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Beit Midrash Family and Society Miscellaneous

The Media

It appears that the media's positive aspects are easier to identify than its negative. The media provides a us with greater capacity to mold a cultural milieu. Has any generation merited the dissemination of so much Torah and religious faith as ours?
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Media in the modern age gives rise to many opportunities. Media takes many forms. In itself it is a powerful tool. It is difficult to imagine returning to a state in which there is no media. Perhaps we can say concerning media, that which our sages say regarding the creation of man, "It would have been better had he not been created; but now that he has been created..." - Now that media has been created, all we can do is scrutinize its strengths.

How shall we sift and separate its positive and negative aspects?
At first glance, it appears that the media's positive aspects are more salient and easier to identify than its negative. Has any generation merited the dissemination of so much Torah and religious faith as ours? The tools of explanation, illustration, and visual representation are constantly improving. Things which appeared to be a sealed book only a few years ago and were the prized possession of a few privileged individuals have now become the inheritance of all. Via the media, the Torah has become easily accessible to whoever wishes to study. Is there anything wrong with the fact that it is now possible to unite people who are so far away from one another? In what other manner could the verse "And they shall come who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt" (Isaiah 28:13) be fulfilled if not through media?

The media provides a us with greater capacity to mold a cultural milieu.
Perhaps we can say that it all depends upon the one who is in control of the media. When the media is controlled by positive forces, then it brings positive results. All of the problems stem from the "man" who stands behind the media. The one who holds the microphone in his hand is the one with all the power. He controls the discussion, he runs the show. An average person, with ordinary character traits, is bound to be swept into using media's great power in a negative manner.

Yet, it appears that even when the media is placed in the hands of the "good guys," there is no guarantee that only good will come of it.

With the increase of media, a number of problems arise: (1) externalization, (2) shallowness, (3) a false impression of interrelationship, and (4) effortless profusion.

1. Externalization. Media perceives the world like a performance. It does not show viewers what goes on behind the scenes. This causes those who control the media to give more attention to the outer wrapping than to the actual contents. The viewers only see a final product. Generally, when a person is not involved in or knowledgeable about the process involved in the creation of something, the result is at best unclear - at worst misleading.

2. Shallowness. In the media, things are presented to the public as a whole, with no sort of distinction between the various types of viewers. It is impossible to produce something profound when it is aimed at a mixed audience. Every living individual is talented in his own way and is able to grasp certain areas better than others. Some thrive on an intellectual level, others thrive through emotion, etc.

Often, the media can only sustain itself if the masses tune in. Therefore, the media cannot afford to be elitist or overly selective. It must appeal to the population's lowest common denominator.

3. False impression of interrelationship. The media does not allow personal and direct interaction between people. Generally, media, instead of bringing people together, merely gives a false impression of bonding. Certainly radio does not allow people to truly become acquainted on any sort of a personal level. One person does not become acquainted with his fellow in this manner. Even where some amount of relation is achieved between people via radio, speech which is not accompanied with sight is not speech that bonds. Even in those forms of media which do possess the visual element—the fact that interaction is carried out before the masses, without any privacy, prevents any sort of deep, sensitive, and accurate interrelation from being achieved.

4. Effortless profusion. The media is a virtual "land of opportunity." Unbridled, it inundates us from every direction with an endless stream of information, experiences, etc. The individual who is exposed to this great force stands overwhelmed. A person begins to feel that without being tuned in to the media he does not exist. Becoming accustomed to passively observing others destroys a person's ability to look inward and create his own life.

In the media age, it is difficult for a person to spend a quite moment with himself. The ease with which a person is able to become occupied by media for hours on end causes one to flee from obligation and avoid fulfilling one's true mission in life.

The remedy:
Torah takes two forms: written and oral. The purpose of the Written Torah is to infuse the nation with the general foundations of faith. Yet, without an Oral Torah it is impossible to attach oneself to the Written Torah. The purpose of the Oral Torah is to apply the general foundations of the Oral Torah to each generation and to each individual. The Oral Torah is also meant to allow for a direct connection to the wellsprings of faith. This bond is meant to be more than just a way for the individual to feel himself personally connected to the Torah; it allows a person to reach depths which cannot be expressed in writing, a kind of inner hidden inner world of Torah.

When it comes to the building of our national culture and the dissemination of Torah, the media can only play the role of Written Torah. It does not have the ability to fill roles which are meant to be filled by the Oral Torah. Only if the media itself informs the public that it is not an all-encompassing solution; only if the media takes it upon itself to encourage the public to wean itself from its media obsession; only if the media educates people so that they understand that it will not redeem their inner soul; only if the it recognizes the precedence of the role of the Oral Torah - only then will it not cut off the branch upon which it sits.

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