BP tefillin story goes viral and starts an international debate

Graph by Google Analytics

Graph by Google Analytics

By Eric Bazak, Features Editor

In a school where everyone knows everyone and the student population is about 165, it’s hard to imagine that there were more than 20,000 visits to the Boiling Point website in a period of four days.

But that was the power of social media when, between Jan. 19 and 22, Jewish newspapers all over the world cited www.shalhevetboilingpoint.com as the source for the tradition-shattering news that two girls at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York, had been allowed to wear tefillin at Shacharit in an all-girls tefilah group.

Websites of Haaretz, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, the Forward, the Jewish Press, the Jewish Star matzav.com and failedmessiah.com were just a few of the sources that cited The Boiling Point’s story.

Most put it this way, quoting the Boiling Point’s reference to SAR Head of School Rabbi Tully Harcsztark:

“’I have given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefilah,’ Rabbi Harcsztark wrote on December 8, in an email to the school’s faculty, obtained by The Boiling Point, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.”

A more typical number of hits for the BP website before the SAR story was about 100 per day — less on Saturdays, more on Sundays, and more when important stories are first posted, according to Google Analytics.

The original article was written by current Torah editor Noah Rothman, who had covered the tefillin issue starting when Rabbi Segal first raised it during a Town Hall in October.

Later, someone familiar with that coverage sent Noah Rabbi Harcztark’s letter to the SAR faculty. The Boiling Point’s story was published Jan. 16, and posted on Facebook Jan. 19.

That started an avalanche of “likes” and “shares,” and above all, click-throughs to The Boiling Point’s web page. At the bottom of the story as of March 6 are 5,065 “likes.”

SAR’s newspaper, The Buzz, published a story revealing the news before Noah’s story was online, but did not have a Facebook page.  In a letter to parents published Jan. 26 in The Jewish Star, Rabbi Harcsztark himself credited The Boiling Point’s publicity.

“The issue of women and tefillin resurfaced this week in light of The Boiling Point article recently published at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles and circulated on Facebook,” SAR’s head of school wrote. “It has since become an international topic of discussion.”

The Boiling Point’s story was the main reference for other publications because Rabbi Harcsztark did not speak with the media at first, so the only way other websites could quote him was by quoting his letter in The Boiling Point.

When Noah checked his Facebook, he said that he saw dozens of notifications and messages regarding the story.

According to faculty advisor Mrs. Joelle Keene, The Boiling Point website’s average number of daily hits is now approximately 110, up from the 95 it collected prior to this story.

“When something big happens, like 24,000 people reading our story, it’s not just one thing that made it happen, it is a combination of many things,” said Mrs. Keene. “It was obviously a topic waiting to explode and we just were the ones to get it up, and it is thrilling to think that we played even a small part in the explosion of such an important discussion.”

“When I truly understood how big it had became I was kind of awed,” Mrs. Keene said. “I don’t think it is an achievement of the Boiling Point as much as it has been achieved by Rabbi Segal, for opening the question in a public way, and Rabbi Harcsztark.”

After learning that the number of hits had risen so high, BP Web Editor-in-Chief Nicole Feder bought the staff ice cream to celebrate having made a mark on history.

“I think it was a great accomplishment for The BP to have this and it just shows everybody’s hard work and effort,” said Nicole.