The titular question arises now because of a CNN video clip in which an interviewer asks whether teachers should Friend students on Facebook.
The teacher interviewed gives a definite No – teachers should not be friends with their students, not off-line and not on-line. From the sound of her words, friending a student would be the equivalent of inviting him/her over for pizza, a decided no-no in today’s age of impropriety and abuse.
So what about a shul rabbi? Facebook frequently suggests teens and pre-teens from my former communities as potential Facebook Friends. Do I offer to friend them? Is it, perhaps, less appropriate now that I no longer live there?
I see arguments on both sides:
• It’s the digital equivalent of going over to say Hello at kiddush – nothing intrusive or over the line, just a way to be friendly. Communities gain when kids feel like they have an open line of communication with the rabbi. Like it or not, the rabbi represents Judaism, and even Gd, for many children, and his availability and willingness to answer questions can have a tremendous positive effect.
• Even if kids will never use this avenue to connect with the rabbi, Facebook use – or use of its eventual successors – demonstrates that the rabbi isn’t some stodgy, regressive, cave-dweller.
• It’s creepy to be friended by your rabbi, particularly for kids who use Facebook as a real form of friendship, a club for socializing, and not just a utility for hunting up email addresses, as I usually do. (My other main use is ignoring suggestions I “like” or “fan” various causes. Sorry.)
• Being friended by your rabbi may be even worse than being friended by your grandmother – truly a sign that Facebook is about to become the next Friendster. It doesn’t mean your rabbi is hip; it just means that Facebook is yesterday’s news.
• What if it just seems like a pathetic attempt to be 'hip'? It could come off as patronizing rather than friendly.
So what do you think? Should the Rabbi be friending the children in his congregation? Or better to find other ways to connect?