The Jewish Zen of Steve Jobs
Rabbi Jason Miller
Social networking sites began buzzing immediately after word spread of the death of Apple Computer visionary Steve Jobs yesterday evening. Rabbis took time out of their busy preparations for Yom Kippur to halt their sermon writing and post personal reflections on what the contributions of Steve Jobs’ creative spark had on them.
Rabbi Andrew Pepperstone of Dewitt, NY posted to his Facebook page, “Is Steve Jobs a hero? If someone who has vision, discipline, passion, and love for what he does is a hero, then yes. It was not about the money or the fame for him. It was about changing the world in a million little ways that improved peoples’ lives. And his devices and other inventions have been a major breakthrough in helping people with disabilities communicate and employ the best that technology has to offer.” Earlier on Facebook, the loyal Apple user recounted the plethora of Apple computers and gadgets he had used since his first Apple IIe in 1984.
Answering the question “Why Is Steve Jobs Important to Me?” Rabbi Eric Linder of Omaha explained how Jobs impacted his professional life. On his blog Linder wrote, “In my rabbinate, I have tried to use technology to make Judaism relevant. For Rosh Hashanah we leveraged the power of social media to crowd source answers to the question, ‘What does the shofar call YOU to do?’ All of the technical stuff was done on Apple technology. And the project brought the congregation closer together. It brought people together.”
Over the past three decades, the technological innovation that was inspired by Steve Jobs’ vision had a significant effect on the Jewish community. His genius was in intuiting what would happen when you “strip away the excess layers of business, design, and innovation until only the simple elegant reality remained.” The ways in which Jewish education and Jewish life have been positively affected by the products that Steve Jobs dreamed of and made into a reality are countless. His iPods made Jewish music and Jewish learning more accessible. His computers brought graphic design to new levels for Jewish institutions like synagogues and day schools. His Facetime application on the iPhone allowed Jewish communities separated by continents to come together and communicate. The geographical distances and borders have become irrelevant thanks to the innovative contributions of this genius. The thousands of Jewish themed applications from utilities to resources to games were created specifically for the iPhone and iPad.
Steve Jobs’ understanding of efficiency and connectivity led to the intuitive devices that have changed the way we work and connect with each other. The Jewish high school that has its students learning Talmud and chemistry on the iPad owes a great deal to the work of Steve Jobs. The father who created a slideshow of memories set to music using iMovie for his daughter’s wedding is indebted to the vision of Steve Jobs. The young boy living in a remote area of the country who is preparing for his bar mitzvah by listening to a New York cantor’s podcast on his iTouch is grateful to Steve Jobs.
The Jewish community might want to claim Steve Jobs as one of its own because he so embodied the character of a Jewish sage. His desire to inspire creativity, connect people, form communities, make people more organized, and improve the way we work and play are all great qualities, but they are not specifically Jewish qualities. Did the devotee of Zen Buddhism have a Jewish spark in him? Perhaps he did. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs had a profound effect on the Jewish world. His dynamic legacy will continues to make the world better as we continue to plug in and connect with each other in just the way he envisioned and using the devices he helped design. If the value of Tikkun Olam really means leaving your imprint on the world in a quest to make it a better place for all of us, then Steve Jobs possessed that value a thousand-fold.