Jewish Literacy 2.0

              Marsh (2007) makes the argument that technology is changing the concept of literacy– the way human beings interact with texts. This means that technological innovation is raising questions like: 

What constitutes a text?

What is authorship?

How do we read texts and glean meaning from them?

Who is authorized to write on a given subject?

How do communities determine which texts to sanction and which to scorn?

              Web 2.0 is impacting the way we think about these questions, whether we’re Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants. If the concept of literacy is shifting (anyone want to suggest that it’s not) then it stands to reason that the way educators teach literacy needs to shift as well.  So what’s it mean for Jewish Education?

             Let’s drudge up the tired adage that Jews are the People of the Book for a moment. While there’s more to Judaism than books we can proudly embrace our reputation as a literacy concerned culture and our commitment to “reading.” By “reading” I mean engaging with texts to create meaning. For Jews, and for all thoughtful people, reading is much more than a leisure activity, and literacy is more than a basic competency. Reading is the way we bring order and meaning to the world. 

             Jewish tradition empowers Jews with a variety of reading strategies which we apply to our formal texts and also to our life experiences. A committed Jewish reader can read Judaism into any experience (I’m thinking here of Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man who sees flowing water and immediately thinks of the requirements of the mikveh). Of course literacy is about more than reading– it’s about the entire enterprise of textual construction and interaction. If Web 2.0 and technology are changing the concept of literacy (which I believe they are) then it stands to reason that Jews will be pioneers and recipients of new literacy strategies. If we embrace this new literacy technology as we have other literacy technologies (printing press, newspaper, cinema etc…) then certainly Judaism will be deeply impacted as we move into 21C literacy. This means that we can expect new types of Jewish texts, new notions of Jewish authorship, shifting norms of Jewish authority, and new avenues of Jewish expression and meaning. Surely it’s already happening. What do we make of JDub, Jewcy, Heeb, and MyJewishCommunity? How do we read new Jewish texts like Godcast and “What if Moses Had Facebook?” The fact that Aish is already on this means that the ground is moving under our feet and it’s not only our students who need to interact with multimodal texts and learn how to create texts and artifacts, but our leadership as well.

Marsh, J. (2007). New literacies and old pedagogies: recontextualizing rules and practices.
         International Journal of Inclusive Education, 11, 267-281.

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