love humanity, & bring them close 2 #Torah

studying pirkei avot during the omer

During the period of the Omer I have been studying Pirkei Avot. This is a traditional activity for the period, but I have been doing it in a non-traditional manner. I take each Mishnah and break it down into as few words as I can, yet still express a meaningful thought. Then, most of the time, I add a backslash “\\” and some comment as well as the words “#Torah Pirkei Avot #Omer”. You see, I’m tweeting my study. Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia article on “epigram” does not mention anything related to Jewish thought (let alone Pirke Avot), yet, it is easy to see these pithy statements as epigrams. I gather here some thoughts from Hillel and his peer Shammai.

  • Hillel & Shammai received next. \ Finally arrived at most famous of all pairs (they were not a couple!)
  • Hillel: Be as disciples of Aharon; love peace & pursue peace; love humanity, & bring them close to #Torah
  • Hillel: bring all close to Torah… “Tweet #Torah to the top” in “cloud” as it appears above Sinai @ Shavuot.
  • Hillel said: Be disciples of Aaron love peace & pursue it \ שלום רב, לאהבי תורתך Ψ119:165
  • Hillel: Be as Aaron’s disciples; love peace & pursue it; love humanity, & bring them close 2 #Torah. \ Use current tools: Tweet #Torah > Top
  • Hillel: Name made great = name destroyed \\ becomes beyond our control as to how used. Be careful.
  • Hillel: A name made great is a name destroyed \\ Hillel was modest, yet his wisdom is quoted 2000 years
  • Hillel: 1 who increases not, decreases; and he who will not learn/teach? deserves slaughter; \\ UNLINK!
  • Hillel: If your learning doesn’t increase, it decreases; if you don’t learn/teach(?) you are unsustainable!
    [Thank you Yankel!]

  • Hillel: 1 who increases not, decreases \\ easy seen how this means learning; also peace/health/wealth/joy/friends
  • Hillel: one who increases not, decreases; Hillel understood [social] entropy
  • Hillel: bring all close to Torah… “Tweet #Torah to the top” in “cloud” as it appears above Sinai @ Shavuot.
  • Hillel: one who uses “crown of #Torah” the same way as other tools… perishes \ his/her wisdom does not survive.
  • Hillel: one who uses “crown of #Torah” the same way as other tools… perishes \ Torah is a gift. RE-GIFT it.
  • Hillel VERY early “tweet”: If I am not for myself who will be? If I am for myself alone what am I? If not now when?
  • Shammai: Make your #Torah study regular activity. \ compare Hillel: if your learning doesn’t increase, it decreases.
  • Shammai said: and receive everyone with a smile. \ compare Hillel Be as disciples of Aaron love peace & pursue it.

why hillel, here, now?

Because of one of his sayings that is particularly appropriate for this time as we approach the moment of the gift of Torah on Shavuot:

love humanity, & bring them close 2 #Torah

I have been using the current tools I’ve had available to bring people close to Torah. I wrote here on June 8, 2010 about creating “electronic leaflets”. When I was in college I made my own leaflets from “ditto” or “spirit duplicator” machines. I would collect various quotes and write them in my own handwriting onto ditto masters. Ditto masters came in two parts: a white top sheet where you wrote, and a bottom sheet that transferred what would become the ink onto the back of the white sheet. The back sheet came in a variety of colors. I would cut these up and re-assemble them so that when I printed, the colors of the text would vary randomly based on how the re-assembly matched the text. I believed that these made for more interesting leaflets. I also prepared a little card that I posted around the Jewish neighborhoods of Los Angeles, hoping to attract attention to the exciting Jewish life that was developing there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is a small modern reproduction of it:

ohr chadash

I was a student at CSULA on the east side of town. There was no Hillel Foundation on our campus. A number of us would gather at the home of David Montag and his wife Bracha to do a Kabbalat Shabbat. David called his group Ohr Chadash, and even attempted to organize a group that would learn some farming techniques in preparation for making aliyah. This group he called “Zippies” (for (surprise) “Zionist Hippies”).

I have only now, while preparing this learned that David Montag died in 2008.

dancing jews

The main Hillel was actually across town at UCLA. That’s where I and most other active Jewish youth went every Wednesday evening for Israeli Folk dancing… and to meet one another.

Most other Hillel activities were not particularly popular. The adult community was, as usual, concerned about losing the youth. This was approximately the same time as the “Conference for Jewish Action” was held. Someone offered to spend $750,000.00 to purchase a building on the south edge of the UCLA campus for Hillel’s use. However, the director of Hillel at the time (Rabbi Richard N. Levy) believed that the money could be put to much better use if it was given to a number of young activists who would “organize” their peers. Demonstrations were held. Leaflets were distributed (among them one that decried the Jewish community’s “edifice complex”). Students and others organized a “Free Jewish University”. Many meetings were held.

the organizing project

Eventually, the funds designated for the building were turned over to activists. Some worked in the dorms, others had different tasks, and the student produced journal: Davka was first published (the initial editorial board: Aron [Hirt-] Manheimer, Sheryl Baron, Sheila Heiman, Ron House, Mark Hurvitz, Jon[athan] Kellerman, Rabbi Richard Levy, Merilyn [Ariel] Malek, Alain Rogier, Louis Schonfeld). Hillel remained as a “silent partner”.

I never wore any Hillel-oriented lapel button. During those years I wore one or another of these four buttons that I have shared on these pages.

Hillel did produce a variety of buttons in those days and today. Then they were very simple, and one seemed to express the intent of much of the wisdom of Hillel from Pirkei Avot: Be disciples of Aaron love peace & pursue it, though it actually more accurately expresses a thought of Shammai’s: “receive everyone with a smile”.


smiling hillel

smiling hillel

Date: 1970s
Size: 2.3
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: celluloid

A more recent button produced in 2002 suggests a more sophisticated approach.


hillel maximizing jews doing jewish

hillel maximizing jews doing jewish

Date: 2002
Size: 5.39 x 5.39
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: celluloid
the number of
Jews doing Jewish
with other Jews

what button am i wearing now?

This week I wear the older Hillel button as I go about my tasks in the city. But I have in mind the idea of the new button as I encourage my friends and colleagues… in fact anyone to, as I explained last year: “tweet #torah to the top as we gather @ sinai“.

So I have started readying myself as we begin counting the Omer with our congregations and on our Facebook pages. Once again, I have seen some friends, and others I do not know counting the Omer on Twitter. I enjoy seeing this counting and all the different ways we do it. Last year, 2010, I felt momentum build as we neared the moment of Revelation.

Some people wonder why we might do this. Did not Hillel say that among our primary tasks is (Avot 1:12) loving all of humanity, and bringing them (all) close to Torah. אוהב את הברייות ומקרבן לתורה? Remember, the “goal” is to get #Torah trending into the top 10 of Twitter for the day before Shavuot. That’s all. There will likely be other interesting “fallout” related to working to achieve that goal. More people who use Twitter will learn of #Torah and all the people who are involved in it. Some people will find others of interest in the “#Torah Tweeting Community” and find additional people to follow, increasing those bonds of community. You get the idea.

In 5769 we were able to tweet #Torah to the mid-30s among trending topics. I do not know how “high” we reached in 5770. I propose we give it our best again this year.

how to tweet #torah to the top

The “day” of June 7, 2011 is “erev” Erev Shavuot. I suggest that we prepare as many 133 character Torah lessons as we can to “release” on that day. If you have been sharing #Torah Tweets through the year… Torah does not go bad or stale. You should feel free to “recycle” those thoughts.

I plan to begin tweeting at sundown Jerusalem time 7:42 PM on the 6th, which corresponds to June 6, 2011 at 12:42 PM. with some “announcement” tweets, as in: “This is what we are doing, please join us.”

I think this is a great way to encourage awareness of Torah. I’m sure we each have many simple “Torah thoughts” that can be expressed in 133 characters. (Don’t forget to leave room for the final space and #Torah, that’s 7 more characters.) If you think that 133 characters is not enough for a profound thought from Torah, consider that this is only 102 characters (also from “Hillel the Tweeter”):

If I am not for myself, who will be for me. if I am for myself alone, what am I. And if not now, when?

I’m sure that some of us still have Joseph L. Baron’s “A Treasury of Jewish Quotations” which can serve as a little goldmine of tweetable thoughts.

I suggest we each prepare a number of “tweets” in advance. Set up a text file and then simply copy, and paste them into our preferred Twitter tool about once or so an hour (depending on your “capabilities” (schedule, etc.)). For those who use Twitter with your congregations, your congregants, too, can join in… either with their own thoughts, or questions about #Torah, or re-tweeting yours. Let’s get everyone involved in thinking Torah as a lead-in to Shavuot.

If you expect to be busy on June 7, you can use any of a variety of free tools that have been developed that enable you to prepare your tweets in advance:

You can learn about more, similar, tools here (they may, or may not, still be functioning).

If you are active on any listservs you think might be interested in participating, please spread the word.

additional thoughts

We have approached JPS with the idea of “shredding” the Book of Ruth and tweeting that text at regular intervals. The “geek” in charge there seems interested. We’re working on the technical details now.

But, Twitter has limitations on how frequently any one individual (account) can tweet. Therefore, and for general “encouraging broad participation” reasons, it would be good to have as many people tweeting as possible.

  • I don’t know at what age people get their accounts, but, Bar and Bat Mitzvah students could be encouraged to tweet a thought or two about their Torah Portion.
  • Confirmation students could be encouraged to tweet a thought or two about the Ten Commandments (as well as, the Torah portion from their Bar or Bat Mitzvah).
  • Any adult education class could tweet their favorite Psalm, Prophetic thought, Rabbinic maxim.
  • Anyone can tweet a thought about: what it means to be commanded; what “revelation” means in a world of information overload.
  • In 5770 David Levy of Succasunna prepared a tweet for each of the Parshiot. I know that some of us write haiku, others write limericks. These short forms often fit quite well as tweets.
  • If you have sermons that are online, shorten the URL using a service such as and add that short URL to a phrase that describes the sermon’s theme.
  • You get the idea….

Tablet magazine may do a story on the project. I have learned from Lisa Colton (@DarimOnline) that on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, Billy Crystal said “Jews should tweet.” Does anyone know how to get in touch with either one of them to encourage them to join the project and/or spread the word?

You can watch it here at minute 13:40 or read the transcript.

On Wednesday, April 20, I invited 318 (haMeivin Yavin) of my Jewish and non-Jewish Facebook “friends” to join us. As of this posting (Apr 26, 2011 @ 20:36) there are 25 participants, 13 suggesting that they might participate, 32 indicating that they will not participate, and an additional 381 people who have not yet replied. That means that friends are inviting friends. If you are not one of my Facebook friends, please feel free to spread the invitation.

your lapel buttons

Many people have lapel buttons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jacket you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any laying around that you do not feel emotionally attached to, please let me know. I preserve these for the Jewish people. At some point they will all go to an appropriate museum. You can see all the buttons shared to date.

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