Recently, several news outlets have made human interest stories out of the growing trend of E-Worship--online religious communities. With video services and active chat rooms, these “electronic churches” are servicing people who might not otherwise attend a church.
Jews have been no less active in using the internet. There are a growing number of e-communities, as well as a significant amount of Jewish educational resources. What is the role of an e-community in Jewish life?
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the sages note that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim (Torah, prayer and acts of kindness). Certainly one can learn Torah through online study. Indeed, the full spectrum of the Jewish community is already providing a feast of Jewish knowledge online.
Avodah, prayer, is not quite so simple. While the Jewish concept of prayer is introspective (l’hit’pallel to pray, actually means to judge oneself), the act of prayer itself is mandated into the public domain by the need to pray with a minyan (prayer quorum of 10). And while all 10 people do not, according to Jewish law, have to pray (some may have prayed earlier), they must all be together in the same room (not an internet chat-room). However, education websites are an excellent way for one to familiarize themselves with the prayers.
Gemilut Chasadim, acts of kindness, have most certainly been enhanced by the internet. Opportunities for charitable giving have increased, and people are exploring new ways to “do for others.” But, what about “facetime?” Judaism places great significance on a physical community, on people actually being together and interacting with each other. In fact, the great sage Hillel said (Ethics of the Fathers 2:5) “Do not separate yourself from the community.”
Maintaining Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim (Torah, prayer and acts of kindness) takes a physical community. Religious laws such as minyan and eiruv, in combination with gemilut chasadim, create a natural fabric of interactions between people. Through today's technology, however, Jews have a wonderful opportunity of discovering new ways to enhance themselves and their own communities.
(Jewish Treats supports online interaction and learning. Through our Twitterfeed @JewishTweets, Jewish Treats is proud to be the sponsor of Twebrew School, a virtual Hebrew school that encourages real-life interactions via Tweetups.)