Social Media for the Observant Jew
by Daniel Vahab
On a Friday evening, I tweeted three times and posted three Facebook updates at three separate times — and I wasn’t even online.
Tools like HootSuite and Tweet Deck allow social media users to schedule posts in the future for major social networking platforms. This innovation allows Jews to observe the Sabbath while updating their “Followers” on Twitter and “Friends” on Facebook.
A HootSuite-like feature can be beneficial for both the observant Jew who is a marketing professional and for the one who runs a business. For the former, it enables them to maintain a constant social presence and to post notifications on behalf of a client. And for the latter, their business’ Twitter profile or Facebook page can offer deals during the Sabbath.
Of course, fellow observant Jews won’t be checking those updates.
However, one Conservative Jew I spoke with expressed concern at the chance of a post during the Sabbath being misinterpreted. He proposed a scenario whereby a fellow Jewish friend might later see the post and assume that it was written in real time. This in turn might cause him to think that he violated the Sabbath.
To remedy this, the man suggested there be a big disclaimer coinciding with such posts explaining that they were written prior to the day of rest.
The question of whether Twitter can be used by religious Jews in general was raised by Rabbi Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jewish think tank, who lamented over Twitter’s 140-character limit as a way to educate people on Judaism. In an article on the institute’s website entitled, “Judaism is Not a Twitter-able Religion,” he wrote:
“This content is not Twitter-able. The journey of a meaningful Jewish life needs a wide bandwidth. It requires knowledge, time, and commitment. If we want Judaism to have a great future, and not merely a great past, we need to set our sights higher and deeper.”
The Catch-22, he said, is that Jews, particularly because they are small in numbers, must utilize Twitter as a resource to reach more people. But, he added, “a dumbed-down and watered-down Judaism … cannot compete in an open marketplace of ideas.”
What Rabbi Hartman failed to note is one’s ability to add hyperlinks to a Twitter post. A successful Twitter post is meant to give a tidbit of information; to pique one’s interest. By clicking on a hyperlink, the user can be directed to a website or page with a “wide bandwidth.”
But the simplest answer to whether Judaism is Twitter-able may be the shortest answer. Consider the famous Talmudic story of Rabbi Hillel who was asked by a non-Jew to teach him the Torah while the latter stood on one leg. If successful, he agreed to convert to Judaism. And so the story goes that Rabbi Hillel answered with, “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.” (His summary of the Torah, by the way, is only 57 characters, certainly within the character limit for a tweet.)
Another interesting innovation, one blogger brainstormed, would be to have a Kindle that could “bypass Sabbath prohibitions by disabling its buttons, turning itself on at a preset time, and flipping through a book at a predetermined clip.”
One of the most common activities of the Sabbath is reading, and as books shift from print to digital such a device will be valuable. According to the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales were up 117 percent for 2011 while trade print sales of books declined on all fronts. The largest decline of 36 percent was seen in mass market paperback books.
Like the advent of the Sabbath elevator that stops and opens at every floor from sundown Friday to Saturday night, advances in technology have further accommodated observant Jews, allowing them to, paradoxically, use technology without actually doing so.
However, while such innovations don’t constitute a break in the Sabbath, not everyone approves of them, feeling, as one observant Jewish friend of mine said, that they go against the “spirit of the Sabbath.”