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March 24, 2010 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Is Facebook chametz? An interview with two rabbis about their Facebook group, encouraging Jews to consider giving up Facebook for Passover next week. While the word "chametz" strictly refers only to leavened bread, which is prohibited during Passover, the group is inspired by a Chassidic interpretation that connects the leavening of bread to an "over-inflated sense of self."
posted by albrecht (77 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Up next: Is LinkedIn halal?
posted by GuyZero at 3:31 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Up next: Is HuffPo Pastafarian?
posted by fleetmouse at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Hebrews weren't freed from Egypt just to be enslaved by Facebook.
posted by gman at 3:38 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why is this site different from all other sites?
posted by mattdidthat at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2010 [38 favorites]


But what of the Facebook Haggadah?
posted by Behemoth at 3:43 PM on March 24, 2010


Given all the difficulties we Jews have with misconceptions that Hanukkah is the "Jewish Christmas," and given that Passover really is the Jewish Easter - well, sorta, and it came first dammit - I wouldn't personally be encouraging this kind of faux-Lenten asceticism. Then again I'm all kinds of nonobservant, so I'm not sure I get a vote.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2010


If anything Myspace is definitely treif.
posted by PenDevil at 3:48 PM on March 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh, dear lord.
posted by zarq at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2010


Up next: Is HuffPo Pastafarian?

No.
posted by redbeard at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2010


Everyone knows unleavened bread is bread made without any ingredients at all!
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2010


But what of the Facebook Haggadah?

It's been updated.
posted by zarq at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2010


True story: Moments ago I encountered this captcha while doing a status update on FB.
posted by yiftach at 3:55 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll bet God really gives a shit.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:57 PM on March 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'll bet God really gives a shit.

Welcome to religion
posted by uri at 3:58 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


God is currently very busy with a large backlog of requests relating to foul shots, so you can probably slip a few days' worth of inflated sense of self past if you need to.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Hebrews weren't freed from Egypt just to be enslaved by Facebook Farmville.

FTFY
posted by gimonca at 4:07 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm a fan of Facebook in general, but have noticed that using the network not only can distract me from other more introspective or meditative pursuits, but it can also induce comparing mind — "so-and-so's life is more interesting, meaningful, fun, etc." I wanted to create awareness around how Facebook can actually serve to alienate us, and to find support in abstaining from something that is so common-place.
I'm not Jewish, or particularly religious, but this rings compellingly true. As to faux-Lenten asceticism, this is much more subtle and humane than the "sacrifice" I know from suburban Australian Catholicism, which was all about modelling one's own life on Christ's example (especially in the case of mission to the poor, and concern for one's neighbours) rather than Pauline mysticism or rigorous asceticism. I know when I was a churchgoer I always thought of Easter as a Christian Passover, a poor imitation.

They pass metres over my Gentile head, but I'm forever fascinated by Rabbinical discussions.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:09 PM on March 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


I closed my Facebook account today. It had nothing to do with religion and more to do with the fact that I hate everyone I've ever known.
posted by dortmunder at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2010 [30 favorites]


Metafilter: I'll bet God really gives a shit.

too soon?
posted by Pecinpah at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2010


I'll bet God really gives a shit.

One of my favorite jokes:

G-d: ...and remember Moses, never cook a calf in its mother's milk. It's cruel.
Moses: Don't eat milk and meat together. Got it.
G-d: No. Never. Cook. A. Calf. In. Its. Mother's. Milk.
Moses: OK, ok. So, we should wait six hours after eating meat to eat milk so the two won't be in our stomachs together.
G-d: NO. Moses, please listen carefully. NEVER COOK A CALF IN ITS MOTHER'S MILK! Get it?
Moses: OK. I've got it now. So what you're saying is, we should have a separate set of dishes for milk and another for meat.
G-d: Moses, just do whatever the hell you want....


My entire religion has OCD.
posted by zarq at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2010 [74 favorites]


knettergek
posted by Substrata at 4:19 PM on March 24, 2010


I just spoke to God. He said His bracket is kaput and he just finished God of War III so he's pretty into the Facebook right now. He says go for it, just be careful changing your relationship status. Let's just say he's made some mistakes on that front.
posted by naju at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Don't be ridiculous, all the Jews have already left Facebook for the far more popular and relevant PunimBook.
posted by elizardbits at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2010


My entire religion has OCD.

And Pesach is when it goes into overdrive. Just remember to flip through all the pages of all your books this week to shake out any possible crumbs and pour boiling water over every cooking surface in the kitchen and dust every corner of every drawer and...
posted by albrecht at 4:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love it when the premise behind a custom or religious practice is extended based in its original intent regardless of technological advancement. Makes sense to me.
posted by ...possums at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2010


And Pesach is when it goes into overdrive. Just remember to flip through all the pages of all your books this week to shake out any possible crumbs and pour boiling water over every cooking surface in the kitchen and dust every corner of every drawer and...

Too true. This is why my wife and I usually travel to see family this time of year. Let someone else do all the work. Unfortunately, this year we're staying home.

I keep threatening to revert the house back to the good old days when chicken was pareve, and make Chicken Parmigiana. :D
posted by zarq at 4:40 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


True story: Moments ago I encountered this captcha while doing a status update on FB.

William Matzohs, P.I. (Pesach Investigator)
posted by griphus at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


In Florida, they have the site for elderly Jewish women. It is called FACELIFT.
posted by Postroad at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd definitely like to take the occasional holiday from overinflated posting, but reading should be okay.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:13 PM on March 24, 2010


So, friend of mine has a concept of God that I quite enjoy. God is the CEO of adesign corperation. He lives in his office, where he's got photos of all his projects, algae, fungi, dinosaurs,virii, mammals, and of course, a little thing of early man. He's kept largely out of the loop from the rest of the Company, which is run by Satan, who runs the Marketing Division, who came up with the brilliant ad campaign of offering Man civilization, basically promising them they can totally be like God if they keep trying - without telling them having Civilization violates their Warranty. So Heaven is now mostly about dealing with the hundred billion million claims for heavenly grace from warranty-violated souls - so the office does everything in its' power to make sure God never gets wind of this.

Which is fine by him, he mostly built Earth for his Beetle collection. Loves the damn things.
posted by The Whelk at 5:15 PM on March 24, 2010 [31 favorites]


I closed my Facebook account today. It had nothing to do with religion and more to do with the fact that I hate everyone I've ever known.

You forgot "but my blog at Iamtheawesomestandthensome.com is going strong as ever."
posted by clearly at 5:23 PM on March 24, 2010


You know what I bet really isn't Chametz?

Balloons.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2010


He tells the beetles they're his favorite, but any fool can see he built the place for bacteria.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Assuming that God were concerned about Facebook, I have a feeling s/he'd be far more concerned about some of the hatred, misinformation, lies, manipulation, dirt, and BS posted on it than whether it's a source of overinflated sense of self.
posted by blucevalo at 5:29 PM on March 24, 2010


Yeah, but it's politically cheaper for religious leaders to rile against stuff like Facebook or The Gays than it is to point out the real evils in the world.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:44 PM on March 24, 2010


Yeah, but it's politically cheaper for religious leaders to rile against stuff like Facebook or The Gays than it is to point out the real evils in the world.

I don't understand your argument here. These rabbis are talking about expanding a religious practice that prohibits eating leavened bread one week a year and challenging people to think about other things they do that they could also give up (things that may be distracting them from being good people). Which part of that do you think is politically cheap or in conflict with pointing out the real evils in the world?
posted by albrecht at 5:55 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Assuming that God were concerned about Facebook, I have a feeling s/he'd be far more concerned about some of the hatred, misinformation, lies, manipulation, dirt, and BS posted on it than whether it's a source of overinflated sense of self.

I think those are valid points; the reference to the "overinflated sense of self" was just a way of connecting Facebook to an interpretation of the laws of chametz, showing how it might be a relevant part of the conversation during this particular holiday. But that's not meant to be an exhaustive critique, by any means.
posted by albrecht at 6:04 PM on March 24, 2010


In Florida, they have the site for elderly Jewish women. It is called FACELIFT.

what
posted by threeants at 6:06 PM on March 24, 2010


I'll bet God really gives a shit.

I'll bet you are completely ignorant of the interesting social ideas being brought up by this rabbi.
posted by shii at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


First they came for the un-circumsized, and I said nothing because I'm a chick and don't have a penis.

Then they came for the the pepperoni pizza eaters, and I said nothing because I don't eat pepperoni pizza.

Then they came for the elevator-riders, and I said nothing because I live in Florida where everything is single-storied.

Then they came for the Facebook users, and nobody spoke up because nobody was left.
posted by contessa at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2010


What a great idea. I have no facebook account buy dayum! cancel it anyway. In fact, cancel every facebook account on my block! They'll thank me, later.
posted by jfuller at 6:42 PM on March 24, 2010


I'll bet you are completely ignorant of the interesting social ideas being brought up by this rabbi.

Do his other ideas involve mentioning currently relevant pop culture in the name of getting publicity? Is he suggesting that people eschew Mad Men for the duration of some other holy period that I don't observe?
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:43 PM on March 24, 2010


I am going to tweet the story of passover this year (on the night of the first seder), so that should make up for my facebookin' ways.
posted by zpousman at 6:52 PM on March 24, 2010


Do his other ideas involve mentioning currently relevant pop culture in the name of getting publicity?

That's a pretty cynical interpretation of what's going on, and not really deserved, I don't think. Another way to look at it is that he's mentioning currently relevant pop culture because it's, you know, currently relevant. A lot of Jewish people, especially younger people, don't really observe the Passover restrictions, so this is just a simple attempt at reimagining those restrictions in a way people might find meaningful.

Just to clarify: nobody is calling Facebook or its users evil. This is more of a thought experiment than a judgment.
posted by albrecht at 6:59 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not a Jew, nor a Facebook user, but I totally support *everyone* giving up Facebook for a week or so. Maybe then I could have *real* conversations with friends that don't involve them asking "When are you getting a Facebook account?" Apparently it's too hard to catch-up and such when they've already updated their profile/status/whatever.
posted by MuChao at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2010


I'm waiting for the soon-to-be-viral "Four cups, two girls, three grandparents, a weird uncle, and the dog, all drunk from too much Manischewitz."
posted by greatgefilte at 8:42 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should add to my comment above, that I suspect my early fascination for the Biblical story of Passover was nothing particularly to do with theology or religious practice, but rather that I am a non-Jewish first-born son.

If there's one thing I got out of scripture it's that even though Jesus might love you unconditionally, the God of Abraham will smite your arse if you cross him.
My entire religion has OCD.
Heh. Mine's got a raging inferiority complex.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:43 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


What a great idea. I have no facebook account but dayum dayenu! cancel it anyway.

FTFY.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:54 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


In Florida, they have the site for elderly Jewish women. It is called FACELIFT.

what


Back when I worked for Hadassah Magazine, the mouthpiece of the Women's Zionist organization (no seriously I did), it was my job to intercept all incoming review copies for the book review editor. One such submission that crossed my desk was a huge tome of Jewish jokes. My sweet Jewish grandmother of an editor walked by just when I was reading:

"Q:What is a Jewish woman's idea of natural labor?

A: No makeup."

We decided the book was one our readers would have to find on their own.
posted by hermitosis at 9:00 PM on March 24, 2010


At least fewer Jews will get syphillis.
posted by incessant at 9:04 PM on March 24, 2010


Let my people Poke!
posted by ilana at 9:11 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


We decided the book was one our readers would have to find on their own.

And in the process saved yourself some guilt-filled letters from angry bubbes. ;)
posted by zarq at 9:12 PM on March 24, 2010


I like this idea. I do find it sad that the price of getting an idea out there is the impersonal nature of the criticisms that result. But I'm glad that the idea got out there.

Being a religious person, and counseling with people every so often about their personal lives, I think that, at a personal level, decisions like this can be extremely powerful. People need ways to build momentum in their lives -- that's what it takes to consistently make goals. Changing something about your life is an excellent way to start to gain that momentum.

At a non-personal, discussion-room level, stories like "Jews blah blah blah Facebook blah" are like the lowest-hanging fruit on the Snarkberry tree. There's a strong incentive in social situations to make oneself look good by shooting down an idea that's new or different.

Sometimes that upsets me, that individuals who need to change might decide not to change because somebody who is removed from all personal concern about the situation gained a few points by stepping on a new, fragile idea.

Personally I've practically stopped all internet use on Sundays. It's not even close to "religious doctrine" (or dogma); I just need the momentum for the rest of the week, so I just do different things. I do the same thing on vacation; I stop using the web so much and try to start some habits that could turn into something later on when the vacation's over.
posted by circular at 9:59 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Weird things about Judaism, part 472:
Selling Your Chametz

Let's say that you own a liquor store. Or that you just bought a three-month supply of breakfast cereal on special. Or you live in a 40-room mansion and don't want to clean the whole thing this year. Is there some way of avoiding the ownership of chametz on Passover without getting rid of your chametz forever?

There is. Since the commandment to rid one's domain of chametz is binding only on a Jew, you can sell your chametz to a non-Jew, and then buy it back from him after Passover. The area where the chametz is held is leased to the non-Jew for the duration of the festival. It is important to realize that the sale is not symbolic, but a 100% legally binding transaction.

Designate the areas where you'll be placing the chametz you're selling. These can be cupboards, closets, rooms, or an entire house. Remember that you will not be able to use or enter these areas for the duration of the festival. Your local rabbi can transact the sale for you, after obtaining power-of-attorney from you to sell your chametz. You can also sell your chametz online via our website (see Readings and Resources below).
Honey, there's someone sneaking in through the pantry window! What? That's the Gentile we leased the pantry to this week? Uh... welcome to our home! I hope you'll find everything to your satisfaction in there. Help yourself to a beer. After all, it is your beer, isn't it?
posted by pracowity at 4:33 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Four cups, two girls, three grandparents, a weird uncle, and the dog, all drunk from too much Manischewitz."

So what do you call yourselves?

The Aristocrats!
posted by Splunge at 5:48 AM on March 25, 2010


When the goyim criticize Judaism, one always suspects anti-Semitism, but I feel free to make such criticisms because I am of impeccable Jewish lineage. I have come to the conclusion that Judaism is entirely antiquated and obsolete, and has only one reason to continue to exist in the 21st century, which is that we Jews are too stubborn to give the anti-Semites the satisfaction of seeing us abandon the religion for which we have suffered so much persecution for such a long time.
posted by grizzled at 5:53 AM on March 25, 2010


I agree with the idea behind this. A lot of religions, and even systems of contemplative thought that aren't religions, talk about the need for periods of silent introspection. In the modern world it seems like this has become more difficult. Part of the problem with even discussing this is that it takes a good deal of quiet contemplation to come to the point that you realize how important quiet contemplation can be. So you get some people who have spent a great deal of time thinking about it saying "Yes, I can see why this is important" and other people saying "hamburger."

When you talk about Chametz, Facebook puts you in the center of your own universe. Everything that I can see by default is something that relates to me, what people say about meu and what people say about what I have said. It's a virtual world that is designed to mirror a shallow view of the real world. Part of the religious tradition is to overcome the idea that I am the center of the universe.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:12 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have come to the conclusion that Judaism is entirely antiquated and obsolete, and has only one reason to continue to exist in the 21st century, which is that we Jews are too stubborn to give the anti-Semites the satisfaction of seeing us abandon the religion for which we have suffered so much persecution for such a long time.

I don't personally agree with your first conclusion, but your second rings very true. It's an old joke that nearly every Jewish holiday can be summarized as "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat." :)
posted by zarq at 6:57 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regarding jefeweiss's observation that Part of the religious tradition is to overcome the idea that I am the center of the universe.

It's funny. Religion does often urge humility upon its members. However, I believe that religion is basically egotistical in design. It is based upon the premise that the universe was specifically created for our benefit, and we are the most important thing in it, since the Creator needs us (for some unfathomable reason) to worship Him. Religious people, however humble, really do consider themselves to be the center of the universe.
posted by grizzled at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2010


grizzled: not all religions' gods demand worship, not all religions focus on the supreme significance of humans, and you seem to consider I (the singular ego) to be the same thing as the human race. So let me fix this:

Some religious people, however humble, really do consider themselves humans to be the center of the universe.

Which might be a good thing to discuss, but doesn't have much to do with Facebook...
posted by naju at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2010


If Judaism is antiquated and obsolete, then what religion is relevant in the 21st century?
posted by The Fly at 8:36 AM on March 25, 2010


grizzled: "However, I believe that religion is basically egotistical in design. It is based upon the premise that the universe was specifically created for our benefit, and we are the most important thing in it, since the Creator needs us (for some unfathomable reason) to worship Him. Religious people, however humble, really do consider themselves to be the center of the universe."

Respectfully, I think it's probably more common in religions that God would be the center (and perhaps everything else for that matter) of the universe. It does seem to be a strand within some schools of contemporary Christian thought that humans are the next most important thing. I doubt that they would say that man is more important than God.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:22 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by The Fly If Judaism is antiquated and obsolete, then what religion is relevant in the 21st century?

MetaFilterism.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:07 AM on March 25, 2010


If humanity is the center of the universe that doesn't make us more important than God; rather, it means that God, the creator of the universe, is not a part of the universe that He (supposedly) created - unless you believe that He created Himself, which is a difficult assertion as it implies that God, even at a time when He did not exist, was nonetheless able to perform stupendous acts of creation. I think it's safe to say that nonexistent beings do not have the power to act in the real world (although people who believe in nonexistent beings do act on their supposed behalf).

I am not (as I was accused of doing by naju) confusing the individual and the species; if the human race is thought to be the center of the universe, then individual human beings who are members of the human race therefore share, to some degree, in the centrality of the species. Of course there is a difference in thinking that the human race is the center of the universe and that I personally am the center of the universe, since the latter also implies that I personally am the most important member of the human race. Subjectively, everyone does consider himself or herself to be the most important person in the world, to some extent, even while we admit that objectively, that is not the case. Religion definitely plays to our subjectivity. If we are objective what we get is science, not religion.

Even if not all gods demand worship, somehow they all wind up being worshipped. Even Cthulhu has his cult. And I don't agree that not all religions focus upon the supreme significance of humans. Religion in whatever form exists to add some illusory supernatural significance to the human condition.

In response to The Fly, who asked me what religion is relevant in the 21st century, I believe that religion in general is irrelevant, although Judaism, as a particularly old and particularly ritualistic religion seems more antiquated than some others - if I had to belong to a religion it would be Unitarian Universalism. However, I am skeptical of all religions. Some are more ridiculous than others, but none are actually believable.

It's true as naju complains that I have failed to show how my comments are related to facebook. Perhaps I should note that facebook is very much a 21st century type of phenomenon, and thus is particularly incongruous when connected in some way to Judaism, a religion which clings to its Bronze Age past with fanatical devotion, rather than facing the realities of the modern world. Do you know why every Jewish synagogue contains a scroll of the law, a Torah, written by a scribe on sheepskin parchment with a quill pen? Because that's the way it has always been done. It's holier that way. New improved ways of creating written materials by printing them on paper are just not as traditional. That's Judaism. It is antithetical to facebook. The original authors of the Torah could not even have conceived of facebook, not even if they chewed hallucinatory mushrooms till their heads exploded. How's that? You see, it really is all about facebook. Facebook rules.
posted by grizzled at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2010


Do you know why every Jewish synagogue contains a scroll of the law, a Torah, written by a scribe on sheepskin parchment with a quill pen? Because that's the way it has always been done. It's holier that way.

Torahs are written on scrolls of sheepskin using a quill dipped in special black ink for several reasons, but mostly because the words of the text are considered holy, sacred and Jews believe they should be rendered cleanly and evenly, to a medium which is not only unlikely to damage easily but will also preserve them in an undegraded state for as long as possible. Not because "that's the way it has always been done." My understanding is that many modern techniques and mediums have been considered by scribes and to date been found wanting.

A feather quill pen is used because it is less likely to puncture the sheepskin than a more modern writing implement. The ink that is used does not smear, so the letters can be rendered in clearly and legibly. Sheepskin parchment is less likely to wear out and discolor than regular paper. It is used in place of paper because wood pulp is more vulnerable to degradation thanks to humidity, environment and time. Sheepskin is also used in place of fishskin because it is possible that medium might have an unpleasant odor, and it is used instead of (cow) leather, because leather can be bulky and hard to work with. Also because cow leather tends to discolor with time and handling. Plastic also warps / discolors over time. Electronics are subject to power failures, and of course they introduce issues when it comes to observing the Sabbath.

There are no doubt other reasons that I'm missing. But you get the gist.

The original authors of the Torah could not even have conceived of facebook, not even if they chewed hallucinatory mushrooms till their heads exploded.

Nor cars. Nor computers. Nor electricity. Nor organ donation. Nor modern medicine. Nor airplanes. The list goes on and on. My religion examines new developments and either adapts to fit modernity or sees how they can be adapted to it. (Most religions do this.) The majority of Jews -- the Reform and Conservative movements -- do better at it than the minority Orthodox. This is why halacha constantly changes, and why most rabbis have opinions (or more to the point why the movements have taken specific positions,) on modern issues, like gay marriage or abortion.

How's that? You see, it really is all about facebook. Facebook rules.

As much as Mark Zuckerberg would no doubt like it to be, Facebook is not a holy entity for any religion.

One more thing...

Because that's the way it has always been done.

For what it's worth, there are not all that many traditional Jewish rituals that haven't been debated to death for centuries. As a whole, Rabbis love to debate, argue, pontificate question, and massively, massively overthink their plates of (kosher) beans. That reality is sort of the opposite end of the unquestioning, uncritical extreme that you're describing.

There are Jewish assumptions and beliefs which have no doubt been part of the religion for millennia. Monotheism, for example. But many jewish rituals are actually far more fluid than the average observer might think. Even if they're an exceptional observer, with "impeccable Jewish lineage." ;)
posted by zarq at 11:09 AM on March 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


Perhaps I should note that facebook is very much a 21st century type of phenomenon, and thus is particularly incongruous when connected in some way to Judaism, a religion which clings to its Bronze Age past with fanatical devotion, rather than facing the realities of the modern world.

Respectfully, I think that's an overly narrow and reductive view of an incredibly complex, multifaceted, and loosely organized civilization of people. Personally, I get nervous whenever anyone (Jew or otherwise) begins a statement with "Judaism does" or "Judaism is," because I immediately start thinking of counterexamples. To wit, your claim that Judaism fanatically clings to its Bronze Age past is somewhat disproven by the existence of two very prominent rabbis reinterpreting a 3300-year-old ritual in the context of Facebook, wouldn't you say? To claim that Judaism is antithetical to Facebook because Judaism is antiquated is pretty circular logic.
posted by albrecht at 11:40 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting argument, that a book written by a scribe with a quill pen on sheepskin parchment actually is superior, by reason of durability and clarity of writing, to a book that is printed on paper. On the other hand, you can manufacture very good quality books, on acid-free paper, with very clear and perfectly legible printing, for something like one thousandth the cost per book as compared to the hand-written sheepskin scroll. Furthermore books, as you may have noticed, are MUCH easier to use - you can flip to any page very rapidly, unlike scrolls which have to be laboriously rolled and unrolled if you want to find a different section. And if it's durability you want, why not inscribe it on tablet of platinum-irridium? That is tremendously more durable than sheepskin. But that would be ridiculously expensive. Even so, you can use plastics that are more durable than sheepskin, or stainless steel plates, ceramics, etc. Sheepskin is hardly the last word in durability. There are lots of durable options which will never be used, because sheepskin is the traditional medium.

The dominant theme of Judaism is reverence for traditon and the past, despite the fact that revisions are made and rabbis endlessly ponder the best way to carry out ritual requirements.
posted by grizzled at 11:49 AM on March 25, 2010


Torahs are written on scrolls of sheepskin using a quill dipped in special black ink for several reasons, but mostly because the words of the text are considered holy, sacred and Jews believe they should be rendered cleanly and evenly, to a medium which is not only unlikely to damage easily but will also preserve them in an undegraded state for as long as possible.

That argument might have held water a few hundred years ago, but there must be better ways now. Maybe some nice word processing (for the "cleanly and evenly") printed in an ink that won't erase on a material that won't decay as easily as an animal's epidermis? You could probably have something laser etched or machine carved into just about any material from a word processing file. I'm not going to pretend to know printing technology -- it's not one of my interests -- but I'd bet a stack of nicely printed bank notes that writing on "scrolls of sheepskin using a quill dipped in special black ink" is not the optimal way to print a book. (Unless you're the guy who's paid to scribble on animal skins, of course.)
posted by pracowity at 11:49 AM on March 25, 2010


Speaking of reproducing text...
posted by pracowity at 11:50 AM on March 25, 2010


It's an interesting argument, that a book written by a scribe with a quill pen on sheepskin parchment actually is superior, by reason of durability and clarity of writing, to a book that is printed on paper. On the other hand, you can manufacture very good quality books, on acid-free paper, with very clear and perfectly legible printing, for something like one thousandth the cost per book as compared to the hand-written sheepskin scroll. Furthermore books, as you may have noticed, are MUCH easier to use - you can flip to any page very rapidly, unlike scrolls which have to be laboriously rolled and unrolled if you want to find a different section.

Sure. I have at least four of five copies of the Torah in printed book form in my house. Two are printed on very nice acid-free paper. They are meant to be used as reference texts, and allow a reader to turn to any particular page/section. They're used by congregations during religious services, too. On the other hand, Torah scrolls are only used during services by those leading the congregation in prayer. They are not thumbed through. The pages are read in consecutive order, which means that people do not typically (ever?) skip from section to section, and laborious rolling and unrolling is therefore unnecessary. Except when you get to the end and I suppose you have to roll it back. :)

And if it's durability you want, why not inscribe it on tablet of platinum-irridium? That is tremendously more durable than sheepskin. But that would be ridiculously expensive. Even so, you can use plastics that are more durable than sheepskin, or stainless steel plates, ceramics, etc. Sheepskin is hardly the last word in durability. There are lots of durable options which will never be used, because sheepskin is the traditional medium.

There is a religious injunction against using metal in the materials used to create a Torah. So it's not supposed to be printed on metal, nor scribed with a metal pen. My limited understanding of this is that metal is used to wage war, which is ostensibly antithetical to the meaning behind the document. (Truthfully I don't quite understand that part, but then I'm not an expert.) Torahs are also supposed to be scribed by hand... but I am not sure if the reasoning for that is simply traditional, or if there is more thinking behind it. Honestly, I'd bet on the latter.

Ceramic is a very interesting medium. Is it durable/flexible enough? I wonder if anyone's ever considered it.

Listen, I'm not a rabbi. I'm not even particularly observant, and I certainly don't have all the answers. I just happen to be somewhat more knowledgeable about Torah scribes and the thinking behind the creation of this particular ritual object than you seem to be. :)

The dominant theme of Judaism is reverence for traditon and the past, despite the fact that revisions are made and rabbis endlessly ponder the best way to carry out ritual requirements.

Allow me to introduce you to Reform Judaism. The religion's largest sect, Reform Jews have outright rejected a large number of Jewish rituals and traditions for Judaism's core spiritual values combined with modern sensibilities.

Conservatives like myself sort of tread the middle ground between them and the Orthodox, whom I personally consider somewhat extreme. There are fewer Conservatives and Orthodox combined than there are Reform Jews. We are in the minority.

The dominant theme of Judaism is reverence for tradition and the past.

Reform Judaism believes quite the opposite, and whether the Orthodox disagree with them or not, there's a very solid argument to be made that the Reform movement is both the public face and future of Judaism.
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


That argument might have held water a few hundred years ago, but there must be better ways now. Maybe some nice word processing (for the "cleanly and evenly") printed in an ink that won't erase on a material that won't decay as easily as an animal's epidermis? You could probably have something laser etched or machine carved into just about any material from a word processing file. I'm not going to pretend to know printing technology -- it's not one of my interests --

Mine either.

By religious injunction, Torahs have to be hand-scribed, and they can't be printed on metal or written using metal. (I know that thirdhand only... I'm not sure what source that injunction comes from.) So word processors and high-tech metal mediums are out.

But grizzled suggested using ceramic above, which I think is pretty interesting. :)

but I'd bet a stack of nicely printed bank notes that writing on "scrolls of sheepskin using a quill dipped in special black ink" is not the optimal way to print a book. (Unless you're the guy who's paid to scribble on animal skins, of course.)

Oh, I totally agree that it's not an optimal method. And it may not be an optimal medium. Personally I think the religious restrictions are pretty arbitrary, too. But it is a peculiarity of our culture that handmade items are ascribed a higher value than those which are mass-produced. Case in point.
posted by zarq at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2010


I am aware of the existence of Reform Judaism, a branch of the religion to which most of my relatives belong. Reform Judaism is a worthy effort to take a religion of endlessly demanding ritual and pare it away to just the parts that seem to be most essential, but even then, those remaining parts are still based on reverence for tradition and the past, rather than any inherent logic or usefulness that they may have. If I may be so unkind as to point this out, endless amounts of prayers by devout Jews to the omnipotent deity who supposedly is their protector against all harm, have produced no visible protection at the time of the Holocaust or during any of the other endless series of vicious attacks against the Jewish people (which continue to this day, in such forms as rocket attacks from Gaza). Religious Jews remain remarkably devoted to a strategy that obviously doesn't work. Why? Tradition, tradition...tradition! (Sing it with me.)

Using ceramic materials to record information is not a novel concept of mine. Remember the Babylonian cuneiform tablets? This was the very earliest method of writing. Doubtlessly it can be made more efficient with modern methods if we wanted to do so. And the result is extremely durable.

You started off by telling me that really, the hand-written sheepskin scroll is used for purely practical reasons as the most legible and durable method, and now you have progressed to explaining to me that it is forbidden to use metal in the writing of a Torah. This is obviously yet another arbitrary religious injunction that is honored solely because it is traditional, not because it accomplishes anything useful. If the objective is to be legible and durable, there is no reason not to use metal for that purpose. Metal is very useful.
posted by grizzled at 6:11 AM on March 26, 2010


Religious Jews remain remarkably devoted to a strategy that obviously doesn't work. Why? Tradition, tradition...tradition!

Again, that's taking only the most reductive possible view of Jewish theology. Every world religion has to deal in some way with the problem of evil, and Judaism has a particularly long and rich history of addressing that basic question, "Why do bad things keep happening to us?" It didn't just start with the Holocaust. The Book of Isaiah predicts that God will destroy the Kingdom of Judah to punish the people for idolatry and not upholding their end of the covenant. And if people held only to the rigid interpretation you're offering, surely the destruction of the Temple (twice!) would have been the end of Judaism as the local tribal religion it perhaps once was.

But instead, here we are a couple thousand years later, and Judaism has endured against all odds as a global phenomenon. In fact, the essential nature of Judaism as a fringe, outsider, countercultural, peripatetic, minority, oppressed, underdog religion has become somewhat embedded in its DNA, and it continues to inform a lot of its views on how society should treat the weak, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, etc. In many ways, that struggle has calibrated the majority of Jewish thought for centuries now. So much ink has been spilled on this subject, I couldn't even begin to summarize it; maybe the wikipedia page on Holocaust theology is a good place to start. Suffice to say, people have spent their lives thinking about these things--many have come to the conclusions (as you seem to have) that either God doesn't exist or God does exist but is not omnipotent or active in the protection of the Jewish people. Others have recast the question in terms of Jewish mysticism, free will, reincarnation, eschatology, etc.

And the amazing thing is (despite what the various devotees might argue), no one of those ideas is any more or less Jewish than the others! That's what I meant when I referred to Judaism as a civilization before (which I took from Mordecai Kaplan)--it contains a near-infinite variety of differing and mutually incompatible perspectives, all pulling the tradition simultaneously in a million different directions. The only common element, as I see it, is engagement--a willingness to grapple with old and difficult ideas until you find some kind of meaning in them. "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it," it says it Pirkei Avot. Another way to see it: We can find wisdom in these ancient ideas; it's not just tradition qua tradition (or it doesn't have to be, at least). To take the present example, the Passover seder (which is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously practiced religious rituals in the world) and the prohibition against eating leavened bread seem pretty antiquated (to use your word) if taken at face value; but here a couple of rabbis are finding inspiration in those rituals to talk about the spiritual and ethical dimensions of 21st century social media. Whether you agree with them or not, you have to admit that it's a beautiful idea.

You made the point earlier that "religion is basically egotistical in design." Perhaps you already know this famous teaching of Rabbi Bunim, then (reprinted from Facebook, of all places):
Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, "I am but dust and ashes," and the other to contain, "The world was created for my sake." At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

posted by albrecht at 12:53 PM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have to give you credit for a very interesting answer, even though I still do not agree with you. But religion, which has inspired so much art, is itself an art form. It is intricate, often lovely and seductive, and leads us to many interesting ideas. The quote from Rabbi Bunim is quite poetic. It's a terrific metaphor. And religion in general is full of fascinating metaphors. I use them myself, irreligious though I am.
Nonetheless, it is still my opinion that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, and that the the vast edifice of theology is without foundation, merely a castle in the air. Every good and useful idea found in Judaism could be arrived at and used more efficiently without having to fit those ideas into the premise that everything comes from and is dependent upon God, who as far as I can determine is an imaginary being. Many thousands of years ago when gods were first imagined, and when the Jews promoted one of them to the status of Supreme Being, very little was known about how the universe actually functioned, and it was a somewhat reasonable guess that it functioned on the supernatural basis offered by gods or by God. In the 21st century such ideas have no remaining plausibility, although the do retain the artistry that they have acquired as a result of the intellectual efforts of many great minds over a period of thousands of years. As errors go, these are particularly intricate and polished.
So in the end, although Judaism includes such a wide variety of opinion that even those who reject the idea of God can still be participants in Jewish thought, I think that it is much simpler and more logical to admit that the time for Judaism has passed, and that it should now be regarded much the way we regard Greek mythology, as a fascinating and historically important work of fiction, which was once mistaken for fact in a more naive age, but which is no longer plausible. Judaism should not be forgotten, any more than we would want to forget the lovely Greek myths, but it should not be believed, either. That's my opinion. Naturally, I respect your right to think differently.
posted by grizzled at 1:24 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as another Jew of impeccable lineage, there is something truly wonderful about the fact that this thread boiled down to a couple of intelligent Jews in a well informed intellectual argument about Jewish practice.

This reminds me of antiquated Jewish jokes about places with just two Jews, and therefore two synagogues, but I can't tell 'those jokes like the zarq does. and I'm pretty sure grizzled for one has no interest in opening a shul anyway . . .
posted by bearwife at 2:12 PM on March 26, 2010


Oy vey.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:10 AM on March 30, 2010


grizzled, I'm sorry for my delay in responding.

Working backwards a bit:

You started off by telling me that really, the hand-written sheepskin scroll is used for purely practical reasons as the most legible and durable method...

No, that's absolutely NOT what I did. Please read my comments again.

I started off by refuting your assertion that the only reason a Torah is written on sheepskin is that it's always been done that way. I gave examples of some of the non-religious and religious reasoning that's gone into why the Torah is still transcribed to a double scroll for use in religious services.

I gave reasons why sheepskin is considered by Torah scribes to be a superior medium to wood pulp, leather and fish skin. I did not at any time say or imply that it was "the most legible and durable method." In fact, in my response to pracowity, I said exactly the opposite: "Oh, I totally agree that it's not an optimal method. And it may not be an optimal medium. Personally I think the religious restrictions are pretty arbitrary, too."

...and now you have progressed to explaining to me that it is forbidden to use metal in the writing of a Torah. This is obviously yet another arbitrary religious injunction that is honored solely because it is traditional, not because it accomplishes anything useful. If the objective is to be legible and durable, there is no reason not to use metal for that purpose. Metal is very useful.

I explained the thinking behind the injunction above, and that shows the injunction is clearly not just traditional. As I have said twice now, it's not one which I understand completely (or agree with, frankly,) but that doesn't make it meaningless.

grizzled, you seem deeply invested in an interpretation of Judaism as a tradition-drenched religion devoid of any actual meaning. At least... deeply enough to read things I'm not actually saying into my comments.

I am aware of the existence of Reform Judaism, a branch of the religion to which most of my relatives belong. Reform Judaism is a worthy effort to take a religion of endlessly demanding ritual and pare it away to just the parts that seem to be most essential, but even then, those remaining parts are still based on reverence for tradition and the past, rather than any inherent logic or usefulness that they may have.

Again, I'm not a Reform Jew nor a Reform rabbi. But I suspect that many religious Reform Jews would take issue with whether they personally find their own religion useful.

If I may be so unkind as to point this out, endless amounts of prayers by devout Jews to the omnipotent deity who supposedly is their protector against all harm,

Is He? Against all harm? I must have missed a memo. Cite please.

Using ceramic materials to record information is not a novel concept of mine. Remember the Babylonian cuneiform tablets? This was the very earliest method of writing. Doubtlessly it can be made more efficient with modern methods if we wanted to do so. And the result is extremely durable.

Interesting. I wonder if anyone has considered it for Torah scribing.
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on March 30, 2010


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