Thursday, November 06, 2008

Are Blogs Good For The Jews?

Blogs have gotten a lot of bad press in the Jewish community (e.g. here and here), and with good reason. There are blogs that do any of a number of improper things, such as reveal private information, mock and insult communal leaders, undermine Jewish tradition, and generally promote disobedience to the Torah's commandments. If all that is true, does it mean that blogs are bad?

I suggest that to answer this question we first need to ask a different question: Are telephones bad? Telephones allow for the quick spreading of slander, gossip and ideas that are contrary to the Torah. However, I think most readers of these words will agree that telephones are merely a tool and, while they can be used for bad, they can also be used for good. The same telephone that allows for the transmission of lashon ha-ra also allows for comforting a mourner, keeping in touch with a distant parent and sharing Torah insights.

Click here to read moreRashi (Gen. 4:22) tells us that Tuval-Kayin was given that name as a form of condemnation, because he refined Kayin's craft of murder. How did he do this? By improving the process of forging bronze and iron, thereby enabling the construction of deadly weapons (see this post: link). Like many new technologies, bronze and iron were used for terrible purposes. But who, today, would condemn the use of iron? It is used to construct buildings that house Torah learning, cars that take people to do mitzvos, airplanes that bring people to the Land of Israel. Any technology is a tool and it is up to us to use the tool properly, unlike Tuval-Kayin and his contemporaries. It is not the tool that is inherently bad but how we put it to use.

Like iron, telephones may have been condemned when they were first invented but we have somehow learned how to use them as properly as possible. The same can be said about the internet in general and blogs in particular. They are tools. Like newspapers, magazines and books, they can be used to transmit improper messages or to teach and uplift. I don't (often) hear people condemning newspapers as a medium but rather specific newspapers and their particular flaws. It seems to me that the same standard should be applied to blogs.

In summary, I don't think that blogs are inherently bad. It is all a matter of how they are used. Our job, in the spirit of what Rav Soloveitchik described as "Adam the First" (link), is to take this and any new technology and use it for good, for the purposes of teaching Torah, enabling the fulfillment of mitzvos, and helping settle the world.

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