The Torah of Blogging

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

Do you feel comfortable commenting on a blog article publically?  What would Moses do?

One internet scholar explains that when social networking was first introduced, teen-agers were the most comfortable with it.  Children of the internet, teens commented on any blog post that so moved them and often exposed their private feelings.  Their parents, and adults over the age of 45 were more likely to expose nothing on the internet.  Adults were accustomed to communicating with one person and not with the public. 

Since the introduction of social networking, both teen-agers and adults have shifted in their habits.  The teens who used to expose everything are learning that there are boundaries of privacy they want to protect.  Meanwhile the adults are becoming a bit more liberated in their sharing comments online.  In the balance of these shifts, the habits of teens and adults are not quite as distant from one another as they first were.

As we determine our comfort level with blog-commenting online, let us turn to Jewish tradition for guidance about the words we would share.  Jewish tradition has much to say about the significance of human relationships, speech, and what messages we communicate to the world.  In fact, our words are elevated to the level of Torah. 

Deuteronomy teaches that when the Torah is revealed on Mount Sinai God says: “You stand this day, all of you, before your Eternal God, to enter into the sworn covenant…it is not with You alone that I make this sworn covenant: I make it with those who are standing here with us today before our God, and equally with all who are not here with us today” (Deut. 29:9, 11, 13).  Every generation included in the covenant, we were all standing there for Our inclusion in the covenant extends to this day and beyond.  When we study Torah, the our interpretations enter the canon of Torah commentary.  Every generation’s commentary becomes part of the whole Torah.  Some extend this vision and say that every word we express, throughout our entire lives, becomes a part of that commentary.  The words of our lives are the Torah itself. 

Every word, every comment is Torah.  A challenging standard for us online!  Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of our Reform Movement, spoke about this issue at last month’s Biennial Union for Reform Judaism Conference.  Rabbi Yoffie offers us a challenge to further build community through online interaction and collaboration.  He encourages us “to create an online, Oral Torah of ongoing Jewish discourse, and invite in the opinions of our members.  We need to encourage hotly debated, multi-voiced, civil discussions on synagogue and local issues, and on Israel and national issues.” 

Of course, Rabbi Yoffie understands that online commenting can become a “shoot from the hip” medium.  So, he offers guidelines to help us maintain the Torah of our language.  I think Rabbi Yoffie’s 3 blog-commenting “rules” serve as a great ethical foundation for us at Rodeph Shalom.  As he encourages us all to comment on congregational blogs, he recommends that 1) You need to sign your name; 2) The tone and content of the comment is respectful enough that it could be read from the bima on Shabbat; and 3) No one blogger should dominate the conversation.   May these guidelines help us to be intentional and sensitive in our commenting.

We are blessed with many ways of reaching out to one another and connecting to our community.   Please join in the conversation and share your thoughts when something on the blog interests you.  Also, check out Rabbi Yoffie’s sermon about social networking, which also includes his ideas about ethical eating, and Israel, and share your comments here!