Israel Pays Porn Website Owner $3K for @Israel Twitter Name

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs (The NY Jewish Week)

The Web can be a misleading place. For years, if you typed whitehouse.com into your browser, it wouldn’t take you to the official home of our President on the Web, but rather to the home of a pornographic Web site.

In 2004, the owner of that website decided to get out of the seedy porn site business because his oldest child was about to begin kindergarten and he was afraid of what the other parents might think. The LA Times reported that Daniel Parisi started Whitehouse.com in 1997 and it “has frequently been confused with the official government site Whitehouse.org.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Israeli government purchased the Twitter account @israel for a six-figure sum from a pornographic Web site owner. More recent accounts, however, have Israeli officials denying the claims of a six-figure payment, yet confirming that they gained access of the Twitter handle in exchange for $3,000.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, who said the selling price was significantly lower than that originally asked by its owner, Miami-based Spanish citizen Israel Melendez, who also runs a porn Web site. “I won’t go into the details of the negotiations, but originally he asked for a five-digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period,” Palmor said. (Those sound like details to me!)

The New York Times and MSNBC.com both ran stories about the transfer of the Twitter name. Melendez opened his @Israel Twitter account in 2007 but was soon harassed by users who thought it belonged to the Israeli government. On August 26, the Israeli government took over the account from Melendez and tweeted the following: “The IsraelMFA twitter account name has been changed to @Israel. Look for us here: twitter.com/israel.”

Already, the new Twitter account has claimed over 7,000 followers. It is evident that Israel is moving full steam ahead in the social media realm with increased activity on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube.

I’m not sure who counseled Israel Melendez to settle for only $3,000 for the Twitter name (perhaps the Shin Bet?), but hopefully he’s a smarter businessman in his other endeavor.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Saying Sorry with Social Media

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Is tweeting teshuvah a cop out?

Last Yom Kippur, I delivered a sermon explaining how Jewish people have begun “doing teshuvah” — seeking repentance from others — through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. A week before Yom Kippur the religion editor of The Detroit Free Press, Niraj Warikoo, called to find out what I’d be speaking about on the Day of Atonement. My topic interested him and he wrote a cover story about how some people spend the week before the holiday asking acquaintances for forgiveness for perceived wrongdoings by offering blanket apologies in their Facebook status updates and tweets.

Several newspapers, blogs, and the AP picked up the story from the Free Press. Warren Riddle on Switched, AOL’s tech blog, wrote, “At least one member of the Jewish clergy, Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, is asserting that the rise of social networking is diminishing the significance of repentance. He believes that people are using sites like Facebook and Twitter to issue mass, unspecific apologies in order to eliminate uncomfortable, individual personal interaction. Miller said that, in order to protect the true meaning of Yom Kippur, ‘There should be an effort, a little challenge to go up to another person and seek forgiveness, to admit our wrongdoing.’ Incorporating technology into religious holidays and services is a hotly debated issue. Some groups welcome modern and creative ways of attracting new members, specifically young folks, while other religious leaders bemoan technological advances. Miller’s comments, though, should cross all denominations. Some sentiments and feelings are best and most effectively expressed in person — unless, of course, you’re comfortable with your failures being eternally stored for public judgment.”

Of course, I’m sure that when it became possible to send letters quickly through the postal service, there were rabbis who felt that it wasn’t appropriate to send requests for teshuvah through the mail. And when the telephone was invented, there must have been opposition to this impersonal way of seeking repentance. Just like several years ago when many questioned if it was appropriate to offer forgiveness in an email message. While face-to-face is undoubtedly the best way to seek true repentance from our friends and family, we must also face the reality that social networking and text messaging are how many of us communicate on a daily basis, and some will use those media to apologize before Yom Kippur.

My recommendation, however, is that if you are going to ask someone for teshuvah on Twitter of Facebook, at least make it a personal plea and send the message privately.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media’s Role in Religion

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Sunday’s Detroit Free Press ran a cover story detailing how social media is being used by religious leaders. In his article “What Would Jesus Tweet?,” religion editor Niraj Warikoo looks at how houses of worship are using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to its membership and potential members.

He writes, “Religious groups are increasingly trying to harness the power of social media — from a Pentecostal church in Canton using Facebook to reel in new members to a Catholic priest in Plymouth [Michigan] who uploads podcasts of sermons to an Oak Park rabbi sparking national debates on his blog. And with its own particular rules and rituals, the world of social media has become, in a way, its own religion.”

Interviewed for the article, I explained, “The fact that I can disseminate my Torah, my Jewish wisdom, to so many people is a modern miracle of sorts.” The article ties in well to the current Jewish month of Elul when Jews around the world are pledging to improve in the coming new year and offering repentance to those we’ve wronged.

Miller argues that during the high holidays — a time when Jews are called upon to repent and seek forgiveness from those they’ve wronged in the past year — it’s inappropriate for people to apologize through Facebook or Twitter. And posting on Facebook isn’t the best way to convey your condolences to a close friend who has lost a loved one, he says.

Jews have long had religious laws that today have implications for social media. They include rules that prohibit inappropriate slander such as motzi shem ra, which refers to spreading malicious lies that harm a person’s name.

Read the entire Detroit Free Press article

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Mayor of the Minyan

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Every synagogue minyan (daily prayer group) has the one person who always seems to be there. In some congregations, this might be the gabbai (a ritual director of sorts). In other shuls it might be the rabbi. And in others it might be a lay person who is very dedicated and wants to ensure there is always a minyan (quorum of 10) so others can say the Mourner’s Kaddish. Some minyans have a group of dedicated individuals who make it a point to always attend — regardless of rain, sleet or snow.

With the mobile application FourSquare (a cross between a friend-finder, social city-guide, and game), it is now possible to find out who attends the minyan the most. While the most active minyan attendees in many communities are older, retirees who may have never even heard of Foursquare, it would still be fun to see who “checks in” to the synagogue the most. In the FourSquare world, the user with the most check ins at a venue gains the mayorship of that venue, so it would be interesting to see who becomes the “mayor” of the shul.

Many local businesses offer specials (10% off at some restaurants and coffee shops, for example) for a check-in or for being the mayor of a venue. Perhaps in the future, synagogues will offer incentives for the most check ins at the morning minyan or for children at Hebrew school. I can imagine a synagogue discounting the dues of the mayor of the minyan or presenting the mayor of religious school with an award.

Jewish non-profits can also utilize FourSquare to reward volunteers. The mayor of the kosher food bank for instance might be featured in the monthly newsletter.

Thanks to FourSquare, in the future you might see a sign next to the rabbi’s parking space in the synagogue lot that reads: “Reserved Parking for the Mayor of the Minyan.”

Modern Tribe has some great Jewish Gifts for all occasions

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Tweeting the Flotilla Attack

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Peter Beinart’s essay “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” in The New York Review of Books argues that most of the mainstream American Jewish organizations have abandoned liberalism on the issues of the Middle East and are responsible for a generation of young Jews who hold no connection to Israel. He writes, “not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well. In recent years, American Jewish organizations have waged a campaign to discredit the world’s most respected international human rights groups.”

Beinhart’s essay has of course drawn much criticism and debate within the American Jewish world, both from the right and the left.

Perhaps the best way to see the divide in the American Jewish community over Israel is to look at the dissemination of information and the debate on the Web today following the IDF raid of the Mavi Marmara and other ships in a flotilla traveling to Gaza.

Here’s what happened today: American Jews woke up this morning — a vacation day from work and school in commemoration of Memorial Day in the U.S. — to learn that Israeli commandos raided a Gaza aid flotilla, killing nine and injuring dozens of others. Since American Jews didn’t head to work this morning, there was no water cooler at which to debate the issues. Did the Israelis act in self-defense? Who struck first? Was the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid workers or political demonstrators? Did the men on the flotilla have guns and knives or was it a peaceful transport to Gaza? Were the IDF soldiers stabbed and beaten when they boarded the ship? Did the crew of the Gaza flotilla try to lynch the Israeli soldiers?

So, with no water cooler by which to stand, no office coffee to share, and no bus on which to commute, American Jews took the debate to Twitter. On the social media site users tweeted their latest discoveries from their choice online news networks. With links from Fox news, the Jerusalem Post, the New York Times, etc., Twitter users included hashtags featuring the newly popular term “flotilla” — from the Spanish, meaning a small fleet of ships — and voiced their opinion on the controversial event. Some pro-Israel tweets included the hashtag #freedomflotilla with the word “not” included parenthetically.

Some users of the microblogging service complained that Twitter apparently censored the #flotilla hashtag in discussions about the convoy deaths. Charles Arthur at the Guardian explained that Twitter didn’t censor the #flotilla hashtag. Rather, as #flotilla began trending, users started using the #freedomflotilla hashtag in its place. Also, as Mike Butcher at Techcrunch points out: “This surely was a case of anti-spam filtering [as] there had already been a “flotilla” story in the past week – the anniversary of Dunkirk (for non-Britons: a dramatic rescue during the second world war of British and French troops from the Dunkirk beaches by small craft). And Gaza is frequently topical. So Twitter’s anti-spam algorithms – that is, the machines – likely decided that this was a spam attack trying to piggyback on old hashtags, and pushed the “#flotilla” hashtag out of the trending topics.

In addition to Twitter, YouTube also figured as a prominent player in today’s Flotilla debates. Tweets sent readers to the YouTube site to view videos from both sides of the attack — there was footage taken by the Israel Defense Forces of the  Mavi Marmara Passengers Attacking IDF Soldiers as well as video footage from Al Jazeera of  Israeli troops storming the Gaza flotilla after the white flag was raised.

On this lazy Memorial Day Monday morning in the U.S., Americans had no where else to go other than the Web with their views on the situation in the Middle East. Perhaps this virtual debate over the flotilla attack is the best litmus test for Beinhart’s assertion of how American Jews connect (or don’t) with Israel.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Sending Social Networking Sympathies

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

The story was recently told to me about a Facebook user who updated her status message to announce the death of her grandmother and the grief she was feeling because of the loss. Her friend’s mother, a Facebook newbie, read the status update and clicked Facebook’s “Like” option. Was this a Facebook faux pas or a way to express condolences in the era of social networking?

We are all trying to make sense out of how to deal with death when it comes to Web 2.0. Here are some questions that arise with regard to social networking when a loved one dies.

What can Facebook teach us about grief?

In her Christian Science Monitor article, grief expert Diana Nash writes, “After the typhoon in Indonesia, after the deaths of Patrick Swayze and Michael Jackson, after school shootings, and in the wake of suicides, young people in mourning are now turning to social networking sites such as Facebook for support. This raises the question: Are social networking sites a better spiritual partner than a church, mosque, or temple? If you search for ‘In Memory of…’ on Facebook more than 100,000 results pop up.”

Clearly, young people are using social media sites like Facebook as an outlet for their grief. Facebook is a community populated by one’s friends in which those grieving can express themselves without censoring one’s emotions. Many people who were not comfortable talking about personal matters like grief and mourning feel comfortable sharing a few words on the computer to their network of linked friends.

What is the etiquette for announcing a death on Facebook?

Over the past couple of years, I have seen an increasing number of deaths announced through status updates on Facebook. When someone hears of a person’s passing and immediately updates his status by expressing his grief, the modern form of the condolence book has been set up. Others are now free to comment on that status update by offering their condolences to the bereaved, sharing a memory of the deceased, or expressing their own grief about the loss.

Certain questions arise before announcing to the Facebook community through a status update that someone has died. Perhaps the immediate family wants to make this announcement itself? Perhaps the survivors want to wait until certain decisions are made before informing the public (e.g., funeral arrangements)? If the death was tragic or unexpected, the delicate wording of the “announcement” is critical.

What is the status of the deceased’s Facebook page?

An October 28, 2009 article in TIME focused on this very subject. TIME reported that “In an Oct. 26 blog post, Max Kelly, Facebook’s head of security, announced the company’s policy of ‘memorializing’ profiles of users who have died, taking them out of the public search results, sealing them from any future log-in attempts and leaving the wall open for family and friends to pay their respects. Though most media reports claimed this was a new Facebook feature, a spokeswoman for the company told TIME that it’s an option the site has had since its early days.”

If this policy had been around, why did Facebook’s Max Kelly decide to publicize the memorializing of profiles in a blog post? When Facebook rolled out its new version a few days prior to Kelly’s blog post, a new feature automatically generated “suggestions” of people to “reconnect” with. On a personal note, I’m still receiving the automated suggestions by Facebook that I should reconnect with my deceased uncle. (Thank you Facebook, I try!)

Kelly’s explanation of how to put a deceased loved one’s Facebook page in the special category generated a lot of attention. To date, there are over 2,300 comments on his post.

Assuming that a family chooses to  not  put its deceased loved one into the Facebook memorial vault, what is the etiquette with regard to the ongoing maintenance of the deceased Facebook page? Should a family member gain access and manage the page? After all, what if someone posts a comment on the deceased’s Facebook that the family wants removed?

About a year after my uncle’s death, my cousin logged into his father’s Facebook account and accepted the “friend requests” that my uncle wasn’t able to accept in his final week’s on this earth. You can imagine the surprise (if that’s what it was) that some people felt when they were told that they were now “friends” on Facebook with a man who passed away a year prior. Maybe the ‘memorializing’ of profiles is the best policy after all?

And there’s an expert available who can help families create a Facebook obituary. R. Brian Burkhardt is “Your Funeral Guy” and his website describes the steps toward creating a Facebook Memorial.

Should we set up a Facebook page for the deceased?

As soon as a person dies (especially a young person), there is often a race to create the Facebook page in their memory. This can serve as a place to direct the community’s grief through sharing memories, posting photos, and disseminating information about memorial services, donations, etc. Before creating a Facebook page in memory of a loved one, it is important to check to ensure that there is not already one created. The administration of the page is also important to ensure that no inappropriate comments or photos are posted.

My teacher, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, wrote about “Mourning and Consolation on Facebook” in his Windows and Doors blog on the Beliefnet site. He reminds us that “The safety which media like Facebook create is a crucial element in grieving process – the safety to say whatever we want without fear of repercussion and the safety of knowing that whatever we say, someone is listening. On the other hand, the care of one’s family while they mourn, the attention to details that can only be addressed by those among whom we live, and the likelihood that only in the context of a physical community bound together by more than he desire to share their grief, will such things be properly addressed should not be forgotten in the rush to Facebook mourning groups.”

Can visiting a shivah homepage be a substitute for visiting a shivah house?

No doubt, a new etiquette will form for offering condolences to mourners in the social networking age. Until there becomes an agreed upon protocol, however, common decorum should serve as the guide. When a mourner announces the death of a loved one in a Facebook status update, it is appropriate to offer condolences as a comment to the status update or as a wall post. Traditional forms of consolation toward the mourner should then follow, whatever one’s faith dictates (attendance at the funeral if possible, a tribute in the deceased’s memory to a charity, condolence call, etc.).

Rabbi Hirschfield writes, “There are also new possibilities including online visitation of mourners, saying Kaddish with a virtual minyan, the buying and delivery of virtual food to the homepages of mourners, just to name a few. While the latter is not physically nourishing, and that may be a crucial aspect of the tradition of feeding mourners, can we deny it’s value as psychological and spiritual nourishment?”

As I am writing this post, I logged into my Facebook account and saw that a friend had posted a photo of his father’s tombstone since today is his father’s yahrzeit (anniversary of the Jewish date of death). I hadn’t known that he lost his father (almost eleven years ago according to the date on the memorial stone) and neither did several of his other friends on Facebook according to their comments to the photo. This photo, simply captioned “Dad,” allows his friends to share their condolences on his father’s yahrzeit.

And yet, there’s something deeper at work here. Yes, there are friends from around Cyberspace who are offering their condolences or expressing surprise at not having known his father had died over a decade ago. But there are also those who are now finding relief in admitting that they too take photos of loved ones’ graves. As one commenter wrote, “I’m glad to know that I am not the only one who takes pictures at the cemetary [sic].”

No one has clicked the “Like” option for the photo. At least not yet!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook in Israel

Something unusual happened last month. For the week ending March 13, 2010, Google wasn’t the most visited website in the U.S. That week, Facebook reached the coveted #1 ranking. The market share of visits to Facebook.com increased 185% that week as compared to the same week in 2009, while visits to Google.com increased 9% during the same time frame. Together Facebook.com and Google.com accounted for 14% of all U.S. Internet visits during that week.
But Facebook.com receiving more visitors than Google.com wouldn’t be news in Israel. As Ayala Tzoref reports in the Haaretz newspaper, Israelis spend more time on the Facebook site than on any other website.
“Facebook’s head of strategy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa says that Israelis spend over one billion minutes in total on Facebook every month, making Israel’s most popular site by a significant margin. Trevor Johnson is currently visiting Israel as guest of Channel 10 telelvision, which is joining forces with Facebook to promote and expand the social networking site in Israel. Johnson, in an interview with TheMarker, claims that the total time Israelis spend on Facebook is more than the time they spend on Google, Walla, and YouTube combined.”

In the world today, Facebook is the third biggest site following Google and Microsoft.

As a rabbi serving at a Jewish camp that employs dozens of visiting Israelis each summer, I was not surprised to learn of Facebook’s overwhelming popularity in the Jewish state. In fact, in the camp’s Multimedia Center I’ve noticed the Israeli counselors using Facebook to keep in touch with their friends and family back home in Israel rather than using the more traditional email messaging or even Skype, the Internet voice calling application. The social networking site’s instant messaging/chat capabilities combined with the ability to create photo albums make Facebook the perfect tool for Israelis to keep in touch while they’re out of the country.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Haggadah 2.0

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

After the success of his 2009 Facebook Haggadah, I predicted that Carl Elkin would say “Next Year on Twitter.” Apparently, that prediction didn’t come to be.

However, I am happy that after his brilliant Facebook Haggadah parody last year, Elkin is back for more. The creator of last year’s spoof has created a new and improved 2010 Facebook Haggadah, complete with a status update from the 1st sister Miriam who reveals the color of an article of her clothing just as her descendants do thousands of years later on the social media site for breast cancer awareness. In the new version, Elkin also makes comical references to Farmville and FourSquare. Woody Allen, Sarah Palin, and Albert Einstein all take part in the social networking seder discussion.

Even the prophet Elijah is a part of this haggadah. Clearly a technophile, Elijah updates his status letting us know about his latest gadget: “My new smartphone with Nav software and turn by turn directions is making this year’s rounds a breeze! Currently 350 households ahead of schedule.”

Elkin, a Boston-based computational chemist, also created an app called YesWeConserve.com to to help get people involved in fighting global warming. The app is designed to help people find and share popular energy-saving ideas.

I’m not going to hold my breath for a Twitter based Haggadah, but at the end of this year’s Facebook Haggadah Elkin does promise that next year’s version will be an iPhone app!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Our Tweeter in Washington

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Much has already been made of the social media posting habits of William Daroff. Whether on Twitter or Facebook, the well-connected director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America (and its VP for Public Policy) isn’t afraid to go public with his whereabouts, upcoming speaking engagements, or even his drinking buddies.

Earlier this month, the JTA’s Ron Kampeas dubbed Daroff “The Fastest Tweet in the Jewish Organizational World” and the Fundermentalist (AKA Jacob Berkman) tweeted about Daroff that “the JFNA’s crackberry head has a serious case of the twitters.”

Some in the Jewish Federation network may think that this Washington insider tweets too much, but others appreciate the bird’s eye view that Daroff provides. His embrace of social media and lack of restraint when it comes to providing his daily schedule may lead to more transparency in the Jewish communal world.

Keeping up with Mr. Daroff’s professional life — knowing which D.C. movers and shakers he’s wining and dining, and which cities are on his travel itinerary — is a glimpse into the life of a Federation executive that most never had. Letting the world (or at least anyone who follows the @daroff feed on Twitter) know when he’s in a meeting with Israeli leaders on Capitol Hill or at the White House Hanukkah party removes much of the guessing game about the Jewish community’s political access in Washington.

Of course, it’s easy to take the tell-all nature of Twitter too far. There have been times when Daroff’s Blackberry tapping fingers took him into TMI territory.

A friend of mine, who’s a Jewish communal professional, found himself drinking Scotch with Daroff at the hotel lobby bar at this year’s Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) conference. (Single Malt Scotch is certainly one of Daroff’s own trending topics on his Twitter feed.) Before the first sip, the list of imbibers was tweeted around the Internet. Back at the office following the conference, a few eyebrows were raised following Daroff’s tweet and my friend had to explain to his colleagues that the bar tab wasn’t paid for with agency funds.

Adam Kredo, writing in the Washington Jewish Week, also noted the gray area in which Daroff navigates when he Tweets his opinion. This past Fall, Daroff tweeted that the left-leaning Israel group J-Street “stands with the Mullahs and the hard left at NIAC [National Iranian Action Council]” who are “opposed to sanctioning Iran.” That tweet might have gotten Daroff in some hot water, but as he aptly put it, “I have a cool job and get into cool places. You shouldn’t have to buy me a scotch in order to hear what I’m up to, and Twitter allows for that.”

Web 2.0, in addition to opening doors into new media, has also forced us to raise questions about the dissemination of professional and personal information. Is it appropriate for Jewish communal non-profit executives to divulge what they do when the workshops and plenary sessions come to an end at professional conferences? Is it unseemly for Jewish communal executives to fire off quick missives from their Blackberry before their communication department has a chance to review them? Is it wise for leaders of Jewish organizations, rabbis, day school heads, or foundation leaders to keep us up to date in 140 characters or less? Will social media help us gain a better perspective of what our Jewish communal leaders do on an average day?

My own sense is that William Daroff’s “tweeps” do in fact appreciate his candor. And with over 2,500 Twitter followers and about the same number of Facebook “friends,” he’s built quite an audience. Perhaps if more Jewish leaders follow Daroff’s lead and aren’t afraid to share their activities (and ideas) with the community-at-large, there will be more young Jews eager to connect to the organized Jewish community.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Is Facebook Chametz?

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Is Facebook kosher? If so, is it kosher for Passover? I’m not posing the question of whether it is acceptable to log on to Facebook on the first and last days of Passover, when observant Jews refrain from using computers or the Web.  Rather, is Facebook activity allowed at all during the Jewish Spring festival?

In the early years of the Web, the recurring joke leading up to Passover each year was that Jews should remove their browser’s cookies before the holiday. Now, two rabbis have created a Facebook group named “Facebook is Chametz referring to the Hebrew word for leavened products which are forbidden during Passover.

Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit

It is true that Jewish people get a little more observant on Passover, so maybe it’s not a far stretch to assume that some of the less than virtuous aspects of Facebook may be put aside for the length of the holiday.The Facebook group created by Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit, and later joined by Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, now has over 200 members. Its tagline is “I’m fasting from Facebook for Passover. You too, huh?” Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit (pictured) is a non-denominational rabbi, teacher, and musician. Ezra Weinberg is Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.

Referring to the more spiritual aspects of Passover, Feinstein-Feit explains on the group’s Facebook page: “The Chassidic masters teach that the leavening we avoid represents our over-inflated sense of self. Get your Face out of the Book and cross into the liberation of Exodus, movement of Jah people… (at least for a little while).”

This is certainly an original way to look at the culture of this social media application, which has grown exponentially in the past few years. It’s also a refreshing way to look at the Passover festival. Too often, the focus of the holiday is strictly on food concerns rather than the “chametz” that resides in our speech and interpersonal connections.

I posed some questions about the “chametz” that resides on Facebook to Rabbis Feinstein-Feit and Weinberg:

Why did you create this Facebook group?


SYFF: The Chassidic tradition clearly links chametz with an inflated sense of self, egotism, and narcissism. Dietary shifts alone do not necessarily touch the roots of our inflated self-interest. 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.


EW: As someone with a strong Facebook presence among my friends, I personally found the idea of abstaining from Facebook a meaningful way to digitally disconnect from some of the powerful habit that pervades our lives. I also know a lot of Jews who don’t keep kosher for Passover or don’t feel connected to that aspect of the tradition. The “Facebook is Chametz” would be a way to bring chametz out of the realm of food and into the realm of our laptops and handheld smartphones.

How are you using Facebook/social media to teach your “Torah?”


SYFF: I try to “walk” my Torah, so to the extent that I publicize my life through Facebook is the extent I teach anything. (I help other’s teach their torah by developing websites and pushing their content through social media streams.)


EW: I would say I have not taken full advantage of Facebook professionally. But having over 2100 friends, it is not something I take lightly.

Will you really abstain from Facebook for all 8 days? What about Twitter or other Social Media sites?


EW: I will probably abstain from Facebook and Twitter all 8 days, because my Twitter account is linked to my Facebook.


SYFF: I have abstained from Facebook [on Passover] entirely for the past two years, and will again. Isn’t it amazing Twitter wasn’t such a big thing only a year ago? I personally think Twitter is quite a different social tool and may still post Tweets, but I don’t think I’ll follow anyone during Passover.

Should Jews (or all humans) abstain from Facebook year round and not just on Passover?


EW: Refraining from chametz, in my estimation, is less about haughtiness and more about breaking routine and remembering the deeper connections we have to God, our fellow humans, and the planet. What I loved most about the movie Avatar were the spiritual elements of the Navi people. They didn’t need devices and machine technology to connect to each other and the other life forms on their planet. Sometimes you can connect more by disconnecting. That is the essence of spiritual technology. Refraining from chametz, just like refraining from work on Shabbat, connects us to something deeper by disconnecting us.

So, the bottom line according to these two rabbis is that while Passover is a certainly a time for putting aside the bread and the cereal, it might be a good idea to unplug from the chametz of Facebook as well.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller