Crowd Sourcing The Sermon


Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, the Los Angeles-born spiritual leader of an Upper West Side synagogue who is returning to his hometown later this year, says his decision to have the major components of one of his farewell sermons contributed via Facebook and other web-based technologies isn’t an enigma.

But his reason is an Enigma.

That’s the Germany-based band that invited fans to contribute to its “Social Song,” a single that marked its 20th anniversary in 2010. Rabbi Einhorn read about the innovative musical project — fans voted on vocals, instrumentation and cover art — last year, and decided to try something similar at the West Side Institutional Synagogue, where he has served for six years.

For his “Social Sermon,” which he will deliver on a Shabbat shortly after he leaves the congregation in June to start a job at a L.A. day school, the rabbi is asking members of WSIS, and of his wider online congregation, to send in stories, jokes and themes ( that he will meld into his parting remarks from the pulpit. An online vote in the coming months will choose the contents; he’ll determine the sermon’s final “trajectory.”

As far as he knows, “this has never been done before,” Rabbi Einhorn says — at least not in New York City.

Darim Online (, a Covenant Foundation grantee organization that promotes the use of new technology in the Jewish community, has independently promoted a similar “social sermon” idea (, and the New Jersey Jewish News recently reported on such a sermon delivered by Rabbi David Levy at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, N.J. Rabbi Levy used community comments “like a primary text,” he told the Jewish News.

Rabbi Einhorn, 32, a Yeshiva University ordainee who serves as director of the Orthodox Union’s WINGS consulting program for synagogues, says his social sermon grew out of his congregation’s “social element.” Members of the shul, mostly young, Modern Orthodox couples, frequently offer him sermon critiques and suggestions during classes or kiddush discussions; his “composite sermon” formally incorporates social media, which his synagogue already uses in a traditional sense, as a community bulletin board.

So far, he says, hundreds of suggestions have come in. “I haven’t read them all yet.”

After he gives his social sermon, the rabbi will tape it before a live OU audience, to be posted on the OU website.

“It’s more than a gimmick,” Rabbi Einhorn says, adding that the online give-and-take has already “created a dialogue, a sophisticated Torah discussion.”

He’ll be happy, he says, if his finished product matches Enigma’s “Social Song,” which was released in late 2010. Rabbi Einhorn has listened to it on YouTube. “It’s amazing,” he says.