Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been increasing their online presence over the last few years. Perhaps none more so than Congregation Beth Adam, a Humanist congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has launched a “fully functioning congregation on the internet” called www.OurJewishCommunity.org, said Boston’s Jewish Advocate (registration required).
Rabbi Laura Baum of Beth Adam said the idea for OurJewishCommunity was born from the fact that they “needed a way to engage the majority of Jews that are unaffiliated.” Most people are now online, so it only made sense to create a congregation in that same space. One of the goals, according to the website, is to “reach out to people who want to adapt Jewish tradition to a contemporary lifestyle.”
The offerings mirror that of a physical synagogue. On the website, the congregation broadcasts live High Holiday services, publishes sermons online, and Rabbi Baum speaks to congregants individually through Skype (online video conferencing). The congregation is also on Twitter and Facebook, making use of social networking sites to create a fluid Jewish community.
But there are detractors. Some, like Rabbi Keith Stern of Newton, MA, thinks the goal of an online congregation should be to “get people to actually come to this physical space.” Online offerings can complement a synagogue, he said, but shouldn’t become the “equivalent to the physical world.”
Still, many are trying to create their own fully functioning Jewish communities online. The article mentions www.Esynagogue.org, which focuses on education and conversion but plans on offering more. The Jewish TV Network aired High Holiday services online last year, attracting 200,000 people from all over the world. And even Rabbi Stern, who has his reservations, said he is working on a Facebook page and looking into how to stream services.
There are a lot of pros and cons to putting traditional synagogue and institutional offerings online. They are a great way to lower barriers and allow people to approach Judaism and the community at their own pace. But, how much further can they go? Can they create real community—or is that limited to physical space?