Some people get ready for Shavuot by making blintzes. Some draft notes on the text to be taught or learned in the wee hours of the morning at one of the all-night sessions during which the giving of the Torah at Sinai is celebrated through study.
And some congregate on Twitter, the micro-blogging website on which posts can be no longer than 140 characters, composing their own tweets of Torah, reading others’ efforts and furiously re-tweeting.
For example: “When Moshe looks deep into the burning bush, he can hear God. All of us can be Moses; see the miracles in front of you! #Torah” tweeted on May 25 by Rachel Barenblat, under the handle @velveteenrabbi.
Another tweet: “Like Ruth, I left my family to take up the #Torah, and have never regretted it,” wrote @nyssa23, also on May 25.
Barenblat and “nyssa23” were among about 500 — who may or may not have also made a dairy dessert and prepared a lesson plan — but definitely made Twitter a part of their Shavuot this year, sending and receiving about 5,000 tweets including the term “#Torah” over a 36-hour period starting around sunset on May 24, said Mark Hurvitz, a Reform rabbi.
Ordained in 1978, Rabbi Hurvitz has spent most of his career in the private sector, but since 2010 has led “Tweeting #Torah to the Top,” an annual effort to generate awareness of Shavuot, teach Torah, organize Jews using social media and make Torah a “trending” topic on Twitter. A Reconstructionist rabbi first had the idea in 2009, Hurvitz said.
Hence the hash tag in front of “#Torah” in the name “Tweeting #Torah to the Top;” that’s how Twitter’s engineers track which terms are the most widely used. The 10 most popular at any given moment get the distinction, sometimes dubious, of “trending.” At 5 p.m. on May 29, New York’s trends included “LSD,” “ObamasNextJob” and “Donald Trump.”
So Torah didn’t rank as a trending topic this year. The closest it’s ever gotten, Rabbi Hurvitz said, was in its first year, when it peaked in the mid-30s. This year, because of Twitter’s explosive growth, #Torah didn’t even come close to trending. But still, Rabbi Hurvitz said he thinks more people participated than ever before, although it’s hard to be sure because he didn’t make a careful count last year. But maybe it’s not so much about numbers, anyway.
“If all I wanted to do was to get Torah to trend, of course I would do it on Chanukah,” he said. “I want this to be about getting people to think about Shavuot … you might go out on Shavuot and see people who look Jewish and know that they’re out shopping. That’s the nature of the American Jewish experience. Those of us who want to encourage a broader understanding will use whatever tools we have available.”
The effort’s original tweeters and readers were mostly rabbis, said Rebecca Schorr, a Reform rabbi and avid user of social media who tweets as @FrumeSarah and blogs under the same name. Schorr recently left her position as a pulpit rabbi to spend more time with her three young children.
Over the years, Rabbi Hurvitz and core participants like Rabbi Schorr have tried to broaden Tweeting #Torah’s reach. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis participated this year; the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis encouraged its member synagogues and camps to join in and, slowly, more Jews who aren’t rabbis or communal professionals are showing up, Rabbis Hurvitz and Schorr said.
Rabbi Schorr has an answer to skeptics who question the value of Torah in tweet-sized chunks.
“Sometimes, brevity forces us to chip away at the extraneous stuff,” she said. “140 characters is enough to whet someone’s appetite … I have more Torah that’s going to take more than 140 characters, but you have to meet them where they’re at. And they’re on Twitter.”