I am being urged by just about everyone I know to get on Facebook. My friends are threatening to write me off saying that I am “out of it.” I am not old nor am I not hip — I actually think I am quite with it. I am just not into the Facebook thing. I have ventured onto my friends’ Facebook pages and find the whole thing somewhat revolting. I feel that there is something decidedly not Jewish about the whole thing. What is your take on it?
I feel your pain. But it’s time to come face-to-face with Facebook. Mark Z., here we come. Your calling it revolting seems strong; what did you catch a glimpse of, Anthony Weiner’s postings? Hope not — it’s far from the best in show. That said, the time has come to cast the Facebooking of America under the scorching scrutiny of the lens of Torah.
But first, what is this thing we call Facebook? It is at once a rolling marquee of updates — postings, if you will, of all of your “friends” — who might include just about anyone you’ve ever met anytime in your life, from your nursery schoolmates through your college buddies up to and including yesterday’s new acquaintances. It is a busy percolating town square where you bump into just about everyone you know, exchange a quick hello, a “what’s up” check-in, and continue on your way — all day long!
It can similarly, suddenly take on the accoutrements of a dimly lit salon, a whispered, furtive, soul-bearing intimacy revealed — to the whole world! It is a bulletin board, a message board, a family picture album, a community newsletter, and a street corner with many a fanatic standing on a soap box demanding your ear. It is the wave of the future!
We humans love to communicate, from cave wall scratches to high-tech tweets. This is who we are and how we do business. What are the Jewish values that should inform our Facebook usage? To this need I offer you “Masechet Facebook” a “Mishnaic” approach to this newfangled of foibles.
• From what time may one post updates on Facebook? From the time that the first morning milk is steamed for lattes at Starbucks. No desperate, irresponsible, middle-of-the-night postings. These cannot be trusted. The rabbis add: Review your words carefully before hitting “share.” Once it happened that the sons of Rabbi G. came home so late from a wedding feast and shared…too much!
• Mark Z. received the tradition from those at Harvard who came before him, such as Bill G. He should have said three things: Be not the one to reveal a secret confided in trust, degrade not the business from which you draw a check, and be not of the students of those who bore us with their mundane fripperies.
• He was wont to say, “Let your home page be modest and open to those you choose; let your information be guarded lest it incite the jealousies of others or draw you into bitter waters – for once drawn into such evil, Heaven’s name may become profaned.”
• Who desires long life? Who loves peace and seeks to pursue it? The one who causes no grief through their postings. They guard their keyboard from harm; they lead no one down paths of illicit intrigue.
• How many postings may a man or woman post in an hour? Or how many postings may a man or woman post in a day? As many as that would not bring tedium to those who follow them. “What’s for dinner” is acceptable to some, others tire of such news. All agree that marriage proposals are to remain private while engagements must be shared.
• Be cautious of braggadocio, our rabbis teach; “blessings are found only in that which is hidden from the eye.”
• The rabbis said: Which is the right way to choose to link videos, to post upcoming events, or even to “Like” that which you see? The right way is the middle path — not too much nor too few. Be not the one to “Like” it all.
• With whom may we connect, with whom may we not connect? We may connect with all whom we know; but do not be fooled — real connections need time and attention. Do not mistake the casual for the real. Nor be fooled by concern of the virtual — face time is more precious than Facebook.
• Excellent is Facebook together with Torah, for without Torah one might come to set aside the feelings of others. Heed yourself lest you become an addict; too much time with hand-held devices of plastic might put a person out of this world.
• It is not incumbent upon you to share every video that comes your way; your chuckle is not always the chuckle of others; refrain from forwarding all that comes your way.
• Find friends who you may know with caution and care — connect with wisdom, not whim.
• Reward is waiting for those who inspire others to do good, who share words of Torah and opportunities to do tzedakah and righteousness. They who bring others to mitzvah through postings will have eternal life.
• You will not come into the power of sin if you know what is above thee: A cloud that deletes nothing, eyes that see everything where all your postings are forever recorded; your deeds in data centers and your actions in search engines will find you.
• Know that whatever the Holy One created in this world is for His glory — even Facebook — the rest is commentary. Amen.