Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Judaism as a Wikicreation: A Dance of Multiform Unity


Vayeshev/Settled (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

“A man found him blundering about….  The man asked, “What are you looking for?” “I am looking for my brothers” he replied. “Perhaps you can tell me where they are.”  (Genesis 37:15,16)

jerusalem_bus_terminal 031

Mel photographed his experience of Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station passing through it on his way to teaching at Emuna College.

People rushing in all directions seem to be blundering about looking for their brothers and sisters without finding them.

In everyday Israeli speech, Jews often address each other as ahi (my brother).

Can we find each other as ahi despite different backgrounds, lifestyles and viewpoints?

jerusalem_bus_terminal 026

Miriam’s brother Ezra and his sons-in-law wear the knitted kippot of religious Zionists that are sold in the bus station.

Her sister Channa’s husband and their son and sons-in-law wear the black fedoras of Lubavitcher Hasidim.

On Shabbat, her brother Hans’ sons and sons-in-law don the fur strimels of Belzer Hasidim.

They all love and respect each other.

Hanukah, the Festival of Lights that begins next week, teaches us to respect opposite viewpoints.

miketz_hanukah 043

Shamai proposes lighting 8 candles on the first night, removing one each night until only one remains on the 8th day of Hanukah.

Hillel proposes lighting one candle each night until all 8 candles burn brightly on the last night of Hanukah.

Shamai’s conceptual view makes logical sense since the full cruse of oil found for the Temple rededication was used up over the 8 days.

Hillel’s aesthetic view teaches that it is more beautiful to add light to the world each day than removing it.

The above Torah Tweets commentary on the 9th Torah portion in Genesis read on Shabbat (Dec. 5, 2015) is from my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life  All the photos for the Torah Tweets commentary can be accessed at .


The Talmud’s expression that there are seventy faces to every idea encourages creative, associative, open-ended, and alternative patterns of thought. The Talmud (which means “learning”) is a prototypic open source wikicreation developed through collaboration, dialogue, arguments, commentaries, commentaries on commentaries, and multiple viewpoints.  It can be seen as a centuries-old prototype for Wikipedia.

The Talmud accepts completely opposite viewpoints as equally valid theoretically as in the difference of opinion about lighting Hanukah candles between Shamai and Hillel. Shamai’s proposal makes sense conceptually since all the oil was available on the first night, but Hillel’s is more aesthetic and spiritual, brightening the world by adding more light. Jewish practice goes according to Hillel with the hope that in the messianic age when the world is so full of light, that Shamai’s more conceptually valid way could be followed.

When we light the candles each of the eight days, we say the blessing “l’hadlik ner shel Hanukah” (to light the Hanukah candle).  The blessing is singular – not candles.  It symbolizes a wikicreation where each person adds his or her individual light to form a multiform unity.   Philosopher Martin Buber argues that Judaism is not “a static unity of the uniform,” that Jews aim for, “but the great dynamic unity of the multiform in which multiformity is formed into unity of character.”

Douglas Rushkoff, author of Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, is also author of ten best-selling books on new media, winner of the Marshall McLuhan Award for best media book, and correspondent for the open source PBS project Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.  In Nothing Sacred, he explores Judaism as a tradition that stresses open-ended inquiry, transparency, and a commitment to conscious living. Millennia ago it developed media literacy by replacing hieroglyphics (literally “priestly language”) with the aleph bet creating a literate people equipped to collaborate in responding to the challenges of changing times and places. Members of this literate people continue to participate in adding new interpretations (hiddushai torah) to the Jewish wikicreation through interactions locally with learning partners and globally through the Internet.

The above is based upon the “Wiki Perspectives: Multiform Unity and Global Tribes” chapter in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press)


Rav Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook visited Poriah, a fledgling agricultural community near the Sea of Galilee, on a cold winter night in 1913 when he was rabbi of Jaffa.  He would later become the first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel.

The Poriah community was established by a group of forty young pioneers from St. Louis, Missouri. Two of the pioneers wrote about that evening.  Their letters are published in Rabbi Chanan Morrison’s wonderful book Stories From the Land of Israel, a collection of inspiring incidents in the life of Rav Kook

“We had already finished eating.  We were dancing and singing, ‘God will rebuild the Galilee,’ when Rav Kook joined in and danced with the men.”

“Suddenly Rav Kook turned to me and my friend, Pinhas Schneerson.  We were both wearing Arab cloaks and kefiyyeh headdresses, with rifles slung on our shoulders. Rav Kook asked us to accompany him to the manager’s office.  I was shorter than the rabbi, but Schneerson was tall, so Rav Kook asked Schneerson if he could borrow his ‘uniform.’”

“The three of us returned to the dancing, with the Rav wearing a kefiyyeh on his head and a rifle over his shoulder.  Everyone stared at Rav Kook’s change of dress.  The truth is, the clothes suited him.  The Rav began to sing a song from the liturgy, ‘Vetaheir Libeinu’ – ‘Purify our hearts, so that we may truly serve You.’”

“Oh, how our spirits soared!  At the end, the Rav announced, ‘I wore your clothes, and you wore mine.  So it should also be on the inside – together in our hearts!’”

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
Related Topics
Related Posts