The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 132 pages, $16
thelordismyshepherd.com: Seeking God in Cyberspace
Simcha Press, 261 pages, $10.95
For both Jonathan Rosen and Joshua Hammerman, the Internet poses something of a problem. They are not Luddites, worried about the disastrous impact the new technology will have on social relations. They are simply religiously engaged Jews, of some not-so-easily-pigeonholed non-Orthodox variety. And they are intuitively sure that the Internet has some religious meaning—they're just not so sure what it is.
To describe that elusive religious meaning, both Hammerman and Rosen reach for analogies: the only way, it seems, to make the World Wide Web intelligible. Rosen, a former columnist for the leftish Jewish newspaper the Forward, likens the Web to the Talmud, and Hammerman likens it to God. That both feel compelled to resort to metaphor is where the similarities end. Hammerman's musings are silly and self-absorbed. Rosen's spare reflections are reflective, measured—and even Christians can learn from them.
Hammerman, a Connecticut rabbi, says it is all but impossible to find God in traditional religious vocabulary and sources. He is particularly upset with the metaphors offered by the 23rd Psalm. Thinking of God as a shepherd, he baldly asserts, does not comfort or resonate after "six million of my fellow Jews were led like sheep to the slaughter. … As a human being, I cannot trust a God who, on his shepherd's watch, would allow his sheep to die." Add to that Hammerman's discomfort "as a pastor" (a term that Hammerman really shouldn't keep using if he thinks the psalm's imagery outdated) with the "stifling" model of shepherd ...1
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