On the Internet and Judaism

JInsider (March 2010)

I’m constantly looking for ways in which we can break out of the straitjacket that we’ve put ourselves in. We’re all in these non-intersecting rooms, and we’re not making Shabbat together. And we’ve got to break through that somehow. And this little medium that we’re using right now, the Web, YouTube, this is a medium that breaks right through all the boundaries.

So, I know that when we put a little piece of music called Oseh Shalom on YouTube, from rather right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, to Reform, and to atheist people, saw it and loved it. And somehow or another, we managed to create an experience that everyone could link into in his or her own way. It’s all a bit like the Haggadah on Pesach at the Seder table. We all tell the same story, but we’re all different. We all give a different interpretation to it.

So I do see that every time we create a problem for ourselves, the Almighty creates a solution. And right now He sent us the internet. He sent us YouTube.

I mean, Judaism began with a revolution in information technology. Did you know that? We were the first people to use the alphabet. The world’s first alphabet discovered by a British anthropologist called Flinders Petrie in 1903 in the Sinai desert is called Proto-Semitic. And it is the world’s first alphabet. When you reduce all those signs, cuneiform in Mesopotamia, hieroglyphics in Egypt, of which there are hundreds and most people would never learn them. But when you reduced all of that to 22 signs, that’s an alphabet. Then everyone can link in.

And so the invention of the alphabet made possible the book, which made possible the people of the book. So if Judaism was born in a revolution in information technology, I tend to look at every information technology breakthrough as a sign from heaven, telling us, “Communicate more widely and forget about all those walls that separate Jew from Jew, because you are connecting with me through the modem called Judaism.” And one way or another it’s very broadband indeed.