Should rabbis be active on Facebook?
Dozens of community rabbis from Israel, abroad discuss rabbinical social network activity during Jerusalem conference. 'A rabbi must be a rabbi, not a friend,' claims Rabbi Spolter of Yad Binyamin. British rabbi argues, 'Facebook exists, we can't say no'
Kobi Nahshoni • Ynet
They say that in America, community rabbis are willing to go to NBA matches with their congregation members "so as not to lose the public". In Israel, on the other hand, you won't see a rabbi watching Maccabi Tel Aviv with the guys from the synagogue.
"It's simply inappropriate, it's disrespectful," they'll explain. And what about rabbis writing Facebook statuses?
Dozens of community rabbis from Israel and abroad discussed rabbinical social network activity during an international conference on the "era's challenges" held in Jerusalem this week by the Tzohar organization and the World Zionist Organization's spiritual services department.
As expected, this issue as well pointed to differences in the "distance" between the rabbi and his community in Israel and abroad. The overseas rabbis, it turns out, are much more "chummy".
Twitter can help find quorum
Rabbi Avichai Katzin, a community rabbi from Raanana, moderated the discussion on the rabbinical attitude towards Facebook (which was held under the title, "Culture, entertainment and technology").
Katzin said he did not have an account, but added that he felt he would not have a choice soon: "Just like 10 years ago we contemplated whether to connect to the Internet, and today we rabbis need it 24 hours a day and cannot stay away for a minute."
Rabbi Reuven Spolter of the Israeli community of Yad Binyamin believes that, in general, "a rabbi must be a rabbi and not a friend." He does not rule out rabbinical activity on Facebook, but says it must be supervised.
"All the nonsense of the community members must be ignored," he says. "It would be better if they didn't have to see all their statuses and thoughts."
His practical suggestion is interesting: The rabbi's wife will be on Facebook and relay the spirit and messages from the community members, as expressed only there.
Former Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Yona Goodman believes that everyone will be connected to Facebook, and to the Internet, within five years. His suggestion to rabbis is to "open special accounts, like singers and celebrities, which are one-way."
The foreign rabbis appear to be in a completely different place, saying there's no question about it. "Facebook exists, it's reality, and we can't say no," said one of the British participants. "I don't post anything there myself, but I've connected to people I haven't seen for 40 years. It's a personal need as well."
He added that England's chief rabbi posts a video clip on the weekly Torah portion every single week.
An American rabbi said, "It's interesting that this is an issue here in Israel. After all, it's acceptable everywhere, and rabbis use it all the time. I personally have a Facebook page which I opened five-six years ago, because I wanted to keep in touch with my students. And when I arrived at my new community, everyone added me as a friend.
"I don't respond to the congregation members, but my wife tells me what's going on. Use it! There are celebrities around the world with 90 million followers. You can also write in Twitter that there's an afternoon prayer in five minutes, and it can actually make people attend the prayer."
A particularly amusing moment took place when Rabbi Moshe Taragin of the Har Etzion Yeshiva felt he was not getting a say, and chose to post a new status on his Facebook page in the middle of the discussion, including a picture of himself and his colleagues.
"I hope I'll get the opportunity to express my opinion that with this technology you're either on the roller or part of the road," he wrote, and immediately showed it to his friends on his cellphone screen.
Rabbi Katzin, the moderator, wondered whether the rabbis should not be there, even though it would perpetuate their distance from the public, just like they shouldn't watch popular television programs.
"The rabbi must be on Facebook," ruled Ysoscher Katz of the US. "All the young people's life is there. When you agree to become a rabbi, you say you'll provide a personal example in daily life, and therefore we must be there as a personal example."
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz participated in the last part of the discussion. "Facebook is a tool," he said, and I don't know a single tool that cannot be used for good and bad purposes.
"You can't put the muzzle in the wrong place. The mouth, ears and eyes are also used by many of us for bad purposes more than for good ones, so should we cut off our tongues? Make ourselves blind?
"We shouldn't wave a black flag over such a thing. When there's a new tool, the first think you must think about is how to make good use of it, but of course not as an alternative to the direct contact between the rabbi and the community."
What about long weekend?
The Tzohar communities' rabbis discussed more complicated issues as well, like the treatment of non-Jews, Halacha and modernism, rabbis' petitions and state and religion.
One of the issues discussed shortly was the initiative to introduce a long weekend in Israel, with Sunday as an additional day of rest.
Minister Hershkowitz said the religious public must insist on the suggestion's approval and implementation. He explained that it would give religious people the option to enjoy a free day of recreational activities and would reduce the potential of seculars desecrating Shabbat in favor of such activities.