Is there a way for a rabbi to engage his congregants in an ongoing dialogue and conversation about spirituality? Texting is an ideal form of communication for the community rabbi. It’s short and sweet, it makes a rabbi supremely accessible, and it’s private. It also has the advantage of being more detached than a phone call – it’s much easier to shoot over a text to someone than it is to actually pick up the phone and call.
And, perhaps most important of all, texting is simply the way so many people naturally communicate today – and, if their rabbi is relevant, why shouldn’t he be part of that? But how can an inherently limited medium like texting create dialogue about spirituality?
For the past year, I have been publishing a series of questions that congregants texted me and my answers to them on as a weekly blogpost on my blog. The questions are often fascinating.
“Does the Torah require a Bracha for chewing gum or chewing tobacco?”
“If I have no faith will I still go to heaven?”
“The prohibition for us, is to not mark a tattoo upon ourselves… as jews…. but just for clarification… can I tattoo other people??”
“Should I be making a bracha when i see Niagara Falls for the first time?”
“Rabbi… halacha says that you’re not allowed to carry anything on shabbes but what if u see a woman who is struggling with bags?”
“Are you supposed to stay up all night on Shavuot?”
“Can one exercise on Shabbos?”
“What are the steps in frum dating?”
Before publication, the texts are stripped of any personal information, and anything sensitive is omitted from the blog. They are also printed every week, with my cell-phone number, and distributed in our shul. The fact is that we all have a side of us that is interested in other people’s business. The text message questions give people a window into what other people are asking about and thinking about in their day-to-day lives. That may be why people eagerly await reading these questions.
It does take time to look up the answers to many questions (which I enjoy doing anyway), and I have cultivated relationships with several accessible poskim to be able to quickly double-check the more difficult issues. But the upshot is that reading these questions and answers every week encourages other people to engage their personal rabbi instead of not asking at all or turning to Google. In this sense, texting has great potential and power – to create, almost yesh may’ayin, a culture of rabbi–congregant, teacher–student dialogue and connection that is so beneficial to both rabbi and congregant, and to their entire shul community – and is interesting and fun at the same time!
BONUS: Read our earlier post entitled: Top Texting Terms Every Rabbi and Educator Should Know.
Rabbi Yisroel Isaacs serves as a Rabbi in Phoenix, Arizona at Beth Joseph Congregation and is a Director of Kashruth at the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth. He writes a weekly Dvar Torah on the parasha at rabbiisaacs.wordpress.com. Connect with Rabbi Isaacs on twitter: @rabbieye.