This week I got a text from someone:
<<What is the difference between the Torah and the Talmud?>>
I wrote back: <<More than you can explain in a 2-line text…>>
In some ways, texting may be the antithesis of Talmud – since the idea behind texting is to get your point across as succinctly as possible, while the Talmud is a voluminous compilation of hundreds of people’s ideas compiled over five centuries. In fact, it is such a dense and complex book of Jewish law that people had to write other whole books just to explain what it says.
Come to think of it – the Talmud is kind of like a wiki: many people’s ideas come together to create a whole that is the sum of all of their knowledge. So Judaism had wiki before wiki had wiki!
Let’s see… what other internet ideas did Judaism invent first?
- Status updates – one liners to let other people know what you’re doing at a given moment. In Judaism, we call that saying a blessing.
- Blogging – Anybody can have their say and try to influence other people. The medieval Torah commentators were doing that 1000 years ago with their short but wordy notes on ancient texts.
- HTML – terse, dense, code-filled language that tells you how to operate and can only be understood by a few. We Jews call that halakhah (Jewish law).
It too often seems like Jewish history has always been a battle between the simple and the complex, between reaching a select few and reaching the masses. But authentic Judaism needs both – needs to maintain its complexity while at the same time remaining within reach of those who practice it. The internet is one way to make it more accessible, more understandable, more populist, without forfeiting the extraordinary depth that has characterized our tradition.
Let’s see if it works…