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The Social Network
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

The Social Network

The genesis of Facebook has its source in the Book of Genesis.


The Social Network is a fascinating film based on the real-life story of Mark Zuckerberg, a nice Jewish boy who had a billion-dollar idea that quickly catapulted him to unbelievable fame and fortune.

Zuckerberg is ostensibly the genius behind the Facebook phenomenon, a relatively recent new corporation that's become almost as universally recognizable as Coca-Cola. But like all other inventions and innovations that change the way we've always looked at the world, Zuckerberg's claim to being the sole “father” of Facebook has been seriously challenged. The movie makes clear that there may very well be other people, friends of Mark, who were at least equally instrumental in dreaming up the idea of a social network that is at the heart of this multibillion dollar enterprise.

In fact, Narendra and the Winklevoss twins, Harvard classmates of Zuckerberg, sued and won a reported $65 million settlement based on their claim that they had previously hired Zuckerberg to work on a similar website they had conceived of on their own initiative.

The movie doesn't claim to give a final judgment on the truth of “original authorship.” David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin who collaborated on the film repeatedly say their purpose was merely to tell an enthralling story “about friendship and loyalty, class, jealousy, and ultimately betrayal.” Their goal wasn't about finding the truth but rather offering viewers a morality tale that would lead them to thinking about the profound issues involved, without personally taking sides.

As the ruling of the courts suggests, the full scope of the Facebook idea encompasses the contributions of more than one person. Facebook has many fathers. No one can deny that Mark Zuckerberg deserves major credit as one of its pioneering founders. However, others, as we discovered, also played significant roles as midwives to Facebook's birth.

Related article: Facebook Friends

But there's someone who still hasn't been given deserved credit for the original concept of The Social Network and it's time to acknowledge him - and by that I mean him with a capital H.

The Social Network is far more than a movie or a website; it is the prerequisite for fulfillment and happiness.

All we have to do is to look carefully at the Torah's description of the creation of man and the insight behind the billion-dollar idea will stare us clearly in the face. Every single day of creation God looked at what he had made and pronounced it good. When he finished the Torah tells us, “And God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good.”

And yet there is a moment when God finally declares “it is not good.” The context? God saw that Adam was by himself and he pronounced his verdict: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Biblical commentators add a profound thought. This verdict was meant to qualify every previous positive appraisal. Yes, all the things God had created could be called good - but only if they were shared.

Man was created to be a social animal. Life gains its fullest meaning when it is shared. The Social Network is far more than a movie or a website; it is the summum bonnum of human existence, the prerequisite for fulfillment and happiness.

Mark Zuckerberg and his creative colleagues simply tapped into an ancient biblical truth. Their genius was to translate this insight into a technological application. But the genesis of the idea has its source in the Book of Genesis.

Friendship or Death

Jews are known as the People of the Book. Study has always been a necessary component for leading a good life. Immersing ourselves in the words of Torah is as necessary to our continued existence as breathing in air; it is the oxygen for our spiritual survival.

How remarkable then to discover that the Talmud teaches “Torah cannot be acquired other than by way of companionship.” The tired cliché that “it takes two to tango” has its Judaic counterpart in this saying that turns study into a cooperative effort if it seeks to be successful.

In an extraordinary and perhaps playful commentary on the first word of the Torah the rabbis suggest that the very first letter of the Bible in Hebrew is the Bet which numerically stands for two in order to allude to this idea. Do you want to really understand this book? Then create a Social Network and learn it with a friend, face-to-face.

The Torah is comprised of two parts – the written and the oral law. The written was to be transcribed and passed down on tablets, papyrus, parchment or paper. It was the Torah of the book. Accompanying it, however, was an oral transmission that for many centuries was not permitted to be recorded and would only become a written text as a last measure by Jews who feared that in the course of their expulsions and wanderings its teachings would become forgotten.

The oral law by definition was required to be oral. Why the emphasis on keeping truths alive only by way of communication from person to person? Texts can be handed over without human inter-reaction. They are cold and impersonal. They leave no room for true friendship.

Related article: Friends Don't Grow on Trees

The secret of the oral law in Judaism is the divine wisdom that set apart a tradition of truth so vital to our survival that is demanded an ultimate Facebook transmission in the real sense of face-to-face.

The biblical social network meant literal face-to-face contact. The Zuckerberg social network limits face time.

And that, by a remarkable irony, is why Zuckerberg's Facebook fails in one critically important way when contrasted with its biblical predecessor. The Torah was profoundly concerned that human beings acknowledge The Social Network as fulfilling a fundamental need. Loneliness must be identified as unsatisfying; human beings need neighbors – to love them as themselves and to be loved in return. The Garden of Eden was paradise only because there were two people to share it.

The biblical social network understood the need for human contact and shared relationships to mean literal face-to-face contact. The Zuckerberg social network all too often substitutes texted messages for true human relationships rooted in actual togetherness. Facebook limits face time.

Yes, it's a blessing to be able retain contact with so many people and to maintain friendships in at least a minimal way, keeping up with the latest events in the lives of people who are dear to us. But if we really care about our friends on Facebook, take to heart an ancient forerunner of this idea: try doing what the Torah meant by The Social Network and actually get together with them from time to time, face-to-face.

October 17, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Anonymous, October 23, 2010 8:53 PM

social networking sites may be good, but nothing beats the human interaction...

these sites can be nice and useful, but nothing beats the old fashioned human interaction, I am a 35 year old who believes that keeping friends in a physical level is the greatest thing. call me old fashioned, I enjoy hearing their voices etc. these sites help maintain and find people you haven't seen in years, but seeing my friends in person, and hearing their voices is just priceless

(8) Tuvia Dovid, October 22, 2010 9:56 PM

Why Jewlarious? And why not factual? And more...

The reported $65 million settlement was not "won," it was like all settlements, negotiated and accepted by all parties to the lawsuit, meaning there was no "ruling of the court" on the merit of the claims against Zuckerberg. The only ruling in a settlement is a docket entry in which the judge finds the deal has been properly accepted by all parties and is in conformance with applicable law. Third, when writing about the Facebook phenomenon, why not cite a more authoritative source, such as the article by Jose Antonio Vargas in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker, rather than a movie that as Rabbi Blech notes was made without even trying to learn the truth? Don't Aish readers deserve better? And finally, kind of a side note, when we pat ourselves on the back with the phrase "people of the book," it's worth remembering the origin of the term, the Quran, which applies it to Christians as well.

(7) Anonymous, October 22, 2010 11:13 AM

Facebook is the antithesis of the Jewish view

I disagree. I think that social networking in front of a screen and a keyboard is turning the Torah ideal of human relationships on its head. It is far greater than the difference between the library a yeshiva and a library, where in one you can hardly yourself think amid the clamour of learning pairs working out Hashem's word together and in the other each person sits silently reading a text to himself. Facebook, from what I understand, is either like a having a relationship on a very immature level, because everything you want to say is going to be heard by a whole bunch of other people or simply likely to cause problems because of Ayin Hara.

(6) Anonymous, October 20, 2010 4:15 AM

Torah for the socially awkward

I know a few "geeks" who have trouble with committing to the Torah-observant community because they find it intrusive-don't enjoy Shabbat meals, learning with a partner, shul attendance, etc. Any advice for them?

(5) Helene Wallenstein, October 19, 2010 2:35 PM

What I find so interesting is that Mark Zuckerberg had great difficulty with face-to-face social relationships and so Facebook was the perfect medium for him to relate to another human. He so wanted social acceptance yet was unable to socially interact. He required financial reward, not so much for his need of the dollar, but as a way to proclaim his social worth. We should relate face-to-face with our fellow man for the most important and rewarding relationships. We should also contemplate whether our need to post on a facebook wall, or anywhere the printed word is spread in mass communication, might be more about drawing attention to one's self, than to caring for a fellow human being. That's the difference between texting and Facebook. You can maintain a private, one-on-one relationship through texting. Facebook, or blogging, for that matter, has more of a look-at-me quality.

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