A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Retooling Rabbis. One of the respondents was Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dror. He asked the following two questions:
How would you train rabbis to function in a virtual congregation and in a cyberspace quest for spirituality? I want to give him a shoutout for raising two intriguing questions, and also respond. Your questions really point us to a future which has been relatively unexplored. We can glimpse how some churches are rethinking spirituality in web 2.0 environments:
The Jewish world has its counterparts, too. For many years already, there have been Jewish prayer groups, virtual Passover Seders, Jewish learning opportunities and other ways to meet virtually. One of the most exciting developments is occurring in the website Second Life, where several virtual synagogues already exist (please see some earlier posts on the CO-STAR blog on this topic: here and here. And, I believe that there is already one online semikha (rabbinical ordination program).
For a variety of reasons, synagogues and seminaries are slow to respond to technological changes. But amkha, the “non-professionals” who are knowledgeable and creative, may drive the outcomes of these kinds of questions. Will virtual megillah (Story of Queen Esther and Mordechai) readings compete with real-time ones in the future? For example, if you have several friends join you in your home for a megillah reading that is webcast from Jerusalem, can you fulfill your legal requirement to hear it read that way? And what about gathering for a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 men if you’re Orthodox, 10 people if you’re not)? Will we see the emergence of virtual minyanim because of the convenience and flexibility which they offer, especially as the possibilities for making them interactive increase? What about downloadable prayer books that you can customize for your personal theological mood?
The tools and the environment are ripe for these kinds of experimentations. They are happening and will only increase. My question to you: given that you will have to respond to them, what is your position on these issues? Will you try to adapt as many as you can for the synagogue or try to limit them? What are the pros and cons of working in this kind of environment?
Rabbi Hayim Herring