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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

A serious post in preparation for Link Love

There is a lot of talk in my industry (no, not food service anymore, PUBLIC RELATIONS. And yes, even though I’m just an administrative assistant, I can still say my industry.) about blog ethics. As someone who has been blogging for a couple years, I have some habits and some opinions–nothing that will affect the industry, but that affect how I write.

The other day I was surprised that my Ten Minutes of Torah email that I get from the URJ, included tips on the ethics of blogging and the internet. What does the Torah, Talmud, and jewish tradition have to say about the internet? PLENTY! I shared it with my co-worker Phil Gomes over at Blogservations and he thought it was good stuff. In case he doesn’t copy the email over, here you go.

Start with this (which I’m going to reformat a little, because I think it works better in bullets. Taken from Pirkei Avot by Kravitz and Olitzky, eds. (URJ Press)

6:6 [Knowledge of Torah is acquired by]

  1. the one who knows one’s place,

  2. who rejoices in one’s portion,

  3. who sets a limit to one’s words,

  4. who claims no credit for oneself,

  5. who is beloved,

  6. who loves God,

  7. who loves people,

  8. who love justice,

  9. who loves reproof,

  10. who loves equity,

  11. who distances oneself from glory,

  12. who does not arrogantly show off learning,

  13. who does not enjoy judging,

  14. who bears the yoke with one’s colleagues,

  15. who judges the colleague favorably [even while] directing that person to truth and peace,

  16. the one whose study has calmed the mind,

  17. who asks and answers,

  18. who listens and adds,

  19. who studies in order to teach

  20. and who studies in order to practice,

  21. who makes one’s teacher wiser,

  22. and reports exactly what has been learned

  23. and who quotes in the name of the one who said it.

  24. Behold you have learned that who reports something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption into the world as it says, “And Esther said in the name of Mordechai.” [Esther 2:22]

From there, the Union offers another interpretation.

Davar Acher–Another Interpretation

Among the approximately 23 attributes listed in our text, one might count ten or eleven that tie humility to knowledge. Once one has gained knowledge, how one behaves is a matter of respect and decency. Nobody likes a know-it-all, but the greater issue may be an ethical one.

Who quotes in the name of the one who said it. Referring to one’s source is an ancient version of hyperlinking. Jonathan Rosen describes, “I have often thought, contemplating a page of Talmud, that it bears a certain uncanny resemblance to a home page on the Internet, where nothing is whole in itself but where icons and text boxes are doorways through which visitors pass into an infinity of cross-referenced texts and conversations” (The Talmud and the Internet , 8).

Plagiarism is a form of theft. It is perceived of as cheating. The increased use of blogs, online journals and Internet research has led to a discussion of the need for codes of ethics for publishing on the Web. Some say since blogs and online journals are not formal publications nor are the authors necessarily journalists, bloggers should not need to follow the same ethics code as journalists. “But responsible bloggers should recognize that they are publishing words publicly, and therefore have certain ethical obligations to their readers, the people they write about, and society in general.”(A Blogger’s Code of Ethics, created a model code of ethics for use on their weblog based on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Many synagogues and Jewish schools have created policies for ethical use of the Internet as well.

Citing sources, be it expert, colleague, friend or even student, is central to academic discourse. This practice adds credibility to an argument. It allows skeptical students to read the original source and judge for themselves. Our text teaches us that it is acceptable, even encouraged, to quote someone verbatim, as long as the source is mentioned. A student who passes off another’s work as his or her own has internalized the message that he or she has nothing to offer from his or her own mind. In Jewish tradition, each of us is empowered to contribute to the conversation. Giving credit where credit is due not only protects the intellectual property of the originator of the idea, it encourages others to generate their own ideas. A great teacher who quotes his or her students sends the message that all who participate in the endeavor of learning can contribute insights.

And the Union resolves, as it does every day, with questions for the reader.

1. If you were to create a code of ethics for Internet writers, what would you include? How would your criteria intersect with this baraita?

2. Reread Mishnah 6:5 and 6:6, when combined they list 42 qualities needed to acquire Torah knowledge. How do these qualities reflect your understanding of Torah study in the modern age?

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