• Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.  We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Education Corner

Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology

A play in three acts, taken from one of my scholar in residence weekends:

Act One:  I hold up my phone: “What is this?”  Quickly the answer comes back: “a smart phone”  (of course, technology mavens will immediately debate whether it is important that I showed an Android or an Apple device).  When asked about the uses they make of this device, “text people” is often the first response.

Act Two:  I hold up a Chumash, Torah with commentary.  What is this?  With a little coaching, we come to an answer: a sacred text.

Act Three is much longer than Act One or Act Two, because it focuses on the synergies and dissonances between these two variations of the phrase "Text Me".  

Our freedoms in the digital age are very complicated.  Consider a family education program I enjoy facilitating that has some Shakespearean overtones: To Post or Not to Post, That is the Question.  Participants look at a range of photographs from the website “Awkward Family Photos”.  The photos are often amusing but also cloak a fundamental ethical question of the digital age:  Would I be comfortable if someone posted this photograph and I were the person at the center of the picture?  

Through the triple filters of their own intuitive responses to this question, questions regarding the hermeneutics of visual images on the internet, and an analysis of three core Jewish values, participants first refine and then argue about their decisions about posting or not posting.

The Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology project was originally funded by The Covenant Foundation in order to create dialogues among tweens, teens, and their parents such as the one outlined above.  In the course of time, the project has added dimensions of professional development for Jewish educators focused on creating Jewish conversations about our digital lives.  Most recently, the intellectual and adult-learning dimensions of the work have grown, as in a process of creating Talmud-like commentary to the central ideas of Marshall McLuhan’s groundbreaking 1967 book The Medium is the Massage (written with Quentin Fiore).  The full range of Text Me dialogues and presentations can be found here.

A new dimension of the Text Me project will be housed at the Kaplan Center.  We are creating a responsa center for digital dilemmas, where the multiple meanings of the phrase “Text Me” can meet as we create perspectives on the world of digital technology that simultaneously empowers, immerses, blinds, and overwhelms.  Can we all agree that Judaism has something important to say about this ubiquitous feature of contemporary life?

Jeffrey Schein can be reached at jeffrey@kaplancenter.org.