On Building a Better World

There exists in Jewish thought a core tension between the idea that human beings are continually declining as we become farther removed from the revelation of the Torah, and the idea that we are increasing in holiness as we approach the messianic age. Yeridat ha-dorot, the decline of the generations, is the dominant ethos. Both in terms of basic halakhic principles, such as the primacy of earlier authorities, and in terms of the value of respectful engagement with our predecessors, yeridat ha-dorot permeates Jewish culture. We defer to the judgments of great decisors and refract our experiences through the memory of our collective past. There is, however, a countervailing tradition that emphasizes aliyat ha-dorot, the ascent of the generations. This perspective does not diminish the stature of earlier generations, but rather sees the past as processive and progressive, building towards a higher spiritual level. I would like to suggest that an emphasis on aliyat ha-dorot, with full acknowledgement of the opposing tendency, is vital to the Jewish future, especially one in which the modern State of Israel flourishes.

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