The blogosphere: A reader’s guide

Tzvee Zahavy provides a capsule introduction to blogging and bloggers:

Jewish Standard: For those of us who are not bloggers, just what is blogging?

Tzvee Zahavy: Ideally, blogging is the act of publishing your thoughts, knowledge, and observations on the Internet in short dated entries and, most often, inviting others to leave comments on those entries.

J.S.: Who reads these blogs?

T.Z.: Successful bloggers operate in a virtual community of readers who seek new information. The content can be topical, geographical, political, technical, humorous — the list is endless. Most observers assume that blog-readers are young and hip movers and shakers. But actually blogs more and more attract a cross-section of readers.

J.S.: What is the impact of Jewish blogging?

T.Z.: The so-called Jewish blogosphere is a subset of the international world of blogging and shares its clear shortcomings and enormous strengths.

J.S.: What are some of the shortcomings?

T.Z.: The lack of validation mechanisms and filtering can be dangerous. Genuine news and rumors intermingle freely. It’s sometimes hard to tell what is truth and what is fiction. People’s reputations can be harmed by malicious gossip that can spread like wildfire from one blog to another.

J.S.: What are the major strengths?

T.Z.: Blogs are now respected as a potent means of spreading positive political messages and negative attacks. Last week, for instance, political bloggers held their yearly conference spawned by a leading blog, http://dailykos.com. That many major political figures attended the conference testifies to the recognized power of this media.

J.S.: What about the social impact of blogging?

T.Z.: Social reformers have glommed onto blogging as a means of advancing targeted local reforms. The New York Times wrote June 3 that in China Internet posts are being used to impose a "stern morality." The example was very specific. A man denounced on the Internet "[a] college student he suspected of having an affair with his wife." Throngs of the man’s peers joined in the virtual attack to use the new medium against the transgressor.

The Jewish blogosphere has lit up in recent months with thousands of posts relating to the alleged sexual improprieties of rabbis. Many of us believe that social pressure has hastened the departure and exacerbated the disgrace of the involved parties. Some criticize this dynamic because it is unregulated by communal authorities.

Some rabbis in Lakewood recently banned the Internet, mainly because of their concerns with pornography but also because of the challenges posed by some agnostic Jewish bloggers. They fear the subversive potential of the medium — of blogs like Dan Sieradski’s http://www.orthodoxanarchist.com (see story by Rachel Silverman).

On the other end of the spectrum, New Age types have embraced blogs as a means of spreading fresh concepts and practices and of solidifying a hip worldwide virtual community.

J.S.: What interesting Jewish bloggers do you read?

T.Z.: Because most blogs depend on one individual, that changes. Sometimes bloggers lose interest or become repetitive — or you just move on to another pseudo-relationship.

In addition to http://jewlicious.com (see related story by Sue Fishkoff), I’ve recently been reading http://www.canonist.com, published by an energetic journalist and http://www.jewschool.com, the product of a consortium of cool alternative Jews. If you are starting out, try scanning for some interesting headlines at JRants, http://www.jrants.com the leading aggregator of Jewish blogs.

J.S.: What are some local blogs?

T.Z.: Of course my own blog, http://tzvee.blogspot.com, targets local Jewish issues from time to time. I also recommend Teaneck resident Larry Yudelson’s Yudeline blog at http://www.shmoozenet.com/yudel/index.shtml. He’s been blogging since before it was called blogging and he always has a provocative view on a timely issue. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood has a new blog now, http://www.shmuley.com/blog.php, which I am certain will be controversial.

J.S.: How and why did you get involved in blogging?

T.Z.: My blog is like a sandbox where I play with ideas or a laboratory where I experiment with opinions. I got started a little over a year ago, when I found that I had an opinion that I needed to express immediately and nowhere to send it. I have used my blog to circulate my own ideas and to link to urgent and timely news and opinions of others. I usually blog Jewish subjects but also get into general Internet-related subjects and world events. I periodically publish educational and academic essays and discussions on religion and Judaism.

J.S.: What will the future bring to Jewish blogging?

T.Z.: More drama. We are a dramatic people. That trait will continue to come through in all of our media. I’m confident of that. Stay tuned.

Tzvee Zahavy is a rabbi, professor, author, and information technology expert. Together with Jewish Standard staff members, he conceived and developed the newspaper’s new Website, http://www.jstandard.com. He is director of the Limud Society, dedicated to the furtherance of Jewish learning (http://www.limud.org).

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