Shavuot Is Tough Sell in Age of 140 Characters

Social Media-Happy Youth Shun Learning of Torah

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By Mendel Horowitz

Published May 13, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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Preferences for shortcuts and concision are not traits of a successful divinity student. The law of the Talmud is tricky, and students are expected to join in a boisterous dialectic to unravel its intent. Achieving transcendence through debate — conversing with God through the medium of His word — is as central to Orthodox Judaism as its precepts. Participation demands qualities not readily found online.

Living in a world created by their parents, digital natives are not to blame. If anyone is at fault, it is adults who fail to nurture those virtues necessary for inspired Orthodoxy — for meaningful, ongoing religious commitment born of an active engagement with God’s word. Damning the Internet is pointless, flawed. A generation of superficially religious youth subsists uninspired, and satirizing them does no good.

Which brings us to Shavuot.

Talmudic tradition maintains that the great voice of God on Sinai has never ceased — that it resonates, forever to be noticed. I would like to believe that in every generation, all can hear that sound, can identify its source, can appreciate its relevance. In truth, only some are moved by its echo; others strain for a chord, others may be not listening. For some there is only quiet.

Shavuot is about participation, not commemoration. About joining a community of listeners. About experiencing the resonance of His expression.

There can be no shortcuts to informed religious conduct. To pretend as much would be misleading. There can also be no substitute for earnest dialogue — with teachers, confidants and texts. Still, the challenge of amplifying that awesome sound to those who do not yet hear it depends on the sensitivity, creativity and patience of those who do. The same digitally distracted child can focus when the subject is of interest. The same digitally isolated soul can join a community when it matters to him most.

For my students to embrace Shavuot, they will have to be convinced it is worth their efforts. Demonstrating as much in 140 characters or fewer may be not possible, but making use of current mediums and references is. Because few of my students write in cursive, persuading them to evolve new ways of thinking will involve my adaptation, too.

A 3,325-year-old noise can be challenging to make out. But it can be #worththeeffort.

Mendel Horowitz is a rabbi and family therapist in Jerusalem, where he maintains a private practice working with adults and children.


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