There was something in the news the other day about plans to eventually replace taxi drivers in Israel with self-driving vehicles. If that ever happens, it will remove a unique aspect of the Israel experience.
My taxi driver to the airport just now was secular and somewhat surly. As we left Ramat Beit Shemesh, there was no conversation. But then I noticed a gazelle by the side of the road, and commented upon it. The driver responded by telling me that his favorite animal is a honey-badger. And we were off!
Over the next thirty minutes the conversation turned from one topic to another. The amazing thing was that at each stage it was him advancing the topics, not me. Honey badgers led to Israeli wildlife, which led to discussing various animals including oryx (called re'em in Modern Hebrew), which led him to raise the topic of the re'em of the Midrash, which led to dinosaurs, which led to the antiquity of the universe, which led to Rambam, which led to the controversy over Rambam's work, which led to him mentioning the recent Israeli television series about Rambam, at which point he suddenly realized that he recognized me because he had seen me interviewed in one of the episodes, which led to discussing the ban on my books, which led to discussing charedi society.
Anyway, as we approached the airport, he told me something fascinating, which I'd like to share with you. He mentioned that he had heard an interview with a secular Israeli scientist discussing why religious Jews and especially charedim live longer than secular Jews. Apparently the explanation given was that in secular society, when people get old, they don't have so much to live for. But in religious and especially charedi society, the old are venerated for their wisdom, and they therefore find greater meaning and satisfaction in life, which helps them live longer.
Would I get such a discussion with a self-driving car? No I would not!