Beloved ‘Bitcoin Rabbi’ deals with religious and financial herds on Twitter


JTA – Many of Twitter’s cryptocurrency fanatics are often notorious trolls, but one thought leader in particular stands out above the rest. He happens to be a rabbi.

“People on Twitter use it to yell at each other and not be nice, which I don’t like,” says micro-influencer Rabbi Michael Caras, also known as @thebitcoinrabbi. “I like to connect with my two communities via Twitter, both Jewish Twitter and Bitcoin Twitter.”

Caras, a rabbi associated with the Chabad-Lubavitcher Hasidic movement, is fascinated by how Bitcoin, both the network and the asset, relates to halacha (Jewish law). And since he’s talked about it enough online, Caras says strangers sneak into his Twitter posts every week asking for spiritual advice and guidance on the matter.

Prior to serving as a public bridge between the two worlds, Caras studied at Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Israel and now teaches both Judaism and technology classes at Maimonides Hebrew Day School in New York City. Caras has been interested in Bitcoin since 2017, and in 2019 he published a children’s book about it which sold over 10,000 copies.

The book, a secular introduction to basic economics for kids, tells the story of children learning how to use Bitcoin for cash by running a lemonade stand in a town called Bitville.

Caras has also spoken in synagogues and Jewish youth groups on Bitcoin and Judaism, including how the history of money is discussed in the Torah.

“There are people who are Jewish but non-practicing who have never spoken to a rabbi at any other time,” he says. “Because they feel a kind of kinship with me through Bitcoin Twitter, they will feel comfortable that I give them relevant information without lecturing them.

“I also have a WhatsApp chat where people often ask me for advice in private. Sometimes they have a Bitcoin issue, one way or another, and I’m happy to help. I’m happy to be this resource for the community, especially for things like private key management.

Although there are now thousands of things called cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is the oldest and most decentralized blockchain network in the world, with the most diverse user population as of 2021. People can store, send and receive currencies like Bitcoin without a third party, like a bank.

Most avid cryptocurrency users keep track of transactions with a public network and a ledger called a blockchain. For example, the Bitcoin ledger is a record of all transitions with Bitcoin (the asset). However, many cryptocurrency traders prefer to use traditional financial markets (such as Fidelity or the Israeli company eToro), which do not necessarily need to use the public blockchain for all transactions.

Illustration: A line of potential Bitcoin buyers outside the Bitcoin Embassy in Tel Aviv, December 2017 (Simona Weinglass / Times of Israel)

Caras is among the avid users who prefer to participate in the basic Bitcoin network, transacting with open source tools rather than just trading cryptocurrencies like stocks.

Caras, like many rabbis, is a huge fan of old records, great books, and sacred secrets. Regarding the “private key management” he mentioned, bitcoin users keep track of their bitcoin using a unique password called a private key – protect that key and the bitcoin will stay under. your guard. This is why knowledge related to private key management is so important to Caras.

The public blockchain ledger is reminiscent of how Jewish communities have kept written records of their companies for thousands of years. This combination of history and technology fascinates Caras.

“We literally have ‘the chain of tradition’ in Hebrew, that point of following tradition in written history,” he says. “We’re chasing a chain, and it’s a continuous chain. There are soft forks and hard forks within Judaism, different customs, like protocols, which are compatible with each other.

Caras, 31, grew up in a “fairly secular” home, he says, and was considering a computer science degree before moving on to rabbinical school. His brother, also a well-known Bitcoin advocate, became more religious after visiting a Chabad house as a teenager and Caras followed suit.

Now a father of six and an observant member of the Chabad movement, Caras finds many similarities between Cypherpunk philosophy and Judaism. He is not alone, as there are many WhatsApp groups for Jewish crypto fans, including the “Jewish Crypto Chat” where Caras is one of nearly 190 participants.

I answer questions like: could this marriage transaction be done with bitcoin?

“Judaism has a lot of legal frameworks for how money is used. A Jewish marriage is a transaction. The groom puts a ring on his finger because he needs to give him something of value under the chuppah [wedding canopy]. [In private DMs] I answer questions like: could this marriage transaction be done with bitcoin? ” he says.

As a family, Caras and his wife see bitcoin stewardship as part of their family virtues.

“I hope most of the time we’re using this technology for good,” he says. “This is what I like to encourage people to think about.

There is always a way to apply Torah guidance to the new puzzles of the modern world. Some people have asked Caras to run trading robots or mine bitcoin on Shabbat, or if checking bitcoin’s ever-fluctuating price (its value against the dollar) disrupts a day of rest.

Bitcoin is often used to donate to charity and to secure savings. On the flip side, there are, of course, some controversial and harmful ways to use bitcoin. For example, Hamas – the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel – allegedly raised funds using cryptocurrency.

Caras, who has lived in Israel for four years at the rabbinical school and has a brother who lives there, says he thinks a lot about the Holy Land since the last conflict. It is impossible to say exactly how many bitcoin users there are in Israel, although some local exchanges have amassed over 55,000 users (each) and thousands of people are working in the local crypto industry, including some companies that have grown globally to serve millions. (On a much smaller scale, some Palestinian bitcoin dealers also get their wares from the same Tel Aviv crypto hubs.)

Israel’s first Bitcoin ATM in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2014 (Photo credit: Ben Sales / JTA)

Caras strongly believes in Israel’s right to defend itself and hopes that Bitcoin could present economic opportunities that could reduce the hold he says Hamas has over the people of Gaza. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, several Gaza Bitcoin resellers reportedly transacted more than $ 5 million in cryptocurrency each month for civilian use cases such as international purchases, paying tuition fees to overseas or accepting independent payments without PayPal or credit cards.

“I am not concerned that Hamas is using relatively small amounts of bitcoin to finance its terrorism, as it seems rather insignificant compared to their other methods of funding,” Caras said. “Terrorists use cell phones and electricity and any other kind of technology that most people use for good and peaceful purposes… I am happy that individual Palestinians can use money that cannot be easily controlled or taken. by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. “

This sentiment is common among Caras compatriots on Twitter. Israeli investor Eylon Aviv of crypto-savvy fund Collider Ventures, who knows Caras and enjoys his Twitter feed, said that “the promise here is that Palestinians do not depend on the financial services provided by these terrorist organizations.”

Aviv also agrees with Caras that Bitcoin ethics complements Jewish ethics.

“Basically every party is about ‘inserting someone dominating who tried to kill us,’ they fail and we celebrate. The celebration is about the freedom and liberation that occurs around the unsuccessful elimination attempt, ”said Aviv, adding that censorship, resistance, loss and liberation are all recurring themes throughout Jewish history. .

I am happy that individual Palestinians can use money that cannot be easily controlled or taken away from them by the PA or Hamas.

As a tool for self-sovereign transactions, people fleeing a dictatorship or freely transacting despite persecution often use bitcoin.

And some Jewish users like Aviv wonder if Bitcoin would be useful if a Holocaust-like situation happened again, with governments and armies seizing assets from Jewish communities. It would be easier to escape with Bitcoin.

Israeli crypto industry veteran Danny Brown Wolf thinks so, saying that “being Jews pretty much all of us in our family history have some form of immigration history that involves being forced to leave assets behind ”.

“Given this history, Jews of all peoples should appreciate financial sovereignty,” she said.

To be clear, Caras is not an advocate of a ‘blockchain revolution’. He only answers questions when asked and firmly considers himself a “maximalist,” meaning he only uses Bitcoin, no other cryptocurrency. He believes that users’ energy is better spent on Bitcoin rather than exploring new token experiences.

“I’m a hardcore maximalist. I don’t think blockchain has a use case outside of Bitcoin and securing the Bitcoin blockchain, ”Caras says. “My brother in Israel tells me about all things blockchain under the sun, but I haven’t seen anything positive that is useful beyond that yet. “

Instead, Caras prefers to contemplate what the Jewish law says about loans and interest, for example, so that he can learn on his own and help others learn to apply Jewish ethics to the way he manages his Bitcoin.

“Every piece of technology in this world is up to us to choose for ourselves,” says Caras, “whether we use technology for better or for worse. “

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.