Insights into Judaism: Facebook, Jewish contributions to civilization

Short explanations about issues that relate to the Torah-observant lifestyle.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, | updated: 07:55

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple
PR


JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO CIVILISATION

Q. What is the secret behind the sheer number of Jews who have contributed so much to civilisation?

A. There are several solid books listing the vast numbers of Jews who have made immense contributions to every aspect of human culture.

No aspect of the world would be the same without the Jewish contribution.

Look at science and medicine, literature and the arts, commerce and adventure – Jewish names figure out of all proportion to our population figures.

We aren’t looking for Nobel Prizes or votes of thanks: we have simply served humanity and its many areas of interest.

The question is whether there is something in the Jewish mindset that impels such contributions.

Taking names at random – Salk and Sachs (or Sacks)… Chagall and Kafka… Mahler, Marx and Malamud – does not answer the question.

Maybe the thought that unites the Jewish contributions to civilisation begins with the Bible and marks us out all through history: creativity, education, compassion, messianism, literacy, community.

Maybe we can call them the forces of mental, moral, spiritual and utopian energy.

We are never able to leave things as they are.

What did Jacques Maritain say? Jews are “deeply involved in the warp and woof of the world, irritating, exasperating and moving it”.


CHARITY DURING PRAYER

Q. On weekday mornings I am bothered when charity collectors come round during the service wanting donations. What right do they have to disturb people like this?

A. It is a common experience and a nuisance.

Yet though the collectors do not always conduct themselves with proper dignity and respect, they enable us to fulfil a tradition which Maimonides records in these words: “The great sages would give a coin to the poor before reciting their prayer, as it is said: ‘As for me, I shall behold Your presence in righteousness’ (Psalm 17:15)” (Laws of the Poor, 10:15).

The Psalm implies that our prayers must be accompanied by righteous deeds including charity.

However, the collectors should not burst in and force themselves on our attention, especially during the Amidah, or wave pieces of paper, presumably their credentials, in front of people’s faces.

Most synagogues have charity boxes into which the congregation can place donations.


IS FACEBOOK KOSHER?

Q. Is Facebook kosher?

A. Online social media have made communication so much easier and more user-friendly.

One of the hardest things about being human is when other people ignore you or push past as if you were a nobody. Fortunately, the development of online communication has made it possible for everyone to be a somebody.

I know that electronic means of communication can be abused and made into a weapon to wound other people, saying obnoxious things about them or to them. Indeed the Book of Proverbs says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

In today’s world of course the word “tongue” must be understood in an extended way. That is why society should have an agreed ethic about how to use social media, but just because a facility can be misused is no reason to ban it.



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