How Do Religious “Ask the Expert Sites” Shape Online Religious Authorities? From Clerics to Online Influencers

Akiva Berger, Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, Oren Golan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past two decades, religious websites have gained immense popularity and have become dynamic platforms for sparking discourse, practice, and modes of leadership. The internet has allowed religious leaders to reach more believers than ever before and compete for online followership. How do religious leaders negotiate their authority through online information outlets? This study explores religious “Ask the Rabbi” websites specializing in religious Jewish knowledge. The corpus is composed of 50,799 Q&A public messages between rabbis and laypeople, asked and posted from 2005 to 2019. The findings point to a shift in the authority of religious Q&A websites from the initial authority endowed to the websites through the institutionally well-known rabbis who participated on the platform. Over time, however, these websites became public spheres of learning where little-known rabbis could establish their popularity. Textual analysis revealed that the writing style evolved from short answers with few cited sources to richly sourced essays. This may suggest that online religious Q&As have shifted from being viewed as a way to contact well-known rabbis to a legitimate forum for religious discourse and selecting spiritual guidance. The discussion centers on this socio-religious change in the information age where clerics harness the web to hone their craft, recruit their flock, and ultimately, constitute their authority.

Original languageEnglish
Article number444
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • big data
  • digital religion
  • religious authority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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