Hot-Desk Judaism has arrived

Hot-Desk Jews are the future. Flexible, cost-efficient, non-hierarchical and collaborative, the hot-desk work space offers opportunities for varied experiences, cultural exchange and heightened personal autonomy. So too, what I’ve termed Hot-Desk Judaism. As elements of Jewish life start to be envisioned post-Corona, this model is going to seep even deeper into our Jewish lives, and its proponents, who defy traditional age-categorization, are Hot-Desk Jews who appreciate these six advantages.

  1. Costs are rationed: The expense of belonging to a Jewish community is often prohibitive. Synagogue membership, Jewish schools, kosher food, life-cycle events and giving to charity demands a decent salary. For the Jewish consumer, Hot-Desk Judaism is a ‘turn-up-whenever, pay-as-you-go’ system without an obligation to take the whole package from any one provider. Mediocrity is priced out of business as religious services, social activities and communal institutions need to compete to provide the best product.
  2. Clutter is eliminated: A hot-desk lays fallow, waiting for the worker to arrive. Some workers may personalize the desk for the day, carrying around a family photo or small stack of papers, for it all to be cleared off at the end of the day. Similarly, Hot-desk Judaism is a tabula rasa, waiting to be personalized by each Jew. Further, the noise of communal politics is absent, allowing Jewish organizations to reinvent themselves and their routines in response to Hot-Desk Jews.
  3. Space is secular: Hot-desks are not necessarily fixed to the floor, enabling a moveable, flexible design. So too Hot-Desk Judaism – prayer services move from one makeshift venue to another, while hybrid online educational programs are not limited by a physical setting. Synagogues lose their sacred status and venues such as Jewish museums are increasingly multi-purpose to meet increasing operating costs.
  4. Globalization is facilitated: Hot-desking gives international staff a place to rest their laptop or a room for client meetings. Young Jews in particular, are hypermobile and naturally, Hot-Desk Judaism welcomes those from other countries, as well as those who don’t regularly enter Jewish spaces. Hot-Desk Judaism offers Jews a desk, a place where they can become part of a community when it’s something they desire at a particular point in their lives.
  5. Serendipity is encouraged: With a fixed seat, you may rarely speak to someone from another team, whereas hot-desking enables you to strike up a conversation with an array of people, creating opportunities for new shared projects to emerge. Hot-Desk Judaism is post-denominational, much is available online, and individuals move around, creating new projects and aligning themselves with an activity or a spiritual moment that resonates accordingly.
  6. Hierarchy is disrupted: The boss doesn’t have the best window corner, the desks are usually the same size and everyone makes their own cup of coffee. The Hot-Desk Jew is interested in range of people offering a multiplicity of answers. The rabbi will not be the arbiter of Jewish life, rather one of many authorities that Hot-Desk Jews might talk to as they create and curate their Jewish life.

While elements of Hot-Desk Judaism have been operating for years, including independent minyanim and emerging alternative rituals for life-cycle events, these isolated activities need the larger structures of communal life to exist. This of course is the conundrum: Hot-Desk Judaism flourishes in opposition to staid, unresponsive communal structures that refuse to acknowledge the need to change. Hot-Desk Judaism is nurtured by entrepreneurial individuals with the nous and networks to initiate grassroots activities.

This goes to the core of defining Jewish communal life and how it will be sustained. It’s clearer in religious circles, where certain institutions are needed to make halachic life happen such as the mikvah, the school and the synagogue, together with the relevant personnel. Charitable giving is generous and a slew of organizations caring for vulnerable people are all part of this communal infrastructure. But even in the Orthodox community where it’s assumed that the lines of authority are clear, it’s much more subtle.  For example, the response to Corona has increased tensions in an already fracturing Orthodox community. With marked exceptions, those in the ultra-Orthodox community have defied government guidelines regarding masks and social distance, while those in the Modern Orthodox community have abided by the rules. Rabbis responded to Corona challenges through the prism of Jewish law, and whatever changes emerge post-Corona, the Shulchan Aruch, the set table, or Code of Jewish Law, will primarily continue to guide behavior in the Orthodox world.

However, what is needed now is a complementary codification for Hot-Desk Judaism – a Shulchan Cham [hot table] if you will. Perhaps a contradiction in terms, as the very nature of Hot-Desk Judaism is its flexibility, however if it is not rooted in the Jewish canon and Jewish traditions, it is doomed. Hot-Desk Judaism offers multiple paths to Jewish engagement, and my goodness, we really need them, but without a code of behavior, I fear that Hot-Desk Judaism will ultimately fail.

We need it to flourish.

First Published 6 December, 2020