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A Case Study on the Open Siddur Project by Gabrielle Girau Pieck (University of Basel, 2014)

1 comment to A Case Study on the Open Siddur Project by Gabrielle Girau Pieck (University of Basel, 2014)

  • [The following is copied from a private email dated September 14, 2014]:

    I finished reading your thesis over Shabbat. My initial reaction was a certain amount of relief. Your critique in these five case studies was sharp and insightful. Of the five initiatives in this rogues gallery, I think our project came across as fairly coherent and interesting!

    I’ve been somewhat familiar with the other four projects, the exception being Jewrotica. It was interesting seeing the Open Siddur Project written about in a context that included these other initiatives. I think you’re correct that the radical nature of all of these projects is in how they engage structures of communal authority, each in their own way.

    For this reason I deeply appreciated the effort you made in reading through so much of what I’ve written, since I feel that in explaining the project I often don’t discuss this aspect directly, although it is dear to my heart. Through your readings you were able to pick out some choice quotes that correctly express my concerns. You had a knack for seeing some of the major ideas hidden within some complex and technical language.

    For example, in the section concerning how copyrighted work is shared and adaptable through Creative Commons attribution (CC BY) and attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) licensing I had written, “The Open Siddur project regulated the modification of works….Within the Open Siddur web application we are developing, your work will only be editable by individuals or groups you have permitted” (82-3).

    When I read this, I took a deep breath. From our perspective, the Open Siddur Project absolutely does not regulate the modification of works. The adoption by a composer of a work of one of the three Open Content licenses (CC0, CC BY, CC BY-SA) is what permits the Open Siddur to make available these works in the first place.

    But from what you wrote, I could easily see how what I had written (in our FAQ) had led to the misunderstanding. What I should have written is that in the open source web application we’re developing authors will be able to regulate how works are shared on the basis of an author’s privacy settings. (This has been a matter of quite a bit of conversation between my partner Efraim and myself: will the default setting for users composing or editing texts be private or shared public.)

    Regardless, your major point concerning de-authorizing practices I believe is ultimately correct! The main thing is that whatever freedom is granted to the individual (on the basis that their personal integrity must be respected), this freedom is only permitted to the extent that attribution to the creativity of all works in the database of liturgy and liturgy-related works is maintained. Attribution (yikhus) is the only claim to authority and authenticity that the Open Siddur Project makes. It’s also the single aspect that distinguishes our project from so many other online Torah databases.

    My answer to the problem posed by authority and authenticity is to begin with an archive containing authoritative digital editions of creative and historical works now in the Public Domain, and to preserve the authority of any archived work through a highly technological intervention — the encoding of all texts with XML including metadata indicating provenance, credit, and attribution back to some initial document witness.

    Several insights of yours took me by surprise.

    1) You write, “To stay competitive in this fierce environment of clashing meaning making structures, the Open Siddur Project offers to conjoin creativity with religiosity anew” (top of page 77). I think this assumes that the Open Siddur Project existence was in some way motivated by outside forces and in competition in a fierce environment of meaning making structures. Rather, the project has always been very inward looking. On the whole, I felt (and still feel) that there is a dearth of educational technologies that support meaning making and which can bridge the individual and the communal, the novice and the expert.

    2) A second surprise was the use of Isaac Goldstein’s acrostic memorial prayer for Abraham Lincoln as an example of the prayer of an amateur (p.78-9). You write, “within the Open Siddur Project, Jewish theology and liturgy are not localized in a building or denomination or even a time period.” I’m not certain what you mean by localized here — I’ve attempted to tag works that are self-conscious expressions of particular denominations. The project embraces pluralism — it would never seek to erase local differences. The diversity of expression in devotional literature and praxis is something I want to celebrate through this project. (Just a quick digression: Goldstein’s prayer is a good example of liturgy shared outside of a time period, but I can think of better examples of prayer authored by novices — and some of these have met with objections by people who only see liturgy as being the provenance of experts and scholars. Take for example, the recent “Kavanot for Washing Ones Body Before Shabbat” — @opensiddur received a couple of apoplectic tweets condemning this as nonsense. Their assumption was that a “kavvanah” was only to be narrowly defined as a theurgical formula composed by a kabbalist, and not taken literally as a kavvanah, or a prayer setting forth an “intention” for a ritual practitioner.)

    A few details I wanted to correct:

    The name of the project is the Open Siddur Project (capitalized). I am the founder of the project (see this post from 2002 ).

    Efraim Feinstein is my long time partner in the project — he directs the development of the web application we’re developing.

    I’m not sure you’ve seen it, but I’ve also written this article on wikipedia on Open Source Judaism. I hope this article will provide some valuable context to this movement which I see our project as an expression of.

    Finally, just a few comments on some matters that struck me while reading the rest of the thesis:

    In reading through the case study of Punk Torah, I noticed that you began to call Patrick Aleph, Rabbi Aleph. Since the authority of the rabbi in post-rabbinic expressions of Judaism online is a major concern of your thesis, I was surprised that the authority of his ordination was never described. (Perhaps I missed this?) I believe he sought his ordination through RSI, same as Steven Blane. Please correct me on this detail though, if I’m mistaken.

    Also, I was very interested to learn of this example setting the use of bred mules as a precedent for Israelites using technology they were forbidden themselves from owning or innovating with (page 45). I want to think more on this. I had a very difficult time following this metaphor for how it relates to Punk Torah. The metaphor feels like it could be very useful though. In general, I’m interested in how Jewish culture engages technology — for example, it’s very profound to me that I haven’t found any resistance to the introduction of the public clock in halakhic discourse during the Renaissance — it’s almost as if there are certain technologies that halakhic concerns have made desirable and this orientation seems to me a technocratic expression in rabbinic Judaism. Very interesting, and I’ve yet to see anyone pull together any of the threads in a comprehensive thesis.

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