10/18/2006

Would that Nechama Had a Blog

In the wake of this post, I got an email from veteran educator and LookJed moderator Shalom Berger (who has allowed me to post his comments with full attribution):

Regarding the Yetzer Ha-Ra to teach, I recommend getting hold of "Pirkei Nechama" and reading her letter to Rav Posen (pp. 669-671) where she questions whether she travels the country teaching "le-hagdil Torah U'leha'adira" or because she gets paid, receives compliments, or fights loneliness. She concludes by saying that people are better off not examining too closely why they do things.

Her letters that appear there are a great read - including the one to Nati Helfgot saying that she thinks publishing articles is a waste of time because no one reads them anyway and few people really have anything of value to say. What would she say about blogs?

Shalom

First off, though I haven’t read this letter, the first part of the summary really describes what I was trying to say. I’d only add that if there potential negative consequences to some of the motivations, there should be safeguards in place to make sure that those consequences are avoided. We need not analyze the motivations of our educators, but we DO need to make sure that negative motivations aren’t made manifest in negative behavior.

Regarding the second issue, I have no idea what Nechama would say about blogs. I’d offer, though, that it’s a medium which facilitates, in general, good exchanges of ideas, interactive learning, and peer review. It’s not as static as an article, yet works in a more rigid forum than an open discussion. It has the interactive advantages of chavruta learning, such as peer review and multiple viewpoints. The discussion remains refreshingly honest – if someone says something stupid, it’s generally pointed out to him (or her, but we go easy on the ‘her’s, right guys?). Access to original texts to be commented upon is becoming more and more commonplace.

Granted, the blog must be modeling some kind of real-life social network in order for it to take flight (and I wonder what social reality my blog parallels? Is it a Kiddush? A Shabbos Table?), but eventually becomes a sui generis community. In that sense, learning takes place here as a socio-religious act, in contrast to the classroom or Beit Midrash, where the social factor is much more subdued (or is it?). That’s also why the same topics tend to be constantly rehashed; it’s not about the passing of information. Rather, it’s about the social act of discussion and debate about topics the community finds meaningful.

Ultimately, though, the proof is in the pudding. If people learn seriously through blogs, then it’s a good medium for Talmud Torah. In my estimation, they do, but as communities or societies, and not as students in a classroom. It’s a very ‘Talmudic’ process, in my estimation. R’ Shalom himself is looking to create a blog for the community of educators. The community definitely exists; will this recreate an existing communal interaction in virtual space in a meaningful way, much as their listserv has already done? Will it enhance that, make it more lively, add voices, or give those voices more of an edge? We’ll see.
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