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Grassroots Inspiration and Social Media Torah

Growing up, I always thought you needed to be a rebbetzin to be an adult Torah teacher. You required the clout and gravitas that came with the title. The same applied to men. Rabbis gave shiurim. But there’s been a shift in adult Torah learning from a top-down approach to a more grassroots, peer-to-peer model in the last decade or so. And with technology, including zoom classes, websites, and social media, not only have the mediums in how we transmit Torah have adapted, but the definition of a Torah teacher has changed too.

Aaron Parnes, on his podcast Chinuch 2.0, discussed this shift regarding how our society values the baal habayis. He explains:

“We’re seeing the phenomenon of the learned baal habayis. Someone who is not embarrassed to go and say a shiur in a shul or give a daf yomi, or to be considered looked up to or respectable. He can have it all; he can be learned and be successful in business. Fifty years ago, it was looked down upon. Roshei Yeshiva didn’t want baal habatim to learn in the yeshiva at all because it would give off the impression to talmidim that you can work and learn.”

Certainly, Rav Aaron Lopiansky’s work, Ben Torah for Life, contributed significantly to this seachange. Rav Lopiansky provides the guidance and preparation necessary for the “return trip to the material world,” living and working as a Ben Torah outside the walls of the yeshiva. However, real-life examples of learned baal habatim, from in our communities to on the speaking circuits, have provided very valuable communal role models.

For example, when Charlie Harary started becoming popular, many were surprised that a lawyer without semicha had such a large platform to teach Torah. Yet despite the fact that he’s not a rabbi (and maybe because of it), he quickly became a favorite to audiences of all backgrounds due to his sincerity, relatability, desire to grow, and ability to make Torah relevant. Charlie modeled that you don’t need to be a rabbi to teach and inspire others.

The way we access Torah learning has also contributed to who we are learning Torah from. There are baal habatim who give online shiurim to thousands of people worldwide. While they may not have the title rabbi and are busy during the day in their professions, many have spent significant time learning in yeshivas and are qualified to give high-level shiurim. Certainly, this occurs in shuls as well, but having access via technology to a much wider audience enables those who want to teach to have a broad, virtual classroom.

This phenomenon is more significantly evident on social media platforms. Anyone with a Twitter or Instagram account can share their Torah insights to limitless audiences. They can post an inspiring quote, a thought on the parsha, or even share a video of a dvar Torah. In this space, Torah thoughts and inspiration are bite-sized – short and satisfying, easy to digest, often clever, and designed for an immediate uplift. Anyone can share an idea that moves or enlightens them, and many have gained a following due to their ability to share Torah or inspiration about Judaism in a relatable way. Instagram, in particular, has a flurry of female Torah teachers, some of whom are not formal educators but have discovered Instagram as their classroom to reach thousands of women eager for their insights.

Meaningful Minute has been a leader in this space, using all social media platforms (including WhatsApp and TikTok). They’ve tapped into the public’s desire for meaning and spiritual empowerment in short increments. With the Meaningful Minute app, viewers can read posts and watch short videos by various speakers (not all rabbis!) for a quick boost during the busy day.

To be sure, there are cons to this emergence of grassroots inspiration, particularly the type accessed via social media. No doubt, people who are not ensconced in the beis medrash now have another way to access Torah learning that’s often easily digestible and can fit into their work schedules. But while Torah in bite-sized increments is inspirational and can be significantly thought-provoking, it cannot replace the experience of toiling in Torah. Certainly, if one cannot make the time, for whatever reason, for in-depth learning (men and women included), social media Torah is a way to keep connected and keep one’s priorities focused on Torah ideas. 

Another drawback to social media Torah is that anyone can be thrust into a position of influence. Hence, the term “influencer” and all the discussion and concern about the concept. While the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said, “If you know alef, teach alef,” and having non-credentialed “teachers” share what they find inspiring about Torah can be a wonderful thing, it is crucial to be aware of the pros and cons of this reality. There may be times to take what the influencer is saying with a grain of salt, and certainly, it is vital to avoid falling into the trap of glorifying and worshiping the influencer.  An “IRL” (in real life) mentor, rav or rebbetzin, is instrumental in providing guidance.

We can learn from everyone. We can take a lesson from every person Hashem puts in our path. Furthermore, we ourselves are “teachers” to others without us even realizing it. If something from the Torah moves us and we yearn to share it with others, this is beautiful. With the proliferation of mediums and opportunities to share and learn Torah, Hashem should grant us the clarity and discernment necessary to be strong vessels to both disseminate and receive our holy Torah. 

Alex Fleksher

Mrs. Alex Fleksher is an educator, speaker, op-ed columnist for Mishpacha Magazine, co-host of Deep Meaningful Conversations, and creative director of the Faces of Orthodoxy social media account. She holds a Masters degree in secondary Jewish education from Azrieli Graduate School and an undergraduate degree in English/Communications from Stern College for Women. Alex is an active member of her local Cleveland community and a dynamic teacher with a passion for community activism. She’s a former chair of the Shabbos Project Cleveland, a founding board member of Chaviva High School for Girls and a co-founder of The Chizuk Retreat Cleveland.

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