Social media rules for Jews on High Holidays

As the High Holidays approach I start feeling anxiety about whether I’ll work during the holidays. Will I do two days or one? Will I write emails and send them? Or not hit send until sundown, or just not write emails at all?

It’s part of being Jewish to have a workaround for everything. For example, this is a picture of my sons participating in a not-real bat mitzvah for their cousin so we can take pictures because you can’t take pictures during the real bat mitzvah.

I’ve read that people who have willpower don’t actually have willpower. Rather they make decisions for themselves that have clear parameters and then they don’t reconsider them, so those people don’t need any willpower.

I’m pretty sure that my everything-is-negotiable approach to Jewish holidays requires an insane amount of willpower that I’ll never even come close to having. But I in that vein, I propose a few guidelines for those of you who are like me and trying to figure out what to do with social media on High Holidays.

1. Twitter
You can live tweet during services if you’re in a synagogue that allows that. I’ve personally never seen a synagogue that allows that, but I’ve seen a lot of people furtively check their phone. Maybe live‑tweeting Rosh Hashanah is like sharing the services with everyone. Of course, it could be argued that live‑tweeting Rosh Hashanah is sacrilegious, but you can let people know that it’s not sacrilegious to you by using #reform to denote your personal preference.

2. Email
If you go to synagogue and show up for everything you’re supposed to be doing, then you could just answer emails in the bathroom and take calls when you’re away from the synagogue, and no one will really know. I think this would fall in the category of keeping up with the goyim. The truth is there’s a long history of Jews bending the rules of Torah in order to keep up with the goyim. If we’re feeling good about this, we call it assimilation. If we’re feeling bad, we call it a shanda.

3. Facebook
If you’re fasting during Yom Kippur you’re already so tortured that perhaps God will forgive you for distracting yourself with social media. After all, think of all the distractions people had during Yom Kippur when they lived in those tight little communities in eastern Europe. Maybe you can consider Facebook your own High Holiday shtetl.

If you’re not fasting on Yom Kippur you can still participate by having a social media fast. This has not been officially ruled by the rabbis, but I think it’s reasonable.

Think about it: There are a disproportionate number of Jews who have Asperger’s, and people who have Asperger’s have a proclivity toward eating disorders, and Jews have disproportionate numbers of obsessive readers, which means, on a whole, it would be more difficult for more Jews to have a social media fast than a food fast.

4. Foursquare
In a big city you’ve got to find out where the cool people are going to synagogue, especially if you didn’t buy tickets. Then you’re a free agent the day of. So a good way to find where your Jewish friends are that day is to use Foursquare. Foursquare, of course, is not anything near appropriate for an observant Jew because it’s a double shanda – you can’t travel and you can’t use electronics to figure out how to travel. So I’m not saying Foursquare is going to pass the most rigorous test, but I am saying that you could have your own test: Is good for the Jews?

My parents used to tell us this was the test for voting for president, is it good for the Jews. So if it’s a good enough rule to use when voting for the president, then it’s probably good enough for Jews searching for their tribe on Yom Kippur. So I say if your Foursquare intentions are good for the Jews, go ahead and use it.

5. Online dating sites
There is going to be a preponderance of Jews who are not at work and not at synagogue. It’s those in‑between people who were raised in a way that would make them ashamed to go to work on the High Holidays, but not so ashamed that they have to splurge for tickets to go to a synagogue. These people are looking for something to do that’s low profile enough that they won’t have to reveal to their friends and family that they weren’t quite living up to their own Jewish standards on the High Holidays.

This is where online dating comes in. JDate is full of possibilities of finding these people. OkCupid is too, by the way. Did you know that if you want to hook up with someone, OkCupid is the place to go? So I think the ruling on this one will be if your intentions are to find a long‑term relationship with a Jewish person, then it’s good for the Jews. So go ahead and do it on the High Holidays, which means JDate is okay and OkCupid is not.

Still, if you’re allowing yourself to read on the High Holidays, I’m recommending the OkCupid blog. How can you resists post with titles like Ten Charts about Sex?


30 replies
  1. christy
    christy says:

    As a non-Jew who found this post fascinating, can you please explain one thing Penelope?

    Why on earth must one buy tickets to go to synagogue? That one is a first for me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s so funny that you ask, because I was thinking I should put a link there – as an explanation. In fact, I’m going to do that right after I finish this comment.

      The bottom line is that Jews really don’t go to synogogue. I mean, some Jews do, but most Jews only go on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah. I remember reading somewhere that there is like 90% turnout on Yom Kippur. So the problem is that synogogues are not built to hold that many Jews. Anywhere. Some towns, like Madison, where I live, have to use churches to accommodate all the Jews on High Holidays.

      So it’s a big money earner for synagogues that have enough seating. And it’s costly to rent out the churches, or whatever people rent to house the Jewish services.


      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I also read somewhere long ago that Jewish people don’t do the “tithe and offerings” that Christians do. Therefore they pay a sort of membership fee to their synagogue and that way they have tickets to the events. If you don’t really belong to a synagogue then people have to buy tickets.
        It makes sense to me. Otherwise, who in the heck pays for the synagogue to stay open (lights, property tax, etc.).

        • Kay Loraine
          Kay Loraine says:

          Oy veh, what kind of mishegas are you spreading here? Of course practicing Jews tithe. They just don’t do it the way the gentiles do. They don’t give 10% to the “church.” That wasn’t the intention of the Torah (Old Testament) when G-d commanded people to give one-tenth to the poor. When we reap our fields, we are commanded to leave one-tenth of the grain on the ground so that the poor can come into the field at sunset and gather grain. When we harvest grapes, we are commanded to not do a second harvest but leave those grapes for the poor to collect.

          Since very few of us are reaping wheat and gathering grapes these day, we give approximately one-tenth of our income to charity — food banks, City of Hope, the Smile Train, Meals on Wheels, and yes even St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

          Many synagogues sell “tickets” to high holidays because it is the only time some Jews ever go to shul. However, not everyone does this. I belong to a Conservative congregation that never, EVER collects tickets. We welcome anyone through out doors no matter what the time of year. If you are ever visiting Hawaii be sure to come to Congregation Sof Ma’arav. No donations required — just an open heart.

  2. Barry Moltz
    Barry Moltz says:

    On Tickets: Since temples don’t have a central organization like churches do for their funding, they charge for High Holiday tickets as a way to support their temple. Its basic supply and demand. Alot of Jews want to go on the High Holidays, so the temple “forces” you to join so you can go.

    • HM
      HM says:

      Not all synagogues sell tickets. If the synagogue is well funded, there may be no tickets. I am sure it happens, but I am not aware of any synagogue ever turning anyone away…it’s more about inspiring stereotypical Jewish ‘guilt’, e.g. you should feel guilty if you go to services and can afford it but don’t support your temple. (and if you can’t afford membership, there is usually a no questions asked way of still being a member).

      • Kay Lorraine
        Kay Lorraine says:

        If you told them that you could not afford a ticket, I cannot imagine any shul that would turn you away. If they did, then that’s not a synagogue you want to be associated with anyway.

  3. Gary
    Gary says:

    This post is very useful to me. I have already learned a lot of Yiddish from Seinfeld reruns, and I just learnt a few more terms!

  4. Emily
    Emily says:

    I always struggle with whether or not to take the day off work for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My mom feels really strongly that even if I’m not going to observe the holidays I should take a vacation day, because it would be unfair to the observant Jews at my office if I gave the impression that Jews don’t mind working during the high holidays. Basically, she sees it as being supportive of the rest of the community and helping make it easier for them to make the argument that they can’t work on Rosh Hashanah just like Christians don’t work on Christmas. It’s the minority’s burden — you are always representing a greater proportion of your people than someone who belongs to the majority population. On the other hand, I don’t want to use a vacation day to sit at home feeling guilty for not going to services.

  5. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    Thanks for making me smile. Although we have chosen the make the decision route and don’t look back, I appreciate your witty and thoughtful approach to the problem. (So Jewish too) Back to cooking and creating so I can feed the family and friends that help us celebrate. Thinking of all the great tweets I could send my grown up children who can’t make it home this year – maybe I should send them in advance… Shana tova.

  6. Liz
    Liz says:

    I don’t know. I once spotted a very religious person outside of shul talking on his cell in Hebrew on Shabbat. I’m not an expert, but I am definitely not one to judge. I love this post!

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Can Jews partake in the reading and commenting on blogs during the High Holidays? Blogs were not mentioned in the post other than the OkCupid blog.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, I was not going to comment on Rosh Hashannah. But now I realize that I’ll be taking my kids to synogogue two days, which is more than I usually do, so I feel like I can take a cue from #reform Jew Jory below, and add a comment before going to children’s services at synagogue.


  8. Jory
    Jory says:

    Very thought provoking for a #reform Jew who is slightly ADD, slightly addicted to social media, and doing some reading and tweeting before heading off to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services. Thank you!

  9. Leah
    Leah says:

    So get this: My synagogue actually live web-casted the Rosh Hashanah services! I was debating whether or not I should work or stay off social media. But knowing they web-casted the service was like the rabbinical approval for being on the computer. When I realized I could sit in the comfort of my home office and participate in the service online, I could also use that time to write, draft some emails and send a few tweets. This new online observance opens up a whole new world of possibilities. THIS is how to do the High Holidays!

    • Leah
      Leah says:

      And by the way, I’m seriously thinking of canceling my temple membership (since it’s pretty much paying for tickets) if I can now simply watch the services online.

  10. phyllis
    phyllis says:

    I thought your post was very funny, and couldn’t wait to see all the comments that would inevitably follow. I hope people realize that these are your “tongue in cheek” rules and definitely not condoned by observant Jews! For those not familiar, a truly observant Jew does not drive, write or use any electrical equipment on holidays or on the Sabbath.
    I assist in leading services at a small conservative synagogue.. Our “dues” are low – $250 or so. Some large synagogues charge 10 times that to belong. Some included holiday tickets in the price, some do not. Many offer discounts for students, and we would never turn anyone away who couldn’t pay. We need money for the upkeep of the building, utilities, and the Rabbi’s salary. WE do not “pass the hat”, but are always asking for money. We also have a successful Bingo that brings in money. Without that, we would most likely not be able to continue. That is the state of things today in many communities. While a large # of people turn out for the holidays, the rest of the year we see only a small group of regulars who work (volunteer) hard to keep the place running.

  11. laurie weil
    laurie weil says:

    I miss belonging to a shul. If you join most temples, you pay year dues, plus a building fee. Tickets to High Holiday services are included in the dues. If you don’t belong, and there isn’t a free service in the area, you have to buy tickets. The services are open the rest of the year. If I am ever in Hawaii, I will look for you Kay.

    • Kay Lorraine
      Kay Lorraine says:

      We will welcome you with open arms, Laurie. And we never have a “building fund.” For the past 32 years, we have shared a building with the Unitarians. So we can each afford to have a place of worship without breaking the bank. Our shul actually has money in the bank. And no “dues;” only donations.

      Come, hurry! LOl

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