In today’s Jewish world, there is just no way to know everything. In general, knowledge is increasing exponentially. And the same is true in Jewish knowledge. To manage information, both the old and the new, the words of authors Allison Fine and Beth Kantor ring true, “do what you do best and network the rest.”

Lest one think that organizing, managing and even creating Jewish knowledge through networking is a new concept, check out this visual:

Talmud Shabbat Network

The Talmudic text begins with Rav Huna, who is right in the middle of the graphic above. He is in the middle of the Talmudic period, and lived in Sura, Babylonia. In the text, Rav Huna, the Chachamim (rabbis who lived long before his time), Rava, Rav Hisda, Rav Zeira, Rav Matna, Rav, Rav Yirmiah, “The Rabbis”, Abaye, Rabin, Rav Yochanan, Rabbah bar bar Hama all enter the conversation.

What then follows is the famous disagreement between the followers of Hillel and the followers of Shammai as to whether a pious person begins the holiday of Chanukah lighting one light and increasing to eight, or beginning with eight and decreasing to one. This leads to interaction with two later sages, Rav Yosi bar Avin and Rav Yosi ben Zevida. and to Rabbah bar bar Hama mentioning two unnamed characters, each of who backs either Hillel or Shammai. This “discussion” takes place (without benefit of phone or Internet) across great geographic distances, in Babylonia and in the land of Israel. It also occurs across several centuries.

One interesting caveat: The rationale attributed to Shammai’s opinion about the Chanukah lights brings a relationship between the holidays of Sukkot and Chanukah into play. The origins of Chanukah in the holiday of Sukkot dates back to the apocryphal books of the Maccabees. While these books are not directly quoted, Shammai (and those who explain his views) clearly have an intellectual connection to those books, which I show in the graphic.

In the diagram above, the conversation continues (and it mentioned on the Talmudic page in the margins) with later codifiers of Jewish practice – Maimonides, Rabbi Jacob and the two authors of the Shulchan Aruch code of law – entering the conversation by codifying the current practice (putting them in “direct” conversation with Hillel, who lived over a millennium before).

Analyzing this, we see a few things:

  • The Sages of ancient (and modern) times communicated and innovated using practices similar to today’s networks
  • The Sages’ networks were not limited by time and space. There was “communication” across geographic distances and across hundreds and even thousands of years.

As Jews, we are networked. It is part of our heritage. As Judaism changes to meet the needs of rapidly changing times, Jews of all ages and beliefs need to learn the tools of networking to join and remain in the conversation.  Because ultimately, what will define us as Jews, even more than rabbinic or national standards, will be the ability and desire to seek meaning collectively through these networked Jewish conversations.

Some content previously appeared on the Darim Online blog.