Connected Capitalism is not the type of book one would expect to see right now. It is unashamedly Jewish and unapologetically pro-capitalist. Even more surprisingly, it is written by an academic, Dr. David Weitzner, a professor of management at York University in Toronto, Canada. In these pages, we have often been critical of the biased work coming out of academia. This book stands out as a refreshing and necessary change in direction.
With recent events in Israel once again dominating the news cycle, we are reminded of what a lonely place it can be for Jews on social media or college campuses. Despite the fact that we live in an era deeply cognizant of sensitivities around individual identities, Jewish identities are quickly erased or dehumanized, often in the name of anti-Zionism.
Thinking about the rising anti-Semitism in the West certainly haunts the discussions in this book. In particular, the way “Jews” have been used as proxies for “capitalists” is particularly disconcerting. Some of the recent violence in the New York and New Jersey area has been justified by progressive leaders as attacks on “gentrifiers.” It seems that the challenge of saving capitalism is disturbingly linked to the challenge of protecting Jews. The portrayal of a cabal of Jewish bankers pulling the strings of puppet governments is an old anti-Semitic trope. But it persists and must be resisted anew.
Citing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Weitzner writes that “because Judaism celebrates the transformative change that comes from reactive spiritual work, we Jews can be blamed for all of the varying grievances held by those who prefer a world that does not change.” For example, as the far left idealizes socialist regimes that have now collapsed, Jews are attacked for being capitalists. And as the eternal outsider, Jews are always easy scapegoats. But there is something else going on which Weitzner identifies as equally important. Judaism embraces a philosophy of reaction, as opposed to other traditions that celebrate passivity. This, more than anything else, makes Jews the most conspicuous of minorities.
It is this positioning of Judaism as a philosophy of reaction that forms the heart of the Connected Capitalism and makes it a necessary read for all people interested in discovering a new spin on Judaism. Weitzner states “Assertive efforts can be sacred, if we accept a specific burden: the moral responsibility in knowing that when we act, we are connecting ourselves to those who may be impacted by our actions. When work is spiritual, it is also cooperative. It is doing with others.”
The book is divided into three parts, each one dedicated to exploring a “pillar” of the spiritual experience. The first part looks at how we find meaning in work, laying the case for why meaning is more likely to be found by doing the spiritual work demanded by the Jewish tradition, as opposed to the more popular trend of “being spiritual” through mindfulness and meditation. Weitzner offers a novel take on the concept of mitzvah, defining it as “a moment of doing which creates a space for being while binding us to act as responsible members of a wider cooperative community.”
The second part looks at connecting through work. Weitzner explains that “when management gurus talk about cooperation, what they really mean is self-sacrifice. Cooperation in this paradigm is contingent on us repressing ourselves.” In contrast, the type of cooperation the book identifies as spiritually motivated is “a transformational activity of co-creation.”
The highlight in this part of the book is the central role given to the Jewish learning practice of chavrusa. Weitzner explains that chavrusa offers a method for enacting connection with spiritual work. It means viewing friendship as a work resource because spiritual work should be a catalyst for friendship. If we take transformational cooperation seriously, then anyone we cooperate with needs to become a friend. Like in a chavrusa, we use eye contact to declare ourselves; we speak honestly and transparently; we listen actively, with the same intention and intensity as when we are speaking; we engender safety, giving our friends the right to challenge, create discomfort, require action for the purpose of realizing the value that will emerge from the cooperative relationship. It’s really a beautiful take on a practice that is not well known outside of the yeshiva world.
The final part of the book is devoted to wonder at work, closing on the optimistic note which wonder inspires and the hope that follows. Weitzner observes that “whether the question is what is best for my family or what is best for our industry, we no longer have access to a formula for bottom-line calculations because of the rate of change. But there is a solution: learn from ancient Jewish spiritual traditions. The spiritual arena is far more than inward bliss. Work is more than exploitation. Every action we take has the potential to transform. Collectively, the prescriptions for action described throughout this book make up a strategy for hope.”
It is clear that Weitzner believes there is considerable good in our present world, and the spiritual work is in revitalizing those institutions which have historically supported our creation of these goods. He notes that “Capitalism is more than its faults, more than the unpleasant outcomes brought on by a selfish class. And elites are not by definition a negative force in the social order. And finally, sometimes we work for our kids, sometimes we should work with our kids, sometimes we should let our kids do the work.” It is a timely message. I hope this book starts changing the public discussion on Judaism and capitalism. At the very least, all of us who see value in these two traditions should embrace the message.