Technological and Social Media Overreach: The Robo-Rabbi Call

By

Leonard Zwelling

I have been blessed with many great teachers. I have met most of them although some I have met only through books or film or audio recordings.

I did go to a retreat with the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh many years ago. It was a silent retreat for meditation only with the occasional one-way classroom instruction. There was no give and take. All meals were in silence. I never really met him. I did see him up close, but that’s not the same.

I did listen to many of his recorded lessons and one I remember clearly. He walked into a room and saw a Buddha on a television set and said, “these two things don’t go together.” And he was right. High tech electronic gizmos and spirituality probably ought to occupy different planes of consciousness.

This came to my mind on Good Friday, which this year, also marked the beginning of the solemn Jewish festival of Passover that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and the acquisition by the Jewish people of their freedom from oppression, not for the last time. It is the most home centric of Jewish holidays with a big dinner that evening at which the story of the Exodus is told. It is the seminal story of all of Judaism for, like the Passion, it represents the revelation of God in the real world and is the central event that began Judaism just as the crucifixion and resurrection is the origin of Christianity. Interestingly, that too is celebrated this weekend.

During the day on Thursday or Friday, the phone rang with a number indicating the Schlenker School, the religious school of our synagogue Beth Israel was calling. It wasn’t the school. It was a recorded message from our head rabbi wishing us a Happy Passover. I also got a text message from the synagogue on my cell phone reiterating the temple’s best wishes for the holiday.

Now this seems innocuous enough. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is the use of technology in lieu of real human contact.

One of my relatives asked, “do you expect the synagogue to call every member personally?”

No, I don’t, but it’s not like we had not already received a lot of mailings from them about the holiday, not to mention mailings from several other congregations about their Passover celebrations, but this social media stuff and technology has gotten out of control when our religious leaders have to revert to it as a way of making contact. It’s not personal and it’s not effective.

If the clergy of the synagogue feels a need to do outreach—do the work. I am not at all sure what a robo-call is supposed to represent nor what a text message is supposed to indicate about my relationship with the synagogue. Should I “Friend” them?

Now that we have seen the dark side of social media, many of us want to give our accounts a rest. If the religious institutions are going to feel free to use our information to broadcast their best wishes in lieu of actual human contact, I will opt out.

TEXT STOP to religion on your cell phone if you agree. I had the option, but chose to see what the next holiday might bring.

Leonard Zwelling