Jewish Judaism and Technology Singles

JDate Rabbi of the Month

Since I became a rabbi, I’ve found that there are two different ways that engaged couples respond to the question, “So… how did you meet?”

There is the long, detailed narrative married-couples-to-be provide about who set them up, how they began as “just close friends” and it progressed to something “more,” or how fate brought them together at that singles’ night at the bar or a mutual friend’s wedding. Conversely, there is the quick, one-word response that more than half of all couples give me when I ask how they met: “JDate.”

Most rabbis are realizing that JDate is having a positive effect on bringing young Jewish couples together. Close friends of mine who met on JDate (and now have two children) nominated me for the JDate “Rabbi of the Month.” I’m proud to be associated with this website and company (owned by Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks Limited) because they are using technology to do what Jewish matchmakers have done for generations — help Jewish people find each other.

Upon being told I was JDate’s Rabbi of the Month, I was asked why I encourage young singles to register on JDate. I replied: “JDate is the spark that single Jews need to find their Bashert (soul mate). There’s truly someone out there for everyone.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Judaism and Technology Religion Yom Kippur

Shofar So Good

Another “Day of Atonement” has come and gone. While Rosh Hashanah is the official beginning of the new Jewish year, it always seems that it is not until the conclusion of Yom Kippur that the new year really commences. So, I say “Bring it on 5770!” you can’t be any worse than the past year that brought us the Madoff scandal, Swine Flu, and the death of so many celebrities including Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Patrick Swayze, Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, William Safire, Farrah Fawcett, Paul Harvey, John Updike, etc. etc.

While, traditionally, there are 100 shofar blasts blown on Rosh Hashanah, the call of the shofar to end Yom Kippur always seems to make headlines. There certainly is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the powerful “Tekiyah G’dolah” signaling the end of the fast day.

When the Detroit Free Press informed me they would like to take my photo to accompany an article in which I was interviewed, they of course requested that I blow shofar for the photo. I forgot to bring one of mine and I couldn’t locate a shofar at my synagogue since all of our shofar blowers bring their own (“B.Y.O.S.” I suppose). So, I told the Freep’s photographer to give me a few minutes and I headed over to the Jewish Community Center where I borrowed a brand new shofar from the Judaica display.
(The Photo by Patricia Beck of the Detroit Free Press is above.)

Much more interesting than the photo of me blowing shofar is NPR’s profile of Dizzy Gillespie’s goddaughter, Jennie Litvack (at left), who blows shofar at Congregation Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C.

The shofar player had a close relationship with the great jazz trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, who called her his goddaughter. As for her relationship with Gillespie, Litvack says she got to know him when she was 12 years old.

“We developed a very special relationship.” Litvack says playing the shofar is something Gillespie would do, but she never saw him or heard him do it. “He was a Baha’i,” she says. “We used to have great conversations about Judaism and Baha’ism and the oneness of mankind. But I do say when I play, I also feel Diz, I feel his connection with me, and that feels really special.”

In the Free Press article, I was asked what the themes of my Yom Kippur sermons would be about. The reporter, Niraj Warikoo, seemed interested in the sermon I delivered on Yom Kippur morning about how we communicate with each other and ask forgiveness in the Digital Age. Using social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the many people in our lives is fine to do, I explained, but when it comes time for performing teshuvah (asking forgiveness from our friends for our shortcomings) a personal connection is the ideal.

Right before Kol Nidrei services (the beginning of the Yom Kippur holiday) on Sunday, I noticed the following status update from one of my Facebook connections, Rob Kutner (former writer for the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and current writer for the “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”):

Rob Kutner asks forgiveness of anyone he may have wronged unintentionally this past year, and wishes Jews an easy fast, and everyone else an easy Monday. Sun at 6:55pm

Seems like the “easy way out” rather than picking up the phone or sending a personalized, carefully-worded email message to the individuals he wronged unintentionally. (I actually wonder if he wants forgiveness from those that he wronged intentionally.)

With the recent attraction of the six-word memoir and status updating “tweets” limited to 140 characters, we are downsizing our communication. While I’m a fan of these social networking sites, I certainly hope we’ll take the time to actually talk to those closest to us… especially when it’s forgiveness we’re looking for.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Globalization Jewish Jewish Law Judaism and Technology

Rogue Media Minyan

During my first year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, my Talmud teacher, Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner (right), came to me for some consultation. He knew I was tech savvy and interested in the Internet. It was 1998 and, as a member of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (“the Law Committee”), he was working on a teshuvah (Jewish legal opinion) about whether it was permissible to convene a minyan (prayer quorum) in the virtual world. Specifically, could one recite the Mourner’s Kaddish while taking part in a minyan that was convened virtually, over the Internet or through video-conferencing?

I was very much interested in discussing the issues surrounding a virtual minyan with Rabbi Reisner — both the halakhic ramifications and the technological issues. A year prior, as a college senior, I had written about the globalization of Judaism as a result of the Internet Age, and this was no doubt one way in which the concept of “community” in Jewish life would change as a result of innovations in technology and broadband communications.

Rabbi Reisner’s teshuva “Wired to the Kadosh Baruch Hu,” in which he concluded that “a minyan may not be constituted over the Internet, an audio- or video-conference, or any other medium of long distance communication,” passed by a majority vote in March 2001. All teshuvot of the Conservative Movement’s Law Committee are only considered recommendations, and thus I’m certain there are some who are reciting Kaddish for loved ones in virtual minyanim.

In fact, my teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring (left), wrote an article in The New York Jewish Week detailing the story of a “rogue media minyan.” His article titled “Challenges Of An Open-Source Age,” could have just as easily been called “Davening in the Digial Age.” Much has changed since everyone got high-speed Intenet connections at home and work, text messaging and e-mail on our phones are as common as sneezing, and video conferencing with friends in other continents is no longer challenging. Hayim writes:

About three years ago I received a call from a stranger who had a heartfelt dilemma. He wanted my opinion about whether digital davening with a minyan would fulfill his obligation to say Kaddish for a parent who had just died. He was concerned that saying Kaddish at his synagogue every day was not feasible and wanted to dedicate some days to gather a minyan via the Web. If so, should he ask his synagogue for help to sponsor a digital minyan? I vaguely recall making a comment about the idea being worth exploring and referred him to his congregational rabbi.

So much has changed since that telephone call, and today’s open-source environment, where information is increasingly open, available and less controlled, has led to a big leadership dilemma. Let’s imagine how this digital davening dilemma might play out today. The rabbi who gets the call may be empathetic but may discourage the idea, explaining the high value of being together in a community. A week later, the ritual director, quite concerned, asks the rabbi if he has heard about “the rogue media minyan.” The rabbi is surprised to learn that after the congregant called him, he contacted 50 friends (Facebook, Twitter, texting — pick your social media method), inviting them to be a part of digital davening group, so that he can say kaddish a few days a week. Some of the congregant’s friends are members of the same congregation; others are from across the country. He is quickly able to form a minyan. He and his friends use an electronic platform which enables them to webcast the service so that everyone can see and hear one another.

The rabbi meets with the congregant, perplexed by his behavior. Didn’t the congregant believe in the value of community? Now the congregant is confused. He explains that it was precisely the rabbi’s comments about community that prompted him to contact some of his father’s friends from out of town to participate in a Web-based minyan in his father’s memory. He says it was particularly meaningful to him to also have fellow congregants volunteer, especially those who would otherwise never participate in the synagogue’s daily minyan. It was this expanded notion of what community meant to the congregant that motivated him to act.

Now let’s fast forward to a year later. Within the year, two other members of the bricks-and-mortar congregation, who are also members of the digital davening group, lose a loved one. They don’t remember to inform the rabbi because they are already a part of the digital minyan, a satisfying experience for them. In fact, other people from across the country who have no original connection to the group are participating in it because the digital davening story went viral, and digital davening groups sprang up across the country and also spread to other countries.

The synagogue community is divided over their value, but these media minyanim continue to grow. This illustration is about rabbis and synagogues, but you can imagine how it can be rewritten for any Jewish setting.

There really is so much potential for spreading Jewish education across the globe using the Internet. Esther Kustanowitz is helping promote the’s live Kol Nidre service. It will be broadcast online this Yom Kippur for the many Jews who are unable to get to a synagogue (or due to the economy they can’t afford membership). By joining this Kol Nidre service online, through, they engage in their Jewish identity and connect to the Jewish calendar in a way that is accessible, affordable, non-alienating and convenient. The service is broadcast from Nashuva in Los Angeles, and is led by Rabbi Naomi Levy. The service will be accessible (and you can view last year’s recorded service) at There is actually a live band for Kol Nidre.

In addition to serving those Jews who are home-bound or cannot afford High Holy Day tickets, it is also a valuable resource for those Jews who are merely interested in seeing a different type of service. Maybe they would never attend a synagogue in which a live band played Kol Nidrei, but they might like to watch it for the experience.

Judaism is a several thousand-years-old religion and culture that has evolved over time. In this multimedia, high-speed communication, open-source age we are now living in, we must allow Judaism to adapt to these times by embracing new modes of communication and new concepts of community. Open-source Judaism will bolster the global Jewish community through shared ideas, collaboration, and best practices. Additionally, it will no doubt alter the long-held notions we’ve had about what constitutes such things as a minyan. Just as the Jewish people have figured out ways to strike a healthy balance between the Tradition and the innovations of modernity in the past generations, so too our generation will strike the right balance today.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Jewish Judaism and Technology Rabbi

Connected Community of Wired Jews

Yesterday, Israel celebrated its 61st year of independence. When detailing all that this little nation has to be proud of, modern technology always ranks at the top of the list. After all, this is the country responsible for the popularity of instant messaging on the Internet (ICQ was first developed by the Israeli company Mirabilis).

I think that modern technology and the new forms of digital communication are wonderful advances that improve our world in general, and the global Jewish community in particular. They have caused borders to virtually fade into nonexistence. In my college senior thesis (The Globalization of Judaism), I argued that the Internet has (and will continue to) change the global Jewish community religiously, culturally, and educationally. As the online virtual community has grown, the actual Jewish community seems smaller and the proverbial borders have disappeared.

There are many who argue that the new communication tools are a hindrance to our community. They complain that our ability to always be connected is an intrusiveness in modern life. I propose that our embrace of social networking changes our cultural community in wonderful ways. To be interconnected within our global community can lead to positive advances in all realms.

Rabbi Aaron BergmanMy colleague, Rabbi Aaron Bergman (right) of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, wrote a very nice article in this month’s congregational bulletin on the subject of always being “in touch” through modern communication technology. Rather than complaining about the intrusiveness of modern life, Rabbi Bergman writes that he embraces it. He acknowledges that through his Blackberry, Facebook page, and Twitter account, he is “able to communicate with people with common interests from around the world”. He appreciates being able to reconnect with old friends and stay in regular communication with people (his congregants) when he’s not sitting at his office desk.

While some complain that the new technologies alienate people from each other, Rabbi Bergman theorizes that our embrace of social networking is actually a reaction to feeling alienated, not the cause of it. I agree.

There are enough individuals who are negative about our society’s connected lifestyle in the 21st century. Many of the same people who once railed against cellphones, now use them incessantly. Those who couldn’t understand the necessity of PDAs, Blackberrys, and iPhones now can’t live without them. And those who scoffed at social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as a silly waste of time have set up their own accounts.

The future is here and we are still figuring out how to best utilize the new technology. I’m glad to see rabbis like Aaron Bergman embrace these new communication tools. Many rabbis are resistant because they have yet to discover how to best capitlize on them.

Together with a couple other rabbis, I’ve been asked by Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld, the new Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, to consult the RA on technology issues. Together, we are trying to figure out how rabbis can best make use of these advances in modern communications. Every rabbi now uses e-mail daily, participates in e-mail listservs, and posts sermons to the synagogue website. Now, the time has come to help rabbis take the next step: using a blog to communicate with their congregants, setting up a Facebook page, teaching bits of Torah through a Twitter account, posting their sermons and lectures on YouTube, and teaching through Podcasts.

Rabbi Hayim HerringMy teacher, Rabbi Hayim Herring (for whom I’m honored to be mistaken – see here), is writing a book to be published by The Alban Institute entitled Tools for Shuls: A Guide to Make Over Your Synagogue. On his blog, which functions as a virtual labratory for his book, he has a section called “Digital Dreaming: Using Technology Wisely”. In it, he writes that the new communication tools and the environment are ripe for experimentations in creating new virtual Jewish communities. In fact, they are already happening. We’ve come a long way since my first Talmud teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Avi Reisner, raised the question of whether a virutal minyan (prayer quorum of ten) would be “kosher” if it were assembled through the virtual realm of the Internet. His teshuvah (Jewish legal responsum), “Wired to the Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet”, is available here.

There are pros and cons to our new modes of communication. But we must try to discover how to best utilize them for success. We should also get to know them well enough that we will determine their negative effects and navigate our way around those. One example of this is Liel Leibowitz’s analysis of Twitter, the microblogging networking site. In his article in the Forward, “Communication Breakdown: Dispatches from the Virtual World”, Leibowitz argues that the condensing of our communication to 140-character messages is not a very Jewish concept. After all, we are the People of the Book! He imagines the scene from Mount Sinai in which a modern-day Moses reaches the apex of the mountain, pulls out his iPhone and communicates to the Israelite nation via Twitter. “The people, he knows, will be blogging about this moment for ages to come”. Leibowitz opines:

Examining this thinning of language — these starved forms of communications that favor the quick and the inconsequential while remaining unsuited for thoughts that may take space to unfold and time to read — it is easy to succumb to a technologically deterministic depression and declare the end of intelligent civilization near. But since Jews have been forever defined — even constituted — by our relationship with the book and, as a result, with the written word at large, we must pay special attention to these winds of change. Without being unduly alarmist, one can say that the Internet may be killing off the Jewish mind.

Whether or not, this form of communication bodes well for the Jewish people, Leibowitz is correct to assess it. We must all do this. Instead of avoiding the new technology available to us, let us find the applications that will work to our advantage and then improve our communities (synagogues, schools, organizations, etc.) for the future. There are ways to exploit new communication technology and new networking applications that will greatly enhance our global Jewish community.

What are some ways in which you’re doing it?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Education Judaism and Technology Rabbi

PodCasting Torah

I love reading articles about the intersection of technology and religion, specifically Judaism. My colleague Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, with whom I worked at Camp Ramah Wisconsin in 1997, was featured in a USA Today article last month about the use of podcasts in religious groups.

Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Somerset, N.J., a Conservative Jewish congregation, says he draws listeners from as far away as Italy, Argentina and Israel on his podcast, RabbiPod.

“I’ve been working on teaching the Torah in an accessible manner for a long time, and when the podcast technology was invented, it just seemed like a natural,” he says.

The article explains that Podcasting is an inexpensive way for pastors and rabbis to greatly expand their audience beyond the walls of their own place of worship.

Israel Anderson, a software designer in Denver who operates a free site called God’s iPod, screens all podcasts submitted to him and weeds out most. Part of what’s driving the popularity of religious podcasts is dissatisfaction with organized religion, Anderson says. “If you’re in a home church or go primarily for fellowship but your church isn’t particularly good at teaching, a podcast is a good way to hear from a wide variety of people.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp Israel Jewish Youth Judaism and Technology Technology

eCamp Israel

I recently learned about a new program that merges three areas I am passionate about –Jewish camping, Israel, and technology. Israel has always embraced high technology and modern communication. Part of what has made the almost sixty-year-old nation’s economy flourish in the past two decades has been the success of its hi-tech sector. Now a new summer camping initiative is making the hi-tech experience available to Jewish youth who are interested in spending a summer in Israel and also interested in technology.

eCamp Israel is a technology summer camp based in Israel and open to American Jewish youth. As a member of the rabbinic cabinet of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Project Reconnect, I was asked to look into the feasibility of including eCamp Israel as one of United Synagogue Youth’s summer options in Israel. USY sends hundreds of teens to Israel each summer, and this program would allow some of those teens to specialize in a hi-tech track while in Israel.

I am very impressed with this new program. eCamp’s mission is to “help young people realize their highest potential, discover their talents, and reach for their dreams”. Their cutting-edge e-workshops will allow each individual camper to express their creativity, and the youth participants will work on their own projects in a collaborative environment (open-space computer lab).

eCamp, located in a residential educational institution near Caesarea, will not be a “computer camp” where kids sit in front of a computer all day. Rather, the camp will encourage the campers to go outdoors to do the normal summer camp activities like sports, swimming, and nature exploration. The camp will motivate campers to create a better world through the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) with each camper receiving a certificate for 5 hours of community service per session.

eCampers will meet with entrepreneurs including the founder of ICQ, now the originator behind the AOL Instant Messenger, visit leading Israeli research centers such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, Motorola, and train in the Israeli Air Force’s flight simulator. Participants will have experience theoretical developments by visiting leading academic centers such as the Technion and Weizmann Institute. Shai Agassi, a hero in Israel’s technology world and the founder of Project Better Place, will be eCamp’s Chief Scientist. When I spoke with Nir Kouris, co-CEO of ecamp and an Israeli entrepreneur, he explained that “As one of the global centers of technological innovation, it is time Israel gives back some of our know-how and share it with children from around the world.”

The idea of an International Technology Summer Camp in Israel is brilliant. Jewish youth already flock to Israel in droves each summer and many of them have to put their technology interests on hold during that time. So, while most Jewish youth won’t be able to use Instant Messenger while they travel in Israel this summer, the campers at eCamp Israel will be introduced to the hi-tech gurus who developed the infrastructure to run Instant Messenger. This program will open the gates for Jewish youth to the #1 success story of Israel – Technology Innovation.

eCamp is just one more piece of great news in the world of Jewish camping. Recently, the Jim Joseph Foundation and Foundation for Jewish Camping announced a $8.4 million partnership grant to create a Specialty Camping Incubator. The Incubator will create four Jewish specialty camps based on skills such as athletics, computers, and arts according to the successful model already established for Jewish camping.

It is truly remarkable to see the innovations taking place in the field of Jewish camping. It makes me want to be a kid again!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Judaism and Technology Social Media Technology

The Facebook 1000

Today I added my 1,000th friend on my Facebook account. That’s 999 more friends than I have in real life.

As everyone knows, Facebook is addictive and a waste of valuable time. I considered closing my account now that I have 1,000 connections, but reconsidered when I remembered that I’m in the middle of four Scrabble games and that I just never know when I’ll want to discover which movies my long lost friend from 2nd grade likes.

But Facebook is a good resource and it allows us to stay in contact with many more people than we could have imagined last century or even just a few years ago. Facebook was a valuable tool for me to reach out to many Jewish students when I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel. And I am sure that Facebook will play a key role in next year’s political elections. Of course, Facebook is becoming increasingly more beneficial for charitable organizations as well. AOL founder Steve Case appears to be taking Internet philanthropy to the next level with his Case Foundation’s charity contest for Facebook Causes.

Facebook is definitely here to stay. And according to Facebook is Jewish too:

Top Ten Signs Facebook is Jewish

10. Wall postings are something we’ve been doing for years at the Kotel

9. News Feeds, loshon hora made easy

8. Poking, the shomer negia way to flirt

7. $1 diamond rings!

6. Updating your status is better than your mom telling the world you are now single

5. Tagging photos brings Jewish geography back into the picture

4. Social networking; a nicer way of saying protectzia

3. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) vs. Tom Anderson (Myspace) … the last name says it all

2. Only colors: Kachol v’ Lavan [blue and white]

1. We are the people of the Book… we just got superficial

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Judaism and Technology

Judaism and the Internet: What I’ve been saying all along

Yes, technology is increasingly more important in Judaism. Ten years ago when I wrote my senior thesis in college on “The Globalization of Judaism” focusing on how new technology has affected the global Jewish community, I predicted that in the future congregations would communicate with their membership via e-mail and that Jews would choose their spiritual communities by shopping on the Web.

That time is certainly here. Like many rabbis, I send out a weekly newsletter via e-mail to my membership. With over 400 subscribers to our Constant Contact subscription service, the list is growing and it gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts, words of Torah, and programming updates with our congregants.

Daniel With the launch today of by blog creator Daniel “Mobius” Sieradski (in photo), Jews throughout the world will be able to shop for the minyan/shul/community that best fits their needs. I’ve already registered my congregation, Agudas Achim, in the database.

Sue Fishkoff touched on the many benefits of shuls turning to new technology and communication in her JTA article yesterday. It was nice to read about the usual suspects – my colleague Sharon Brous’s Ikar minyan in LA and the archetypal Kehillat Hadar in NYC co-founded by Elie Kaunfer – but I was especially pleased to see that the Seattle-based Kavana was included even though its founder and my classmate Rachel Nussbaum was not interviewed.

Here are some selections from Sue’s article, the full text of which is available on the JTA website.

New congregations see ‘Net results in communication and cost savings
By Sue Fishkoff

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — When Ikar, a 3-year-old congregation in Los Angeles, wants to make an announcement to the 1,500 people on its mailing list, it doesn’t send a letter. It sends an e-mail.

“We’ve never sent out a piece of hard mail,” says Joshua Avedon, who is in charge of technology for the young, unaffiliated community that describes itself as “traditional yet progressive.”

That’s not all they use the Internet for.

“We get people interested in Ikar who don’t live here, who follow us” via the community’s Web site and then show up if they move to Los Angeles, Avedon says. “We have donors in New York and Jerusalem who have never been here.”

Keeping people virtually abreast of the group’s activities is “a way of creating a global constituency,” Avedon says.

For dozens of new congregations and minyans, or prayer communities, like Ikar, the Internet is not just a faster, more convenient communication tool. It’s a central organizing mechanism and community-building tool, filling the roles performed in more traditional synagogues by administrative staff, newsletters, membership committees, religious school, even rabbis.

The expected Feb. 15 launch of, an interactive tool that will allow people to find and rate local synagogues, aims to take the global Jewish conversation to a new level.

“The Internet is critical,” says Avedon, who also is communications director for Synagogue 3000, which works with emerging Jewish communities nationwide.

Without the Internet, many of these new Jewish communities wouldn’t even exist.

Kol Zimrah, an independent minyan in New York, has no building of its own but meets once a month at various locations. It sends out an e-mail to the 500 people on its list telling them when and where services will take place.

“All of our communication is over the Internet,” Kol Zimrah co-founder Ben Dreyfus says. “We don’t have a phone list or snail mail.”

In fact, he continues, the minyan was started five years ago by people “sending an e-mail around.”

Kol Zimrah posts the music it uses for people to download, learn and use at their own services.

“It’s a way of teaching people,” Dreyfus says.

The Internet also enables interaction with a congregation. Elie Kaunfer, a founder of Kehilat Hadar in New York, says members and other participants “sign up for programs, offer feedback and pay for events online.”

Not only is the Web convenient, it enables young, fiscally challenged Jewish communities to cast a wider net and “advertise” their activities for free. Hadar doesn’t spend any money on marketing, Kaunfer says. That’s crucial for the many communities that do not charge fixed dues.

Kavana, an independent Jewish community in Seattle, draws its members — or partners, as the community calls them — largely from young Jews who moved to the city to work in the high-tech industry.

The Internet “helps us assess how we are delivering our services, how we get retention of people,” notes Suzi LeVine, who used to work at Microsoft and Expedia.
Kavana maintains online charts to track how people move from attending one event to attending three, to finally joining the community.

A new tool is imminent when Daniel Sieradski, founder of the jewschool blog, launches ShulShopper. Sieradski pledges it will “provide the greater Jewish community with entirely free tools and resources conducive to independent Jewish learning and community organizing.” The launch was expected Thursday, but the site was not quite ready.

The site will post descriptions of congregations written by its members, and users can log on to look for the congregations that best fit their needs. They can search by various factors, including level of observance, denominational affiliation, size and interfaith friendliness.

ShulShopper will function like a wiki, allowing users to contribute to congregational profiles and “review” their worship experiences — something that makes several people who wrote to Sieradski’s blog nervous.

Sieradski says ShulShopper is “an experiment,” the hoped-for first step in a more extensive site called Jew It Yourself. That larger venture, he says, will host congregations’ social networks and provide tools for independent Jewish study.
One idea Sieradski has is an online beit midrash, or study hall, where “people in Jerusalem and Houston can turn the same page” of text on-screen. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Gaming Judaism and Technology Rabbi Rabbi Jason Miller Rabbis Technology

New Video Game Stars Rabbi

More and more these days we see rabbis in TV shows and movies, but I didn’t think the time would come anytime soon that we would see a rabbi starring in a video game. I’ve never been much of a fan of video games (I guess I’ve always like to play some of those retro games like PacMan, Arkanoid, Frogger, etc.), but I’ve got to check out this one. It’s called “The Shiva” and I guess that means you have to sit to play it (typical rabbi joke #1). Also, you’re not allowed to play it on Shabbat (typical rabbi joke #2). Maybe my idea for the video game “Rabbi Cop” will finally see the light of day now. And thank you to the guys at for posting my “Rabbi Cop” creation to their site.

From Yahoo! News:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – While Christian games like the newly released “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” gain mainstream attention, Manifesto Games in New York City is billing “The Shiva” as the first to star the leader of a Jewish congregation.

In the murder-mystery game named after the Jewish mourning ritual, protagonist Rabbi Stone is having a crisis of faith and his congregation on New York’s Lower East side is losing members and cash.

When he inherits a small windfall from a controversial congregant, Rabbi Stone must solve the mystery behind the gift and make sure it is not cursed.

Manifesto, which announced the title via e-mail, said “The Shivah” plays on personal computers and is the first commercial game from creator Dave Gilbert.

Representatives from Manifesto, which sells downloadable games, were not immediately available for comment. “The Shivah” sells for $5.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
College Israel Jewish Judaism and Technology Technology

God bless the Bedouin People

Ten-and-a-half years ago I came to Mamshit Camel Ranch, a Bedouin Village, close to Demona in the Negev desert in Israel. I was a participant on USY Israel Pilgrimage (Group 3) and celebrated my 18th birthday in the Bedouin tent. To my young eyes it appeared to be a fairly realistic Bedouin experience complete with Bedouin food, sleeping in a tent, and camel rides. I wasn’t naive — of course I knew that the Bedouins who worked at Mamshit lived in the nice homes nearby and didn’t live as the Bedouins of ages past.

Now, as a staff member on a birthright israel trip with University of Michigan and Harvard students, I am sitting in the main office of Mamshit (Israeli owned) checking my e-mail and posting to my Blog on a high-speed DSL connection.

I’d write more but there’s a camel-riding Bedouin waiting to check his stock portfolio online!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |