The various Jewish section sites on the internet hold a collection of hundreds of thousands of Halachic (Jewish law) Questions and Answers. The rabbis supplying the answers justify the virtual communication between rabbis and the public and explain that for many, this is their only link.
However, there are those who warn about the loss of a personal connection between a rabbi and his community, saying the phenomenon “disrespects the Halacha.” What do the surfers have to say?
A survey conducted for Ynet Judaism and the Gesher organization revealed that most people turning to the Q&A sections do so for technical reasons like internet accessibility and lack of accessibility to rabbis.
Moreover, some choose the virtual option because they are embarrassed to face the rabbi or fear committing to his ruling.
The Ynet-Gesher survey was conducted by the Mutagim Institute and included 500 respondents representative of the Jewish, adult, Hebrew-speaking population in Israel.
It was conducted before the third annual conference for Judaism, society and internet.
In the first part of the questionnaire, the participants were asked, “If you indeed ask Judaism-related questions on the internet why do you do so?” Seventy-nine percent said that they don’t tend to turn to rabbis in this manner and 21% seek rabbis’ counsel in this fashion for various reasons.
Amongst the surfers who use the relevant Q&As, 58% explained that the internet is more accessible to them than rabbis and 10% said that they do not have contact with any rabbi.
However, seven percent revealed that they are interested in clarifying a Halachic opinion without committing to act in accordance with it. Five percent said that they are embarrassed of asking questions in front of the rabbis because of the issue at hand.
None of those asked said they are embarrassed of meeting the rabbi himself and the rest refused to explain why they choose these Q&As.
The second question in the survey was, “do you use the internet for ‘Jewish purposes’ and if so, what are they?” Seventy-two percent answered that they do not surf sites which provide assistance on Jewish-related subjects, and the rest of the participants use the web for ‘Jewish purposes.’
Amongst the users of these sites, 28% said that they mainly clarify details regarding religious services or related information like the address of the local Rabbinate, a nearby mikveh (ritual bath) or a kosher restaurant.
Twenty-seven percent receive updates on these sites pertaining to what is happening in the Jewish world. Twenty-three percent study Jewish texts online and 16% turn to rabbis with Halachic and moral questions on the internet Q&As. The remaining interviewees refused to give details.
Amongst the different religious denominations, the survey revealed that ultra-Orthodox people study Jewish texts and are updated on Jewish news around the world, (50% for each option).
The religious and secular Israelis asked, search the Web mainly for Jewish information (39% and 27% respectively). Traditional Jews surf the Jewish news site as well, (31%)
Gesher Director Shoshi Becker said, “We see that people tend to turn to the internet as a source for answers or world Jewish news mainly because the internet provides more accessible information than people do. I have no doubt that the number of those turning to sites containing Jewish-related material will increase yearly.”
“The fact that the issue of Judaism is completely open to users and not branded to one stream of Judaism or another is the root of the internet’s strength.
“From my ‘Gesher’ perspective this is a wonderful tool which removes boundaries between religious, secular, traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jews and allows Jews around the world accessibility to Jewish contents.”
The editor-in-chief of the “Kipa” website said, “There is no doubt that as the years pass we are feeling the growth in the number of questions asked to rabbis on the internet. The fact that most of these people noted that they don’t have an accessible rabbi who will answer their questions, only proves the great need for virtual Q&As.”
“It is important to remember that the Q&A sections like that seen in ‘Kipa’ are responsible for quite a few changes occurring in the religious public and are providing rabbis a bi-directional relationship with their communities, a connection which unfortunately did not exist in the past.”