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Buzz Torah: Torah Medium for a New Age

The new phenomenon of social media seems to be the impulse to bring order to the expansive and miscellaneous masses of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.  And the way social media gurus have gone about this is compiling lists upon lists upon lists and adorning them with catchy titles and clever imaging. The most prominent and well-known leader of this data transformation is BuzzFeed.  Dedicated to entertainment and easily accessible, simplified information, BuzzFeed has revolutionized the way we leisurely acquire information.  Never to be out-maneuvered, Torah is quickly adapting to be transmitted in this new form as well, and several YU students are at the forefront of orchestrating this new addition to Torah proliferation. 

The modified concept was thought up by Tzvi Levitin (YC ’17). When asked why he came up with the idea he said, “I first thought of the idea for BuzzTorah when I was listening to a community rabbi discussing the results of the Pew report from 2013. The results brought to mind the young Jews who simply don’t have access to Torah and Jewish thought and made me wonder how we could make these things accessible, shareable, and interesting. The popular site BuzzFeed does just that—albeit with secular, and often times, more trivial content. But the concept is a great one: make ideas interesting, comprehensive, and informative. Make ideas viral.”

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Essentially, BuzzTorah’s goal is to mimic the style that BuzzFeed uses to disseminate information in interesting and easy to understand ways, while striving to elevate the degree of sophistication the content presents, with Torah oriented themes and topics. For example, instead of lists like “7 Hilarious Skateboard Crashes on Video” and “20 Pictures You Need to Look Twice at to Understand,” BuzzTorah features columns like “7 Rashi’s You Don’t Want to Miss this Week” and “12 Things You Didn’t Know About the 12 Tribes.”

The first—and perhaps most difficult—hurdle BuzzTorah had to leap to get off the ground was collecting content from enthusiastic personnel. After informing the YU student body and inviting them to join this innovative endeavor, the BuzzTorah founders were greeted with an overwhelming response. Over fifty students joined to help build up the website from scratch and use this forum to spread unique pieces of Torah on a broad scale. Now, instead of just learning interesting tidbits and sharing them with those in the immediate vicinity, students can compile them into interesting lists or short articles, accessible to anyone with Internet.

OU-intern-ad_commentator_5x12_may9Perhaps more importantly, BuzzTorah is targeting a unique crowd. Co-founder Yadin Teitz (YC ’16) explained: “I think that Buzz Torah addresses a need that has long been unfilled in the Jewish community. With the advance of the technological age, people have access to all sorts of fun and entertaining content at their fingertips and spend hours perusing the various news and social media sites. BuzzTorah is, first and foremost, geared to attract these types of people: those who would ordinarily shy away from learning Torah during their free time because they think of Torah as boring and unexciting. BuzzTorah is designed to change that and to make Torah content innovative and accessible to all.”

In the same vein, Rebecca Van Bemmelen (SCW ’16) noted the absence of a collection of Torah aimed at this group. She remarked, “I think that’s the niche we’re trying to fill—there are already Jewish websites out there for the unaffiliated and others for the advanced Torah scholar, so we’re trying to combine the two by having serious, informative content presented in a fun and dynamic way.”

However, the founders acknowledge the difficulty in attracting those Internet perusers away from their less-tasteful and less substantial quick information fixes, without jeopardizing the content and quality of the Torah presented. In this regard, BuzzTorah runs the risk of modifying its desired subject matter to a level not befitting the Torah it originally wanted to offer.

“A few people are concerned that BuzzTorah seeks to ‘pop-culturize’ Torah, to dumb it down with hyperbole and distraction. But this is far from the truth. BuzzTorah will feature a great balance of real Torah and Jewish life content that is presented in a novel way that makes ideas more shareable and accessible,” said Tzvi.

When discussing his hopes and goals for the site, Tzvi eagerly stated: “there’s no telling where BuzzTorah will go, but we are looking forward to getting it started and sharing Torah with the community.”