Monday, December 8, 2008

The Rabbi's Face[book]

I joined Facebook the other day, more or less because everyone else was on it and I wasn't. It was embarrassing; I had one of the first Torah websites with Webshas( back in 1995, and here I was, behind the times. So I decided to catch up.

Facebook immediately offered to email close to 300 email contacts of mine and offer them the unique opportunity to be my friend. I whittled down the list to about one-third of that, by removing those for recipients whom the request would be embarrassing as well as those for whom I would be embarrassed to make the request, and then let the requests fly. Less then 36 hours later, I am the proud friend of about 50 people, and feeling pretty good about that.

I don’t really plan to use Facebook much, but I did notice that a lot of people post a picture of themselves on their page. It becomes an icon for them, much like the pictures people post on Blogger.

I don’t know what to do with that. I'd like to think I was above vanity, but even if I were - rabbis get judged for their appearances all the time, and I'm a rabbi, so I need to weigh that issue.

Don't think rabbinic appearances matter? First, the gemara says they do; a talmid chacham who has dirty clothing is "liable for his life." And second, my own experience bears that out. It's hard for me to listen to someone who doesn't take his appearance seriously. And I know congregants (of other synagogues, of course!) who are critical of their rabbi's appearance.

So what do I put on Facebook?

I’d like to leave it blank, but that’s so… fuddy-duddy. Ditto for having a formal picture; way too pretentious. No frowning, for sure. But then, funny rabbinic pictures also feel fake to me. Who do you think you are, rabbi? Everyone knows you’re a rabbi, and rabbis are no fun at all.

And, unfortunately, a cartoon doodle is a copout.

Should I go bearded, since as a rabbi I feel pretty much confined to bearddom?
Or how about a beardless picture from a Purim-past?
Or maybe I could use one from last Purim, when I dressed up as a member of our local AAA baseball team, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (I kid you not – but I was fully under hashgachah, as you can see below)?

And then there’s the competition between my vanity and my vitiligo. I was diagnosed with vitiligo a few years back (yes, me and Michael Jackson), and now have a partially-white eyebrow, and an inconvenient white spot on my moustache. (If I had a nickel for every time someone “discreetly” hinted that I need a tissue…) So do I go with a pre- or post-vitiligo picture?

It really shouldn’t be this difficult. I turn to the democratic process: Here are some pictures. Let me know, by comment or email, which one I should use. Or, am I better off leaving it blank…


  1. #1. Definitely #1. (with that nifty sombrero)

  2. I vote for the happy dad picture.

  3. I would recommend going with whichever one you feel the best about. It's your image, after all...

    (Yet another reason I'm not on facebook....)

  4. i would choose either of the two last ones, or whichever one looks the most like you do at the moment.

    Don't think rabbinic appearances matter? First, the gemara says they do; a talmid chacham who has dirty clothing is "liable for his life."

    I was worried about that, so before my first rabbinating experience i went out and for the first time had my tallis dry-cleaned because my father ע"ה had left a few stains on it, which didn't bother me otherwise.

    Also, think about what kind of tone you want your facebook profile to have — professional? friendly? being a rabbi, you can't really ignore your rabbi-ness (because other people won't let you), but you can have a personal-style profile if you want.

  5. Thanks for the votes (and to those who emailed as well)!

    I'm not ready to dissect my Facebook profile to that extent (even if I should do that...).

    I'm likely to go with the "happy dad" one... but I'll have to set aside the 15 minutes to altering the file so that it's upright. Wouldn't want people to think I'm lying down on the job.

    Actually, that picture does come with an interesting story about lying down on the job. I'll have to blog it at some point.

  6. don't worry, rav -- facebook lets you rotate pictures as part of the uploading process!

  7. Well, you could choose a holy picture like a sefer Torah, luchot, holiday symbols. . .

  8. Okay, the voters here and on Facebook (and the 2 timid emailers) have spoken... Happy Dad it is! Thanks for your votes.