The Talmud and TikTok

By Rabbi Greg Alexander

Did the world change on the 7th of October? Our world certainly did. The bigger world was already in trouble: climate change, COVID, Russia invading Ukraine were already huge disruptors of world peace.  =More subtly, the absence of good leadership, and our lack of trust in our leaders, have led to an increasing feeling that the world is not being directed towards hope by the people who should be doing that.  A consequence of all of these is a lessening of faith in objective fact – we can all give our opinions as facts and often in ignorance or denial of research placed there by experts – after all, how can we trust those experts to be objective anyway? And who has time to read their research? 

In this already difficult environment, we turn to our phones. Social media sets up echo chambers, opinion silos.  As Israeli educator, Zohar Raviv, says, today there are “too many surfers, and not enough divers”. Nobody seems willing to do the real research or to read the research of those who have, or to trust that it might reveal something important that we should know before we jump to an opinion. We can all be experts with little to no reading, because how we feel is as valid as fact.

As a result of the above, there has been an increase in opinions and an increase in volume – everyone is shouting loudly. And, at the same time, there has been a corresponding decrease in listening. Nuance or subtlety is not valued. It’s black or white – there are zero ‘shades of grey’.  

What can be done considering that we are not world leaders, presidents or prime ministers? I will suggest humbly that what is needed right now in the world is more conversation, less shouting. And to be clear, the aim of those conversations is not to persuade someone to adopt your view, but to listen to their views, to clarify your views, and hopefully feel listened to.  

The Talmud is a fascinating example of great conversations. The rabbis of the time, 1500-2000 years ago were no less passionate or committed to their opinions than we are, and, of course, extremely informed. They were divers, not surfers. The Talmud is a record of their discussions and debates. And, boy, could they argue!  One distinctive feature that distinguishes the Talmud is that alongside the prevailing and victorious view is presented the minority opinion. The ‘loser’. And this is studied until today.  

But why waste time on the losing point of view if it is not followed? I would argue that this is the very thing that gets us through tough times of conflict. See the other point of view. Understand it. Not to be convinced by it, but to know what others think, how they build their arguments, how there are many ways to approach a problem.

In a world of surfers, let’s dive deep and, when we come up for air, let’s share what we found with each other.

Temple Israel

• Published in the April 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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