Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
It’s time that the religious blog, if not all blogs, to go the way of the 8-track tape, and make a not-quick-enough exit from the world of new media that it tried to fit into. The blog is an entirely disposable medium. At once, blogs lack the seriousness of thoughtful articles, the immediacy and brevity of tweets, and the intimacy of Facebook posts.
Jews still read from scrolls. There is an emerging market of apps, and great digital websites to mine religious text, but Jews still read from scroll – it brings us together, at least for Shabbat and Holiday (if not Mondays and Thursdays when the scroll is also read). Religions move slowly – cohesively moving masses of people through a changing world toward what religious leaders see as a collective higher cause. Sometimes resisting change is the most powerful form of human agency.
Those early adopters of mass, on-line digital content, and those millennial native speakers, the vanguard of this medium, will bring the tools and wares they want from their religion – “Jewish”, or “cultural Jewish”, Sephardic or Ashkenazic, with them. But blogs have proven to be a clunky format. Sorely lacking in visceral impact, they are not the digital equivalent of a soaring sermon, nor even the more modestly ambitious on-line version of intellectual conversation. As they have unfolded, blogs don’t seem to know what they are. Too formal. Too casual. Too long. Too short.
What is a blog (a web + log)?
Format matters. All too often a blog seems like a meld between that which produced it and its end result, BS and a log. The problem highlights the negative side of democracy, i.e. anyone and her dim cousin can have an opinion, and does, even if said opinion is based on nothing more than erroneous gossip, intractable prejudice, and/or an individual’s idiosyncratic fantasy/ delusion of how they wish things would be.In the digital media, as its emerging, we are seeing a divide: more thoughtful articles or editorials (similar to the legacy papers and magazines of old) and emotive spouting, sometimes flaming and trolling- with little content but heavy on feeling – usually aimed at stoking outpourings of self-righteous outrage, suspicion, resentment,and even dangerously misplaced paranoia.
It’s not its length, its how you use it.
To be sure, meaningful messages can be short or long. Modern Torah can be meaningful in sweeping long passages, novels, articles. It can also be poignant when it’s short. Moses’ tweet-worthy prayer for his sister Miriam still moves me, “Please, God, heal her.”
The Torah I’m attracted to draws us into conversation, where the conversation becomes as holy as the text itself. Yes, people respond to blogs, and yes words are posted back and forth as if a court stenographer has captured a brief exchange conversation. It’s not the same.
Religious leaders, Rabbis and Jewish educators of all sorts included, have tried to “meet the people where they are”by writing blogs. Is there any evidence that these blogs have made a difference in the religious lives of readers? I will admit that a response from a Parisian resident who read my blog about the need to rock on after the Bataclane was terrorized suggests that blogs can sometimes make a difference. But, couldn’t that post just as well have been an Op-Ed in the Times or evoke as much solidarity that I felt as imposing the French flag over one’s Facebook picture?
It’s been five years of writing occasional blogs. My first was entitled “Delaying Bar Mitzvah to Age 25”. It received the “octave-too-high” reaction that we’ve all become accustomed to and some of us are exhausted from in this mass media age. In the blog format, people hear what they want to hear. Confirmation bias is too strong to be challenged by blogs.
To fellow blog writers, but especially religious blog writers, I offer this consideration as I bow out from blog writing, at least for a bit: What are you doing? If you want to teach me something – write an article (print or digital, that’s not the point). Talmud Torah, the study of Torah, is not dead. We “turn it and turn it again” and as we study our holy texts, we still learn more. If you want to share a moment, or emote at me, I’m game, but just post it on Facebook – I’ll get to it soon enough. Better still, if there is real urgency, if you really want to talk to me, pick up the phone, or meet me for coffee. Who knows, what starts out as just human interaction could turn into Torah.
Pronounced: seh-FAR-dik, Origin: Hebrew, describing Jews descending from the Jews of Spain.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.