My Jewish Learning has a fantastically interesting interview with Jeffrey Chandler about his book, Jews, God and Videotape.
Can you give examples of some positives and negatives of the effect media technology has had on Judaism?
Jeffrey Shandler: What I find interesting is that sometimes the same communications technology can inspire some people to see it as positive for Jewish religious life, while others see it as negative. For example, shortly after the advent of commercial sound recordings at the turn of the 20th century, some cantors made recordings of khazones (cantorial music) and saw this as a way of enhancing Jews’ (and sometimes others’) ability to engage with this music.
At the same time, other cantors not only refused to make recordings of khazones but also denounced those who did and described the practice as sacreligious. There have been similar debates over the past century about film, radio, television, video, and the Internet. As a result, there is anything but a uniform understanding among Jews as to how to use of these technologies in religious life.
While technology can allow religion to be sent to the masses, do you think there is a fear that the Judaism that people know may become less authentic?
The issue of “authenticity” is one that religious leaders and others in the Jewish community have raised (and similar conversations go on in other religious communities as well). This concern often comes up when a new medium makes it possible to document or disseminate information or activities in ways that were previously unavailable. For example, the videotaping of life-cycle celebrations (weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc.) has prompted some to question whether the video compromises an “authentic” religious experience–say, by interfering in how participants engage in the ritual, knowing that they are being filmed.
In my book, I argue that video has become so pervasive a presence in the celebration of these rituals that, for some people, the making and watching of the videotape (often right after the ritual is performed or even during it) has come to be seen as integral to the ritual experience–in other words, the video extends the “authentic” experience, rather than interfering with it.