This is a very curious article by Uriel Heilman. He begins with something interesting:
If the Talmud were written today, would it look like Facebook?First, the rabbis of the Mishnaic period post a Jewish legal rule. Then, Talmudic sages weigh in with their comments, all pithy and lacking punctuation. Almost immediately, the comments grow far longer than the original post. Eventually, outside links to the Shulchan Aruch and Maimonides’ compendium of Jewish law appear on the right side.It may sound too cute by half, but if you look closely, the Talmud and Facebook actually share similar layout.
And then goes on to ask the question in the title.
For a few in the Jewish community, Facebook’s IPO raises the $64,000 question — or in this case, the $64 billion question — of how much of that newly created wealth will go to Jewish causes. The jury’s still out on whether Facebook’s Jewish creator, Mark Zuckerberg, will turn into a major Jewish giver following the IPO, when the just-turned 28-year-old figures to become one of the richest people in the world.
There is something (not a lot really) in the first observation. Years ago by colleague Greg Spinner pointed out that midrash (and all rabbinic works containing it) is very much like the web. The “speaker” will drop a single word or short phrase into his exposition and like a hyperlink in a webpage it takes the audience immediately to the referenced text. Of course the audience had to know that “when you lie down and when you rise” is a reference to Deut. 6:7 and all that it entails. Facebook does provide a place for community engagement, but I think Biblioblogs are more akin to the rabbinic traditions.
His second point, and to be fair to Heilman he quickly dismisses it and moves on, is not surprising to those of us who regularly work in development (fund raising). When we see a college football player sign a major contract in the NFL I promise you there is someone from his alma mater making sure he is aware of how proud his school is him and that they would be happy to help him reduce his taxes through charitable donations.
But as I said, Heilman recognizes that this is not really the point of impact for the Jewish world and in fact, his opening comments notwithstanding, I think does get at what Facebook is doing for communities, religious and otherwise.
But the real story of Facebook’s impact on the Jewish world ultimately is likely to be more about the ways it is prompting Jews to change the way they think, behave, organize, and even mourn and celebrate than it will be about Zuckerberg’s tzedakah.
I do not think (and apparently GM agrees with me) that Facebook is going to be worth the financial evaluation it will receive tomorrow. That being said, it is proving to be a valuable tool of finding new communities and restoring old ones. The diaspora needn’t be so dispersed any more.