Blogging About Judaism: Promotional vs. Personal

It’s hard to find a stock photo of a Jewish blog, so let’s pretend that this book image represents a blog. Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

My (Potentially Unpopular) Opinion on Blogging:

I think that, regardless of blog topic or blog format, all blog posts can be categorized into two styles based on their motivation and content (note: I am not factoring in readership or views when thinking about these styles – that’s a totally different conversation!):

1) Promotional

I mean “promotional” in the most literal, dictionary definition sense of “do you have a message you want to promote?” and not in the context of advertising, marketing, or trying to earn money (although posts in this category can certainly do this as well). I also do not want to suggest that “promotional” posts are not genuine. In this context, I would say that promotional blog posts are those that:

  • Have a message that the author wants to share externally. (eg. This is not a post that the author could have written in their private diary)
  • Because the author wants to share this message, the post tends to have some “polish”.

I’d compare this to public speaking – the most heartfelt, sincere, genuine speaker is going to make a point of revising and editing, practicing, and putting on more professional attire/ hygiene/ grooming/ makeup etc. (vs. brain dump whilst looking disheveled) to look more presentable to an external audience so the message comes across better.

These posts are the public speaking of blogging. These posts have a message to share. Photo by Igreja Dimensão: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-talking-on-the-microphone-while-on-stage-10401268/

2) Personal

This is the type of post that’s written for self-expression and not with a message to promote or an audience in mind. Of course, one can argue that by definition, anything written on a public blog has an audience in mind, and I think that is a fair point. But I’d categorize the personal posts as the ones where personal self-expression is the primary motivator vs. the external audience. These are the posts that arguably could have been written in a private diary. These are the posts that might have less “polish” because sharing a message with an external audience isn’t the primary goal. These are the blog posts that feel less like public speaking, and more like casual conversation, or even just venting.

These posts are the casual conversation, maybe even the therapy sessions, of blogging – intimacy, sweats, and all. Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-women-talking-to-each-other-4051134/

As with all things, I think that there’s a spectrum vs. two distinct categories, and that some posts with have elements of both styles, etc. But I do think it’s important to recognize promotional and personal as distinct motivations for blogging.

Promotional vs. Personal in Judaism/Religion Blogging

I actually believe that the promotional vs. personal classification applies to all kinds of blogging (for example, and I’m sure many people will disagree with me, I believe that this lens applies to mental health, poetry, art blogging – really any other kind of blogging as well), but my focus today is on Judaism/Religion blogging. Judaism/Religion blogging is also where I think the difference between promotional blogging and personal blogging is particularly pronounced.

Most Jewish/Religious Blogs Are Promotional

Based purely on anecdotal evidence, I think that most Jewish and religious blogs generally have a promotional motivation. They want to promote spirituality, inspiration, and faith. They’re written by a rabbi, scholar, or believer who wants to share a teaching so the reader learns something about the faith. They have an outlook on the world/life that they want to share. All of this to me, is promotional.

My Jewish Blogging Is Personal

To the extent that I blog about Judaism (and I fully admit in my updated About/FAQ Page that this blog has not lived up to its stated goal in this regard), with the exception of maybe a handful of posts, my blogging about Judaism is personal. Yes, I use headings, punctuation, images, and humor for readability and yes, I obviously posted publicly on the internet. But there is no great message when I write that I believe in G-d, and more often the case, when I struggle with the nature of G-d or with having faith that keeping the commandments is worth it. There’s no message I’m trying to promote when I write that I hate lighting the menorah in my living space, that I hate Shabbat dinner or that I dislike the spiritual “shoulds” of Rosh Hashanah (Side note: Boy, I dislike a lot of things!) I’m not trying to promote a message that Shabbat dinner is awful and you should hate it too. I’m not trying to promote a message that you should give up spiritual introspection for Rosh Hashanah (or that you take up Rosh Hashanah conversations about strip clubs and anal sex instead) – I’m just reflecting about what hasn’t worked for me.

Interestingly, when I started this blog, I hoped to write more posts in this style that are more promotional of a particular viewpoint or opinion. But as stated previously, I haven’t managed to live up to my own goal yet.

Why Am I Telling You This?

Recently, a promotional Jewish blogger linked to one of my personal Jewish reflection posts. This blogger was quite critical of me, which is fine. No one has to like me or agree with me.

However, what I found odd was that this blogger appeared to have interpreted my personal reflectional post as a promotional statement about Judaism.

It felt a bit like this blogger wanted to debate/blast/argue against me, when really, I was just writing a little reflection and not presenting a real point of view. Photo by Mikhail Nilov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-shouts-on-man-using-megaphone-8847005/

I’m not going to link to this post/blogger because this blogger has a history of leaving spammy comments. But it got me thinking about the role of personal blogging vs. promotional.

The Role of Promotional Jewish Blogging

The role of promotional Jewish blogging is obvious. People want to learn. People want to know what is going on in the world and they want to know what key opinion leaders think. People want to be inspired.

And people want to write this content. People have clear messages that they want to promote, and people are generally receptive to reading/listening to this type of content (obviously, there’s a lot of variation and certain content is going to resonate more with certain audiences, but that’s true of everything). There’s a reason that sites like Aish, Chabad, the Times of Israel blogs, etc. are going to get so much more traffic relative to dinky little anonymous personal Jewish blogs like my own.

Not to mention that in the world of social media associations, there’s a limit to how much a promotional Jewish Blogger/Writer/Rabbi/Opinion Leader can even associate with a personal Jewish Blogger like myself. I follow and comment (positive, friendly, complimentary comments) on some blogs written by congregational rabbis and people with a clear spiritual bent. I cannot and do not expect that these rabbis can follow and engage with my profanity-laden posts sharing TMI about my flawed marriage and frustration with Shabbat. Rabbis of all denominations want their congregants to experience the beauty and joy of Shabbat – how can a rabbi meaningfully engage with me and my blog when I say outright that I quit keeping Shabbat because the experience of keeping it sucked? At a certain point, if your professional and spiritual work is to present Judaism in a positive way, there’s a limit to how much you can engage with people who aren’t presenting it in that way. And I wouldn’t even describe myself as a hater nor my blog as anti-religious, and I still appreciate that my blog goes far beyond what a community representative can be associated with.

Personal Blogging to Promotional Blogging

Sometimes, personal blogging becomes promotional. Personal blogging can act as that first step for processing thoughts and emotions before polishing them into something with a clear and coherent message to share. In my case, maybe one day all the personal venting about looking for a Jewish community could become a polished promotional piece about how Jewish communities could improve.

Or not. Sometimes personal blogging just stays personal, with no greater message to share.

Sometimes personal blogging never becomes anything more than the equivalent of writing in a diary .Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

The Role of Personal Jewish Blogging

Even then, I think that personal Jewish blogging is important for exploring and sharing the lived experience of Jewish life. There is a lot of content out there about the beauty of Shabbat (notice how all the writers have the functional marriages, families, and time management skills to make Shabbat work and make it worthwhile); there is very little about the times when Shabbat just sucks, and to be honest, sometimes Shabbat really is a really sucky experience, say if you’re sick, alone, in a shitty home/relationship/family situation, or when my grandmother was dying. There’s a lot out there about what Jewish life should look like, and what the experience of living a Jewish life should be. But does that capture the true range of good, bad, weird and bizarre that people are really living? The full spectrum of human belief and experience?

In my opinion (which may be unpopular), there will always be that space between what the religion says and what people actually think, do, and experience. I don’t think it’s hypocrisy; I think it’s simply the nature of humanity. And I think personal blogging is a great place to explore that gap.

TL;DR, aka “The Promotional Part of This Post”

This blog really doesn’t have an agenda. I’m not here to educate or promote a particular message about Judaism. That’s not to say that I don’t have strong opinions on it (Oh, I absolutely do.) But this is probably never going to be a blog that will promote, persuade, inspire, change, or do anything with respect to public opinion on Judaism.

This is not the blog that is going to change the world. Quite honestly, I’m ok with that. Photo by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

I have no broader message. I’m not representing anyone. I’m one Jew writing (sometimes well, sometimes badly) about my own thoughts and life. That’s it. The end.

43 comments

  1. It’s almost incomprehensible that in the age of “easy and readily available” communication it’s becoming more and more difficult to communicate. When it comes to religion, so many people have trouble distinguishing between personal ideas that only concern the person and promoting a religion either as information or proselytizing (Christian blogs are usually proselytizing, Jewish blogs seem to be more information oriented, but I could be wrong as I don’t generally read religious blogs of any type). Communication seems to break down when you (as in one) are being sarcastic, satirical, and paradoxical, and people take you seriously. But it’s amazing the amount of misinterpretation of sound, and logical written expressions happens these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a huge part of it is that attention spans are challenged. No one has the time to read all the context. If you don’t have the time to really get to know a blogger, and you’re not familiar with their background or style, it’s really easy to make assumptions. Sometimes I’m good about linking back to my previous posts for background, but not always, and honestly, lots of people don’t read the background links anyway. Like I once had a blogger think I was a man. Anyone who has read my blog for some time will know that I’m a woman, but it’s not necessarily obvious if you quickly skim a random post. And yeah, humor, sarcasm, and snark can easily be misinterpreted. So I can’t entirely blame someone for misreading a personal reflection as promotional, especially as I’d argue that this is something of a spectrum. But at the same time, I’d think that if you want to write a promotional post, you’d pay pretty close attention to whom you’re linking.

      I think a key difference between Christian and Jewish blogs is that the Jewish blogs that are more proselytizing in nature (and they definitely exist) are proselytizing to a Jewish audience vs. to a general audience. Also, they will tend to do so with more text sources vs. a “you’re going to hell” messaging, so it might feel more scholarly and informative vs. a “just accept Jesus” equivalent (And I haven’t read enough religious Christian blogs – maybe they are heavy on text sources too). But I think there are a good number of religious bloggers, Christian and Jewish alike, that have a mission of sorts, in a way that a personal blog doesn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy your blogs. I’ve always applauded those who sought about promoting change at any level even if I was polar to their ideas from time to tome. After all- if I’m not secure in mine, maybe I ought to listen and risk learning something, even if it is from just one Jewish blogger proffering their personal opinion. 😉 Be blessed my blogger friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to respect the people who want to change opinions or change the world. Once upon a time, I had a short-lived stint as a political blogger (it was short-lived because I was bad at it), and I know how hard it is to promote ideas/opinions/change. Not only to put yourself out there, but also to do it well. I don’t have that same motivation anymore, for a lot of reasons, but I can’t denigrate those who do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your blog and I like the fact that you do not have an agenda. And all the more so because I could never guess what you’re going to say. Otherwise, why bother, I suppose. Over the years I’ve become more and more secular, inside and out, but I find it rewarding to understand other peoples’ interpretation of what is sacred. That aspect of human nature that is so visible in “religion” is something I hope never gets lost as our culture abandons traditional beliefs.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Appreciate the feedback. One thing I’ve thought about is that religion and secularity often get pitted as opposites, but I’ve often felt that there’s a human nature commonality illuminated by both of them. I also think that “religious” and “secular” are not nearly so black and white as we often imagine them to be. I could (probably should) write a whole post on this alone. That post would be more “promotional” I suspect. Weirdly, I wrote this post declaring that I have no agenda, and then realized all these other more opinionated things that I’d like to write at some point. I guess we’re all human. But I do hope never to make “promotion” take precedent over connection with fellow bloggers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would never take your posts as promotional and I’m surprised someone linked to you just to criticize your observance (or non-ob). Well… I should not be surprised, since people are so irritating. I simply enjoy your writing, plus I know we all experience Judaism differently. I am much more interested in Jewish personal blogs than I am in other religions, since my daughter is Orthodox. I never thought you were advocating for or against anything in particular. In my blogging, I’m trying to perfect my ability to express myself… and I have a long way to go…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I found it a really odd read as well, but look, no one has much of an attention span anymore, and it takes time and context to really get to know another blogger – the person leaving spammy comments who linked to me has never attempted to read or engage with my posts in any meaningful way.

      I also find I’m more attracted to the Jewish personal blogs. Like I already know all the inspirational stuff, I know enough of the text-based learning, I know enough background on Judaism that I’m generally not seeking knowledge or inspiration. I just enjoy reading about everyday people, you know?

      It’s not easy to figure out how to express oneself well. I have so many unfinished blog posts in the drafts folder right now…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I have always liked your blog for it is(the way I perceive ) a woman of Jewish faith discussing her take life. I love talking and reading about the religions of others and people very different from me. My husband was rolling his eyes as we had two visits today from LDS and the Witnesses stopped by. I set up Lavender mint lemonade and visited with them on the porch.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think your comments are applicable to most life experiences. The one that springs to mind for me (sorry) is mothering. You have your own ideal or the perceived ideal but there is much that is not what you expect or harder than you thought or at times just plain old shitty. You can accept that times are shitty without hating being a mother. Same with jobs. Same with marriage. Or travelling. Or holidays with people you love.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you’re right about parenting (and I appreciate the sensitivity, but you don’t need to apologize). There are the “mommy blogs” that are promoting a particular parenting philosophy or viewpoint, and those that are just vents about the frustrations generally. And even for something that you overall love and find worthwhile, there are definitely frustrations. You make a good point.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. First, I think I know which Jewish blogger you are writing about. He’s been leaving incoherent spammy essay comments on my blog for years, and recently described me in one of his posts as an “assimilated Jew” (I only know because he linked back to my blog). He probably has some serious issues of his own and is really not worth worrying about.

    As another personal blogger, I think it’s sad that congregational rabbis (etc.) can’t associate with people with issues or struggles in Judaism. If they can’t associate with them, how much point is there in associating with other people, if it’s just going to be preaching to the converted? But I think your observation is true. (Plus congregational rabbis are generally too busy to follow lots of blogs.)

    I enjoy your blog, even though our experiences of and struggles with Judaism are not the same, but I’ve been told my approach to Judaism and the wider Jewish community is not the normal Orthodox approach.🤷‍♂️

    Unrelated, but I’m curious: you often prefix your opinions, here and in comments on my blog, by saying they may be unpopular, and I’m curious as to why you do this. (I can suggest reasons, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • I wasn’t surprised about receiving the critique of “assimilated Jew” myself (weirdly, I think the linked post in question was arguably an example of maintaining Jewish identity vs. assimilation, but I digress) but I wouldn’t have expected you to get labeled as assimilated! I suppose I’m in good company. Sounds like we are talking about the same person. I even made Husband (the smart half of this marriage) read one of the spam essay comments to see if there was a point that I didn’t have the text background to appreciate, and Husband’s assessment was the same as yours.

      Yeah, I don’t really expect the congregational rabbis to spend much time here (and I get that this blog has too much personal crap for a rabbi to even find a relevant post to comment on) but I would love for a rabbi to weigh in on some of the Jewish community post-COVID posts, if only to have a discussion about challenges.

      Good observation. I suppose I preface my opinions as unpopular because it’s self-deprecating, but also oddly self-promotional in a clickbait sort of way (wouldn’t you be more intrigued to read an “unpopular opinion” than an “opinion”?). The more I think about it, it is kind of a shitty habit. I actually can’t stand when people do the whole self-promotional self-deprecation thing in real-life conversation (and I’ve tried to call myself out on it on my own blog with mixed results).

      Side note: after I hit publish on this whole long post about how I’m a personal blogger not promoting opinions, blah blah blah, I almost instantly felt inspired to write more opinion (I’ll refrain from labeling as “unpopular” although I really want to) posts.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I enjoy your blog. I am a quarter Jewish I recently found out and it was a revelation. Can one feel Jewish without knowing. Or did I always suspect it. I am a practising Roman Catholic but open to a lot of ideas and information I enjoy your blog though sometimes it makes me sad when I think you are struggling with yourself. But you write amusingly and intelligently and have a great consistent style. So stop the self deprecation and enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

        • Your blog feels personal to me. Some posts feel like they want to educate or inspire, so that is arguably promotional (and I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with promotional – it’s just another motivation and style for blogging), but overall, your blog posts reads as personal to me.

          But it’s a spectrum and I made up these distinctions myself, so all of this is subject to interpretation and re-invention! Also, ironically, after I wrote this whole long post about how my blog has no agenda, blah blah blah, I almost instantly felt inspired to write more opinionated posts, and I’d argue that opinion posts are more promotional. Go figure.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I think it’s exactly because I know it’s your interpretation that I was so interested in getting your thoughts on it. There’s how I think I’m coming across, then there’s how it actually comes across to others.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, I often feel this with poetry. I write something I think reads one way and then the readers read something else. Feedback is fascinating.

            Even this other blogger who inadvertently inspired this post – I thought it was so obvious that my blog post was a personal reflection, but maybe this person read it as a promotional statement of an idea that they disagreed with

            Liked by 2 people

  9. I appreciate your honesty; and, I agree that “the full spectrum of human belief and experience” should be represented. Otherwise, “the ideal” is placed upon a pedestal, disconnected from “the real.” Shalom.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. People get really triggered when they don’t agree with something. They take something that is merely a personal exploration and turn it into the blogger proselytizing. One time I merely mentioned being Catholic for a quick background on something, there wasn’t any personal or promotional aspect to it, and a commenter went on a tirade about the Catholic position on a certain hot-button issue that had absolutely nothing to do with my post. It was so out of left field. I think people hear what they want to hear so they can get up on their soapbox and attack. It sounds like this other blogger is like that.

    Liked by 2 people

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