Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some Uncommon Questions

Photo a la OneShul.
I'm busy at work in my second semester at NYU in the Education/Jewish studies dual M.A. (yes, I already have one M.A. from the University of Connecticut in Jewish studies, but you can't have too many, right?), and I've discovered that my technological and social media know-how is a huge boon to my experience. In just about every class so far, I've been able to pull on my experiences online to make connections that are ever-so-much-more important when it comes to education, and not just in the Jewish world. Social media skills are what we have to teach students, because at some point, I have no doubt in my mind that such skills will be a prerequisite for just about every job out there.

Along with the growth of social media and online networks, however, come questions. I've been thinking more and more about these questions, and as I prepare for my panel at SXSW Interactive next month, I really would like some kind of insight into whether we have answers or whether we've moved along quickly enough to even be able to consider answering these questions. And these are just a few. Ready?

  • Yichud. Basically this word refers to the prohibition of men and women who are not married from being in seclusion or in a private place together. There are a bajillion ifs and buts tied to this law, but that's the basic gist. This means that I wouldn't invite a single man or a friend's husband over to my house for coffee, k? Now, my question is how we apply the laws of yichud in a digital age. Is it okay to text and email with a woman who is not your wife? With your wife knowing? Without your wife knowing? I'd say the former is okay, the latter violates yichud. What about online chatting or messaging through Facebook or Twitter via Direct Message? How do we apply the laws of yichud to Social Media? Should we? Is it being too strict to think that it should be? You have to consider that just as it was "dangerous" for a man and a woman to be secluded privately because g-d knows where it would end up, so, too, have people found that in the digital age, private communication is quite the same thing, just in a different medium. Thoughts?
  • Davening. There are great collaborative communities online like OneShul from PunkTorah.org that create an online space for prayer (davening), but can you count in a minyan (a quorum of 10 men needed for prayer) if you're only there digitally?
I guarantee you these are two things that the rabbis of old never would have considered, even on the most distant of horizons. So how do we approach these kinds of things today? My big thing is the idea of the New Community, which exists online, where people in the most remote of locations can find a community and participate Jewishly online. This community comprises a bevy of denominations and boasts synergy in a beautiful and innovative way. The question is: Are we ready for it? I know the Reform community is, but what about the Orthodox community? How do we approach life online via halacha and modern sensibilities?