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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

B”H Pesach went very well for me both personally and communally. I hope the same is true for you. 

Nowadays, one of the challenges that some observant Jews experience during Shabbat and Yom Tov is disconnecting from social media, especially younger people. 

In my opinion, an equally if not greater challenge for all of us regarding social media, is finding a platform that is able to strike a balance between looser standards — which allow for free speech, but also open the door for hate speech, misinformation, and harmful material — and tighter standards — which limit free speech, but also the harmful material.

Social media platforms that have posting policies that would allow a seriously observant Jew to consume everything on that platform are few and far between. It is really up to us to figure out which platforms we are comfortable using (and would allow our children to use) and how we filter objectionable content. 

At the heart of the free speech debate lies an important lesson that connects to this week’s parasha.

Before presenting a list of prohibited relationship, the Torah gives a few introductory sentences, including the following:

כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו ובחקתיהם לא תלכו.

You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.

Many commentaries deal with the following question: after telling us not to act like the Egyptians or like the Canaanites, what is being added by “nor shall you follow their laws”? Rav. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893, Russia) suggests that the Torah, in introducing the list of prohibited relationships, is providing two categories of behavior that we have to look out for. 

The first is “the practices of the land of Egypt” — the acts that we see around us and want to follow out of our own baser desires. The second is “their laws”, the laws or regulations that were set up in these places to govern what is right and what is wrong. 

We may not have a desire for these particular behaviors, but because they have become normative practice in the place we live, we have become desensitized and accept it as a norm.

Whatever opinion we have about free speech on the Internet, we can’t allow Twitter, Facebook, the FCC or any other secular regulations to determine for us what is morally appropriate. Just because they allow certain words, images, slander, or hate to be posted, doesn’t mean that we should embrace that as our standard of appropriate content. 

If we can learn to set our own standards for right and wrong, we can bridge the gap between the list of unholy relationships at the end of our parasha and the beginning of next week’s parasha, which opens up with the command “Kedoshim T’heyu” – Be Holy.