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Rabbi Zuckerberg

Josh Yuter, punny Twitterer

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Rabbi Josh Yuter of the Stanton Street Shul.(Yutopia)

Rabbi Josh Yuter recently put his synagogue on Foursquare, the popular social networking site that allows users to “check in” and tell their friends where they are. Those few congregants of the Lower East Side’s Stanton Street Shul who actually noticed were impressed. “The fact that I’m aware of these things might make me more relatable,” Rabbi Yuter told me at a nearby café. The Orthodox rabbi acknowledges the irony of putting a shul on a location-based social networking site that requires mobile check-ins; he doesn’t really expect that people will be checking in often, since the use of electronic devices is prohibited on the Sabbath and, the rest of the week, is generally frowned upon.

But Yuter’s Internet presence is more than just an outlet for a self-proclaimed “geek” with a background in computer science. It is an important part of his strategy as a religious leader. Complementing liturgical and pastoral activity with a tech-savvy approach, Yuter seeks to engage online those whom he might not reach in his pews. After all, he explained, a rabbi’s task is to determine how to apply ancient traditions to the present. “It seems hypocritical to say you can engage in the modern world if I’m unwilling to do so myself,” he told me.

As proof of his belief that being religious means interacting with your world and your surroundings, Rabbi Yuter operates a lively Twitter feed and has regularly updated his blog for almost a decade. “Embracing Twitter is not in any way at odds with the religious side,” he maintained of his tweets, which are also synced to appear as status updates on his Facebook page (he’s been on that other social networking site since 2005, back when only college and graduate students were allowed to join and my grandpa wasn’t on it).

“If a rabbi knows Twitter, and knows it well, it’s reassuring for the people who engage with them,” he insisted. Although very few of his congregants are Twitter users, Yuter has gained quite a virtual flock: 1,399 Twitter followers, to be precise. With 9,262 tweets and counting (no, seriously—he’s probably tweeting right this second) since joining in 2009, Yuter has clearly embraced this new way to reach people.

A look through his feed reveals tweets about synagogue goings-on (“Shiur went for 1:20ish today, working on condensing the audio for uploading #whatrabbisdo”), general rabbi thoughts (“I really wish Rabbis would be better about footnoting their articles—sweeping statements w/o citations are not helpful”), and an awful lot of puns: “Don’t try riding livestock unless you know how to steer,” “Baritones and bassists tend to be low key,” and—my personal favorite—“The importance of Tu Bishvat in Judaism has gradually been reseeding.” Did I mention his blog is called Yutopia?

While Yuter credited Twitter with granting him access to a wider audience, he doesn’t think it’s the right approach for everyone. As a part-time rabbi at a small synagogue, Yuter has spare time to dedicate to his online efforts, including fielding various questions posed to him by random followers. And, of course, if someone discovers him on Twitter and then decides to check out Stanton Street Shul the next weekend, all the better (don’t forget to check in!) Still, he understood that his approach might not be for everyone. “I’m going to reach people that others can’t, and others will reach people that I can’t,” he said. “And I’m okay with that.”

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I am glad to see other rabbis are doing what we started doing in 2008. As one of the rabbis of http://www.OurJewishCommunity.org, we reach tens of thousands of Jews in 155 countries using various tools: iTunes, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, streaming services, etc.
What makes our online community unique is that we not only use evolving tools but also have an evolving philosophy. We share a contemporary Jewish voice and create a Jewish experience that does not build walls to participation. We empower and validate progressive Jews. We use technology not for its own sake but because it makes sense in the kind of inclusive and innovative Jewish community we’re building.

As the longest functioning institution of higher Jewish learning in the western hemisphere, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati (http://www.HUCinci.org) is pleased to join the on-line conversation. In our case technology is proving to be invaluable in making our resources more widely available.

I don’t have much to say, but I thought it would be nice to have a comment on this article that wasn’t completely self-promoting and self-congratulatory.
Way to go, Rabbi Yuter!
Here’s a question for your #whatrabbisdo conversation: No other profession insists on putting it’s title everywhere – rabbis even go so far as to put “Rabbi” as a first name on Facebook. I don’t see dentists doing that, nor do I see pastors either. Where does this apparent chip-on-the-shoulder come from?

anyone for a PC kosher l’shabbat:) but first for virtual minyan

Richard says:

Congratulations Rabbi Yuter! I want to add in congratulating you for your great work without shamelessly advertising myself or insulting you for your Orthodox beliefs while I self-promote!

While other groups may do the same thing as a group (and that’s very nice), congratulations go to Rabbi Yuter who has been in many ways a pioneer for the Orthodox world and technology. An early adapters, Rabbi Yuter blogs, Facebooks, and Tweets – and doesn’t look to gain personally by it. He is always available to help people with questions, and I’m glad to be one of the people here commending him for it. Way to go!

Hillel says:

I’m not sure what’s more impressive about R’ Yuter: the fact that he utilizes ever-changing technology and social media to provide such a tremendous amount of genuine, insightful, well-sourced Torah scholarship, or that he is able to do so without condescension or vacuous self-promotion.
Regardless, he deserves thanks for all his hard work; a lot of other Jewish organizations would be well-served to learn from his example.

Karen Rosenfeld says:

Avigayil’s Bubbie is “shepping nachas!” Go Josh! We are proud of you!

Someone I jobless with visits your locality many times and recommended it to me to infer from also.

I’ve said that least 3053488 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Thank you for another excellent article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in like a perfect way of presentation.

You have mentioned very interesting points! ps decent site.

Wohh just what I was looking for, thank you for posting.

If you need increased traffic to your website check out the website in my name. It really helped me and i believe it can benefit your website.

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Rabbi Zuckerberg

Josh Yuter, punny Twitterer

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