Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gila Dodelson and the Facebook Shtetl

Jewish life was always built around the concept of community. We live, by definition, in close proximity to one-another. We celebrate and mourn with each other. We do business with one-another. And, when necessary, we use that closeness to pressure those who we love to do the right thing.
At least that's the idea.
And, when the subtle, behind the scenes pressure doesn't work, halachah offers other, more stinging forms of pressure to coerce community members to stay in line, from the minor sanctions of a mi shepara, to the secondary step of a knas, all the way to the drastic sting of the cherem, which prohibits community members from engaging in any economic activity with the sanctioned individual.
There was a time that these measures were extremely effective. The tighter that the community was knit together, the more each individual person relied on the larger community, and was therefore subject to the forces of community pressure. This is how it should be, and in fact, how it was.
Until it wasn't.
The world got smaller.
Rather than being born, raised, and living in the same village for your entire life, people began to move around, living in different communities, cities, and even countries. How do you enforce social norms when a person can simply move to another town, or, for that matter, just daven at the shtiebel down the street? You can't, and the Jewish community witnessed the unraveling of its ability to pressure individuals on a communal scale.
Until now, that is.
With the advent of social media, the world has now shrunk to such a degree that the entire globe has been reduced to a single shtelt. The shtetl of Facebook.
Exhibit A: The tragic case of Gila Dodelson.
Way back in the "old days", A Beit Din would issue a siruv, and the husband would find himself ostracized - unable to get an aliyah, count for a minyan...he'd be maligned among the people he loved and needed to the point that it wouldn't make sense to withhold a get from his wife. It would have just been too painful.
Today that's no longer the case. The husband davens at a different shul. The wife moves to another city. Even if, somehow, the husband's community ostracizes him, he can easily find another community willing to take him in, see his side of the story, and welcome him with open arms.
Yet, the Dodelson story demonstrated that with enough pressure, and a Facebook page, the entire world can become that Shtetl. There's no community to run to which hasn't read about you, and seen your picture; where someone comes up to you during davening to tell you how much they revile what you're doing; where enough people know you, your parents, and your neighbors and friends. They can exert pressure on your parents' company, forcing them to take a leave of absence as you work out your issues.
Welcome to the Shtetl of Facebook.
It's a brave new world.