Searching for the Sacred on Tinder

“What does God think of my Tinder profile?” 

That was one I hadn’t heard before. This gem of a question came up during a learning fellowship I led at Emory University Hillel, with the final class entitled: Infrequently Asked Questions. This was indeed an infrequently asked question and I loved it because it created a fantastic opportunity for connection. The group of undergraduate students laughed but then trained their eyes on me intently; they genuinely wanted to know what my rabbinic take would be on Divine opinions concerning dating apps. Throughout our studies together, I had emphasized the amazing ability of our ancient tradition to speak to us in meaningful ways in our modern lives. Even so, searching for the sacred on Tinder seemed to be reaching a bit too far for my 19- and 20-year-old students. But they had yet to realize that Torah is found and expressed across the spectrum of human experience.

In tractate Brachot 62a, we hear how the plucky Rav Kahana, in his enthusiasm to learn all he could, follows his teacher, Rav, home and hides under his bed. There, Kahana waits until Rav and his wife get into bed. They start enjoying each other’s company but are soon interrupted when Rav discovers Kahana’s shocking intrusion, and proceeds to scold his student for this huge transgression of personal boundaries. However, Rav Kahana defends his actions by saying “This, too, is Torah, and I must learn!”

Torah is what is found in our scrolls, in the five Books of Moses. And yes, Torah is also more broadly speaking, found in the Oral Torah, the rabbinic works of Mishnah and Talmud. However, in proclaiming that his teacher’s sexual relationship with his wife is also Torah, Kahana offers an additional, more abstract and compelling definition of Torah. 

I am not advocating for voyeuristic practices. Please do not go hiding under clergy members’ beds! I would however, like to stress the beauty in finding the sacred in all aspects of your lived experience and setting yourself in a mindset that allows you to learn from unlikely sources. 

I was delighted by my students’ question about God and their Tinder profile because we didn’t need to come up with an answer. The conversation that emerged from the question was far more enriching than a quick answer could ever be. A delightful paradox in our age of having instant answers, is that some of the biggest and most profound questions of life simply cannot be Googled, and there is joy in that. One of the most profound characteristics of Jewish learning is to sit with our questions and revel in the process of personal growth fuelled by curiosity. This was exactly what happened in our musing about Tinder. That question held in it anxieties and commentary on the complexities of human relationships in the digital age. The learning we did from the Rav Kahana story, though not providing a direct answer to the question, demonstrated that this ancient tradition of ours has a lot of relevant things to say, even as it is shouted across the centuries. 

Over weeks of study together, we worked to foster a culture of curiosity and support, welcoming questions just like this one. The freedom to question and probe in turn deepened the students’ connection with me as their rabbi, with each other as a cohort, and with this multifaceted tradition we call Judaism. The experience inspired my Hillel students to think differently about their relationship to their Judaism, and indeed to question what constitutes Torah. Moreover, they started to take ownership of their place in the Palace of Torah, because they could see beyond the millennia old texts, which is exactly what the Talmud states should happen, as is stated in Brachot 31b: That Torah speaks to us in human language; it speaks to our shared, lived human experience. Each of us has Torah of our own to wrestle with, learn from and share with the world. 

There is always a lot of panic around Jewish continuity and what will come of the Jewish future. My work has primarily been with an age group that Jewish communal institutions have had a notoriously hard time serving well. Countless thought pieces have been penned on “what do the young people want?” With various outcomes listed as mega-church style, Israeli rock-star led Kabbalat Shabbat services, to free dinners and drinks. These do have appeal, but what I have found is that millennials and Gen Z crave authenticity and a sense of belonging. They want to see themselves in our sacred story. From my time as a Hillel professional, and now as a rabbi serving a large congregation focusing on outreach and engagement of young adults and young families, the greatest blessing of my work is that I have the opportunity to empower and teach others to step up and say not only “This, too, is Torah” but crucially, “this is my Torah too.”

That is a deeply empowering message to receive at any age, but especially for our next generation.

Header image design by Orly Zebak.

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