On a recent Shabbat where Shabbat commences at 420 in New York City, I was surprised to see a Rabbi from another local shul walk into the shul I usually daven at. He unabashedly told all of us “My minyan is still at work.” This Rabbi with an uber-successful synagogue focused on outreach clearly understood the reality of Jewish life in America. He may not have liked it – but he didn’t pretend it didn’t exist. He reminded me how lucky I am to work for myself – and noted he will have a full house of 200 plus for Shabbat lunch.
This Sunday evening was the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, which thousands of Jews will attend – and who knows how many hundreds of thousands will watch live online via a live webcast of the gala banquet. Every shaliach for the largest Jewish movement in the world, Chabad sent emails to their email lists informing them about the opportunity to watch the event live. It’s a very special event, and undoubtedly Jews of all religious levels tuned in online and got a sliver of extra Judaism in their lives. What a victory.
Contrast that to August’s Siyum HaShas where 90,000 Jewish men and women attended a celebration for the completion of reading all six orders of the Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of Jewish oral law that was written down in the fourth and fifth centuries. It wasn’t available online – and so the impact was naturally limited.
The reality of life is that there is work – and Rabbis like it or not shouldn’t ignore it. The reality of life is that there is an Internet – and whatever the level of one’s observance they need to control their behavior online just as they do offline. Different homes have different rules for how families should engage online – and for some, Rabbis have a role in helping to determine what’s permissible and what’s not. But why not make it online to adapt to the reality of life in the 21st Century? Chabad having tonight’s program online is undoubtedly the right decision – for who knows what Jew somewhere may be excited and inspired – and that’s a step in the right direction.
Chabad is the largest and most successful Jewish organization in the world – because they do an enviable job of listening to constituents, and becoming an integral part of their lives. Chabad.org is the largest Jewish educational website in the world – promoting Judaism and providing daily Torah lectures and Jewish news and insights. With 1.3 million unique visitors monthly, Chabad.org uses social media platforms effectively.
As the head of PR for Chabad, Rabbi Motti Seligson says “It is about a traditional movement with traditional foundations harnessing the power of technology. Everything in this world was created for a divine purpose, and it is our job to use the tools we are given for a higher purpose, whether it is TV or the Internet.” Judaism has to adapt to the 21st century – and that doesn’t mean sacrificing Halacha or losing authenticity. It simply means dealing with reality.
A Rabbi I respect greatly invites people to his home every Shabbat from all over. He knows they are people, who don’t observe Shabbat, and some of them may ask ok but how should I get home? He will tell them “I invited you over for Shabbat dinner – I won’t ask what you do afterwards.” Owning 5WPR, a Public Relations Agency, the most effective marketing for established, successful companies is done through evolution, step by step – rather than radical change which could scare people away. Judaism should be marketed similarly. For many, Judaism is a series of steps – someone who takes 2 steps forward and then falls back a step it’s not the end of the world. But if they take 10 steps forward and then 10 back, it’s much harder to climb back up.
Organizations like Chabad are marketing authentic Judaism the right way – and it’s why they are the most successful Jewish organization in the world.