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Religion, communications, and Judaism: the case of digital Chabad

TitleReligion, communications, and Judaism: the case of digital Chabad
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBlondheim, M, Katz, E
JournalMedia, Culture & Society

In their article on ‘Building the Sacred Community Online’, Oren Golan and Nurit Stadler zoom in on the latest attempts of Chabad, the extrovert Jewish Hasidic group, to harness the newest digital technologies to propagate and popularize its staunchly traditionalist reading of Jewish heritage. Also known as ‘Lubavitch’, Chabad is the Hebrew acronym of ‘Wisdom, Intellect, Knowledge’, three of the more elevated kabalistic spheres (cf. Proverbs 3, 19–20). To many, Chabad’s embrace of communication technologies looks like an example of enlisting the devil to do God’s work, though it does not look like that to them. This paradox, and Golan and Stadler’s account of its newest coming, touches on some of the most fundamental issues of Jewish communications, as well as the much broader problem of religion and communications. The general religion and communication nexus may be divided into two major themes. One is the issue of religious communications, or media theology – namely, the problem of interaction of God and humans. But it also consists of the issue of communicating religion, namely, the handling and disseminating of what the religious believe to be a divine message in this world. As we shall see, both these issues are particularly relevant to Chabad. But the more immediate context for understanding Chabad and its use of media is the universe of Jewish communications. Here too there is a duality: ‘Jewish’ connotes both Jews and Judaism – a social entity and a religion – and here too, both aspects are relevant to understanding Chabad’s media practices today.