian world. The great intensification of publishing possibilities has lead to the publication of ever more Halachic laws which have broadened the judicial domain of Halacha to all parts of everyday life in an attempt to include any human deed inside the ever growing structure of Halachic thought. The result was of course a further standardization of religious texts.
The Digital Jew – The digital Jew springs forth at the end of the 20th century with the information revolution, the growth of the datasphere, of networked existence and of a new class of Jews which reside on virtual terrains. In the postmodern, hypertextual and linked world of the digital Jew any attempt to coerce an exclusive and clearly defined path to Jewish meaning and God loses it's meaning. For the digital Jew any kind of faith or worldview can only be meaningful when is stands in connection with other nodes on the network.
This Jew which has certain similarities with the new-age or postmodern Jew is one with a rhizomatic Judaism which is connected to myriad strains within Judaism and outside it. He takes ideas from religions, philosophies and other spiritual movements and combines them within Judaism. This is in fact, a mashup Jew.
While there are still some organic Jews out there, the great majority of Judaism is still in the mechanic phase and the clearest symptom thereof is of course the stringent opposition to the Internet and information technology by most of the orthodox world, and the clinging to the book and printing technologies.
This orthodox clinging to gutenbergian technologies seems superfluous, though. In terms of the basic Jewish values of opposing idolatry, living between exile and redemption, and the view of the universe as a living text the virtual realm seems to be an even better platform for Jewish thought than the book. However, I am not worried, as more and more digital Jews appear around us all the time. For many who were born outside orthodox and religious systems and chose to identify themselves with Jewish tradition, the digital Judaism seems today like the only relevant choice.