Jewish Law And The Internet

Rabbi Ari Kahn writes: As in many other aspects of the “world wide web,” the search for halacha is a mixed bag. While some sites have a plethora of quality classes, lectures and articles on all aspects of Jewish thought and law, there are many other sites that contain information of wildly divergent quality and reliability. In addition, all types of “discussions” may be found on blogs, where the banter is anonymous and participants feel free to hurl invectives, insults and even give “rulings” on matters of Jewish thought and practice. As often as not, the ideas and opinions expressed on blogs are not authoritative, or may be nothing more than one anonymous individual’s opinion. Often, these blog discussions are illustrative of the confluence of several modern trends: A halachic discussion on the web may be nothing more than a cycle in which one blogger quotes an overly stringent ruling or opinion found in a modern English halachic compilation, and respondents express the almost inevitable backlash to the trend of creeping stringency. Even when bona fide halachic rulings are quoted, these were originally handed down regarding a particular, specific or even an extreme circumstance. Such opinions often pass as general and binding “halacha” in discussion blogs of this sort. The result is a type of discourse so devoid of seriousness as to be unparalleled in the annals of Jewish learning.

And yet, as bad as this phenomenon is for the halachic community and for the integrity of Jewish learning, it is far less insidious than some of the other uses to which bloggers put the internet. There is something even worse than this misguided but innocent give-and-take between those who quote overly-stringent popular halachic literature and those who respond and react out of frustration: There are others who use blog discussions and websites to advance their own revolutionary agendas, who seek to change the mesorah by changing what is meant by halacha or even the need for halacha. We may go so far as to say that the disconnection of the halachic process from personal contact between the layperson and his or her spiritual and halachic mentor has unleashed the forces that had previously been held at bay by this very personal connection: Individuals and groups that seek to undermine the evolutionary processes that have enabled Jewish communities to respond and adapt to changing realities have become empowered by the internet, to an unprecedented degree. While these forces have existed in and around the halachic process for thousands of years, the counterbalance of direct contact with spiritual leaders has been replaced by equal and open access to a cold, impersonal computer screen that communicates specious ideas to vulnerable, isolated Jews.

Read On.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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