Menachem Mendel

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Cyber Responsa

The JTA has an article about web sites which offer online “Ask the Rabbi” services, a sort of cyber-responsum. The article seems to focus on those web sites in English and that does a great disservice since there are a number of Hebrew web sites have quite active “Ask the Rabbi” sections. Two that come to mind are Kipa (their “Ask the Rabbi” can be found here) and Moreshet. R. Yuval Sherlow has even published a book of responsa which he answered online, רשו”ת הרבים. It remains to be seen what long term impact the Internet may have on rabbinic authority. My first impressions are that for many it may not necessarily weaken their observance of halachah, but very well may weaken their allegiance or dependence on a particular community or synagogue rabbi, or rosh yeshiva. A possible historical parallel might be the opinion of some authorities that since the proliferation of printed books prohibitions regarding disagreeing with one’s teacher or colleague might be either more lenient or even non-existant (e.g. see Lehem Mishneh on Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:4; Arukh HaShulhan YD 242:21)

3 Responses to “Cyber Responsa”

  1. 1
    The Influence of Technology on Rabbinic Authority:

    […] have also influenced rabbinic culture and numerous aspects of Jewish tradition. [1] As I have written before, the phenomenon of cyber-responsa is one of the more recent manifestations of such trends […]

  2. 2
    The Internet and the Kippot Serugot « Menachem Mendel:

    […] Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is interviewed about the effect of the internet on religious authority (see here and here), According to him, open discussion on Web sites among the religious community undermines […]

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    I think on this point Heilman may be right in that the majority of these sites offer very little in the way of content. This is so, even though they could, at times, link to more comprehensive discussions of the various topics. Thus, they only provide a very basic understanding, one which will not suffice for most people.
    At times some of these sites go farther in ignoring much to espouse a specific viewpoint.
    Finally, in truth it appears even prior to printing once the responsa started there was a degradation in the local rabbinate. Even in the times of the Geonim there were those who sent questions far from their “Home Rabbis” to obtain a decision. Although, this did not have as much of an effect as printing, it would seem that the groundwork was laid.
    Dan Rabinowitz | Homepage | 09.11.06 – 2:09 pm | #

    While in the Talmud we find a number of times אתריה דרב פלוני I wonder if a similar framework existed after the Talmudic period. People always assume that there was a מרא דאתרא but I am not sure that one can draw a straight line from some scattered Talmudic references and later time periods. Bonfil has written an excellent work on the rabbinate in Italy as has Bruer in his small book on Ashkenaz but I haven’t read Yuval’s work חכמים בדורם, but it seems that the historical development of the community or local rabbi is ripe for some research.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 09.11.06 – 3:38 pm | #




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