In June, MyJewishLearning.com won the American Jewish Press Association's award for most “Outstanding Website.” Yasher Koach! We have great respect for CEO and Editor-in-Chief Daniel Septimus, who has led the effort to create an accessible and relevant source of Jewish wisdom on the net.
We asked Dan to share insights on the Jewish Web and his own personal Jewish journey.
My Jewish Learning’s Role
Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has been a rapidly growing part of the way people live their lives and shape their perspectives on the world. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 45 percent of Internet users say that the Web helped them make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives. This applies to Jewish living, as well. Today most people with questions about Jewish life will turn to their computer well before they turn to their local rabbi or pull a copy of Encyclopedia Judaica off the shelf.
The Internet is now the front line for engaging with Jewish life and tradition. Thus, as a community, we have a responsibility to ask: When people go online for information about Judaism, what do we want them to find? I want them to find a thoughtful, pluralistic, fun, and intellectually rigorous Judaism—and those are the values we try to model and evoke at MyJewishLearning.com.
The Future of the Jewish Web
MyJewishLearning used to spend a lot of time and resources creating encyclopedia-type articles. Not anymore. Wikipedia has cornered the market on this type of content online and that includes the Jewish arena.
But there’s still a market and need for good practical How-To content, audio/video features, and specialized content for niche markets. Along these lines, we’ve had a lot of success creating and delivering e-newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter products for people interested in Jewish recipes and food. Later this year, we’ll be launching another niche market product, a Jewish parenting website called Kveller.com.
There’s also a serious dearth of Jewish texts in digital format. I’m a big believer in the future of e-books. IPads, Kindles, and other mobile devices will eventually be the primary media through which we consume the written word. Jewish e-books with hyperlinked text would be absolutely perfect for traditional Jewish study, which often requires us to jump back and forth between biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern texts. But to study like that we’ll need all the major works of Jewish literature digitized, hyperlinked, and accessible.
For example, there should be a version of the Talmud that’s fully digitized, where you could “right click” on a line to get an instant translation and a list of commentaries that address this section. There’s no reason we couldn’t have this already. But we don’t. The Bar Ilan Database is the closest thing, but it’s still primarily a CD-ROM and could be way more technologically advanced (not to mention, less expensive).
Why am I Jewish? Thanks to my upbringing, this question seems as absurd as “Why are you male?” That’s just who I am, though I’m aware that this is fortuitous, that for most American Jews, Jewishness is more of a choice. Why do I like being Jewish? That’s also not a question I ask myself that often, though I can say that, for me, Torah study—with all its intellectual, emotional, and narrative force is what compels me most Jewishly.
Favorite Teaching: A Life Lived in Dignity
In my thinking about Judaism (and life), I have been greatly influenced by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. In The Jewish Way, Rabbi Greenberg writes: “The central paradigm of Jewish religion is redemption. According to the Bible, the human being is created in the image of God. According to the Rabbis, this means that every single person is unique and equal, endowed with the dignity of infinite value. But in history most humans have been degraded or denied their due. Judaism affirms that this condition should never be accepted; it must and will be overcome."
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