A GENIZAH FOR THE MODERN AGE

Power lines crushed by the weight of four days of freezing rain in Boucherville near Montreal, Robert LaBerge, via BBC Archives, 1998.

A genizah, in Jewish tradition, is the storage area for religious texts that need to be disposed of. Any text that contains the name of god cannot simply be thrown away; it must be given a cemetery burial, and until enough texts are amassed they stay in the genizah as a sort of fermenting, holy hothouse. This is why you see the word “God” written as “G-d” in certain Jewish circles; it’s a loophole that allows the paper to be disposed of normally.

However, I recently noticed that a friend of mine, an Orthodox Jew, writes “God” with all three of its letters present in his Facebook posts. It got me wondering whether the Talmudic decree that requires genizot in real life also governs the internet. A quick review of modern rabbinic debate shows that is a general consensus is no, the rule does not apply to anything typed on a computer or read onscreen.

Yet the internet is by no means undying; it is a digital ship of Theseus in which websites, profiles and their physical infrastructure (fiber optic cables, server farms, etc.) are cyclicly decommissioned or replaced. Imagine, then, a genizah burial for the internet; a server where the name of god has been inscribed lowered into the ground, the mourners’ kaddish recited. How far would this need to extend? Are the power lines that facilitate the computer’s function also complicit in divinity? Is the noncorporeal wifi that ferries the name of god to your screen, or just the routers? Perhaps what we wind up with is a concept similar to the Kabbalistic divine shard: everything has a piece of the holy in it.