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Is the Internet Good for the Jews?. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman Session Outline. Suspension of Disbelief. There is much to be skeptical about: About 8,000 “problematic hate and terrorist websites and other Internet postings”

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is the internet good for the jews

Is the Internet Good for the Jews?

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

suspension of disbelief
Suspension of Disbelief
  • There is much to be skeptical about:
    • About 8,000 “problematic hate and terrorist websites and other Internet postings”
      • an increase of 30 percent over the previous year: Simon Wiesenthal Center (Jerusalem Report)
suspension of disbelief1
Suspension of Disbelief
  • Internet “leads to loneliness and isolation.”
suspension of disbelief2
Suspension of Disbelief
  • Oh yes and it also appears at times to be….
suspension of disbelief4
Suspension of Disbelief
  • "The Church welcomes technological progress and receives it with love, for it is an indubitable fact that technological progress comes from God and, therefore, can and must lead to Him."
  • Pope Pius XII in his Christmas message in 1953
suspension of disbelief5
Suspension of Disbelief
  • If the Church can accept technological change…

….. Why can’t we?

suspension of disbelief6
Suspension of Disbelief
  • “You can learn something from everything:
    • From the railway – we learn that one moment’s delay can throw everything off schedule;
    • from the telegraph we learn that every word counts;
    • and from the telephone we learn that what we say Here is heard There.”

RabbiAvrahamYa’akov of Sadigora (19th century)

suspension of disbelief7
Suspension of Disbelief

Is Rabbi Avraham Ya’akov’s optimistic view

representative of the Jewish mainstream?

suspension of disbelief8
Suspension of Disbelief
  • Which technological revolution does the current one most resemble:

Sadigora’s Big Three?



The Pill?

None of the Above?

we are all connected
We Are All Connected
  • “To regain our full humanity, we have to regain our connectedness

with the entire web of life.

This reconnecting, religio in Latin,

is the very essence of the spiritual grounding of deep ecology.”

Fritjof Capra, “The Web of Life”

we are all connected1
We Are All Connected

“All real living is meeting”

Martin Buber

we are all connected2
We Are All Connected

“To assert that all is one in God is our supreme act of faith.”

  • Arthur Green, on the Sh’ma: “Seek My Face, Speak My Name”
we re all connected
We’re All Connected

Think about it…

we re all connected1
We’re All Connected
  • Sites to visit:
  • Where I Found My Father Online
  • Rashi’s Commentary on Parashat Behar
  • Brian Pollack’s Bar Mitzvah Commentary on Parashat Behar
  • Jewish Matchmakers Throughout the Ages
we re all connected2
We’re All Connected
  • How does cyberspace break down barriers of space, time, age and ability?
  • …and how has it redefined…
there s no place like makom
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • “'How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the portal (gateway) to heaven.'”

Genesis 28:17

there s no place like makom1
There’s No Place Like Makom

"[Jacob] came upon the place (makom)" (Genesis 28:11).

Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Ami: Why do we rename God, using the name “Makom?” (“the Place”) Because S/He is the place of the world…”

there s no place like makom2
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • “One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.”

Hermann Hesse

there s no place like makom3
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • In its annual report released Tuesday, the UNHCR said 11.4 million people were forced to leave their countries in 2007, compared to 9.9 million in 2006.
  • Another 26 million were displaced within their own countries by conflict or persecution, up from 24.2 million the year before.

AP dispatch June 17, 2008

there s no place like makom4
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • Americans move on average

once every five years

    • (40 million per year)

Source: CNN

there s no place like makom5
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • For Jews…



there s no place like makom6
There’s No Place Like Makom


עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל--שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ: בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea,

we wept, when we remembered Zion.

For there they that led us captive asked of us words of song, and our tormentors asked of us mirth: 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?

there s no place like makom7
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • How has our definition of home changed in recent years?  
  • How can the Jewish experience of Diaspora and the portability of home be instructive in a wireless, transient world?

Sites to visit:

  •  A Traditional Mizrach
  • A Personal Mizrach
  • Kotel Kam(Live)
there s no place like makom8
There’s No Place Like Makom

Like Jacob’s Ladder…

Can a computer screen at all be seen as a “portal to heaven?”

there s no place like makom9
There’s No Place Like Makom
  • In a world of wanderers, can the People of the Book also be the

People of the Notebook?

a world imbued with godliness
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • “This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person.”


Time's 2006 Person of the Year: You

a world imbued with godliness1
A World Imbued with Godliness
  • "…Also, humanity [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, for if a person strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the Holy One made each human in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow.Therefore every single person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for my sake."'

Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5


“The era of one size fits all is ending, and in its place is something new, a market of multitudes.”

  • “The mainstream has been shattered into a zillion different cultural shards.
  • Increasingly the mass market is turning into a mass of niches.”

Chris Anderson, The Long Tail  

a world imbued with godliness2
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • How do the “zillion cultural shards” of the Long Tail compare to the “shards of divinity” (Klipot) of Lurianic Kabbalah, which, despite divine origins, are seen as primarily evil in nature?
a world imbued with godliness3
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • What is religion’s role in a Long Tail world, where people have fewer common cultural touchstones?

In other words…

a world imbued with godliness4
A World Imbued With Godliness

If 600,000 at Sinai had all been listening to different songs on their iPods, could the Torah have been revealed at all?....

a world imbued with godliness5
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • …or, do we now have 600,000 remarkably different but equally sacred and beautiful songs to share?
a world imbued with godliness6
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • One final question…
  • A century of mass warfare and carnage has resulted in the cheapening of human life. A single person can push a button and kill millions living thousands of miles away.

Can Web 2.0’s empowerment of the individual reverse this trend?

a world imbued with godliness7
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • OK…
  • Just one more question on this…
  • Remember…. You promised a suspension of disbelief…
a world imbued with godliness8
A World Imbued With Godliness

Could Creation have been…


a world imbued with godliness9
A World Imbued With Godliness
  • "And God created the universe

with books (Sepharim)

with text (Sepher)

with number (Sephar)

and with communication (Sippur)”

Sefer Yetzira (The Book of Creation), c. 6th cent.Kabbalistic work


On to other outlandish assertions…

  • Jews think hypertextually
the wiki jew
The Wiki Jew
  • “The Talmud is thus the recorded dialogue of generations of scholars.  It has all the characteristics of a living dialogue.  Freshness, vivid spontaneity, and acute awareness of every subject permeate every argument and discussion.  The spirit of life breathes on every single page.”
  • Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
the wiki jew1
The Wiki Jew
  • “A page of Talmud is structured around a single text surrounded by concentric layers of commentary and commentary on commentary.  By form and content, it announces the unfinished quality of constructing knowledge and the collective construction of shared values.  Even in its layout on the page, the Talmud suggests a kind of time and space destroying hypertextual symposium rather than an authoritative, linear, and coherent pronouncement with a beginning and ending written by a solitary author who owns the words therein.”

Computer-Mediated Communication,

RPI professor David Porush

the wiki jew2
The Wiki Jew
  • For millennia, Jewish tradition has evolved in much the same collaborative, incremental manner, and now it is finding a home in the global cyber-yeshiva. While rabbis still play a major role, everyone is now welcome to join in this timeless conversation.

Joshua Hammerman, “No More Three Day Jews”

The Jewish Week

the wiki jew3
The Wiki Jew
  • How was Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah the Google of its day?
the wiki jew4
The Wiki Jew
  • How is the role of the rabbi and teacher different in the age of the Wiki Jew?

And so now that we can see why the Internet is sooo Jewish




online ethics masechet cyberspace
Online Ethics: Masechet Cyberspace

"What is spoken in Rome may kill in Syria.“

Beresheet Rabbah

masechet cyberspace
Masechet Cyberspace

Rabbenu Gershom ben Yehuda(c. 960-1028)

masechet cyberspace1
Masechet Cyberspace
  • Is e-mail a blessing or a curse? Is it ever ethical to forward third party e-mail?
  • What would R.Gershom say?
masechet cyberspace2
Masechet Cyberspace
  • Case Studies
  • Viral Nature of Lashon Ha-Ra Online: The U.K - Source
  • Truth, Prayer and World Repair: Kelsey Brooke Jones – Source
  • The Inspiring but Nonexistent 7-Year Old Cancer Patient: Amy Bruce – Source
  • Instant Advocacy: The CNN Weather Page – Source
  • Online Stalking’s Devastating Impact: Megan Meier - Source

Jewish Bloggers’ Campaign for Responsible Speech Online

masechet cyberspace3
Masechet Cyberspace
  • How does the current cyber culture validate the longstanding Jewish emphasis on the power of words to form (and destroy) worlds?
  • Can the Jewish value of privacy be sustained in a Facebook world?
  • Is teshuvah possible when one’s words from decades never recede into the past, but are eternally revisited by search engines?
creating community alone together
Creating Community: Alone / Together
  • “Being alone has its special value,

But only when one is among others.”

Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki

creating community alone together1
Creating Community: Alone / Together
  • “It is good to have a special room set aside for sacred study and prayer, secluded meditation and conversation with God….and speak with Him about everything that is going on in your life. Confess all your sins, transgressions and failings, and speak freely as one speaks to a friend. You should speak at length, talk and talk some more, argue with Her, sigh and weep, and ask that S/He have mercy and allow us to achieve true devotion.“
  • Nachman of Bratzlav
creating community
Creating Community
  • Can a Minyan be created Online?
  • See: Masechet Cyberspace - Can You Count in a Minyan Online?

The Ultimate Question:

Is the Virtual World REAL?

is the virtual world real
Is the Virtual World Real?

“We are the WEB

And YOU are the WEAVER”  

  • MidrashTehillim 38
is the virtual world real1
Is the Virtual World Real?

"I see the parchment burning,

but the letters are soaring upward."

Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon

is the virtual world real2
Is the Virtual World Real?
  • Can We Erase God’s Name on a Computer Screen?
and finally
And Finally….
  • Sit down in front of your computer after midnight and see what is there. Reach out to connect --and not necessarily with people. Simply connecting to the latest news, to stock results or late ball scores, is enough to evoke a feeling of "humble surrender" and awe….
is the virtual world real3
Is the Virtual World Real?
  • How lovely can this universe be, how orderly and sound, when, without waking a soul, I can order cut-rate plane tickets to Chicago?
  • How close to the mountaintop can one ascend, when, with a few clicks, one can see the deep blue earth from the perspective of a roving satellite hundreds of miles up?
  • How dusty must my weary pilgrim's feet get, when I can click my way to a live shot of Jerusalem’s Western Wall in seconds, and fax my prayer to be placed within its ancient cracks?
is the virtual world real4
Is the Virtual World Real?
  • Mircea Eliade, a modern master of the study of the Sacred, writes of a sacred space as a place of breakthrough, a point of passage to another realm, an absolute reality.
is the virtual world real5
Is the Virtual World Real?
  • From where can we jump off into that higher world if not from a springboard whose range appears so limitless?
  • Who would have thought that the "Road Less Traveled" could be so easily located on the Information Superhighway?
is the virtual world real6
Is the Virtual World Real?

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote,

"Prophetic inspiration may come as a flash,

is the virtual world real7
Is the Virtual World Real?

but it is a flash of perpetual light.”

is the internet good for the jews1

Is the Internet Good for the Jews?

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman