“Yehoshua ben Perachia said: Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend…” (Pirkei Avot 1:6)
If ever there was a teaching from the Rabbis that seems out of touch with the times, this is it. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachia’s sound advice is in the singular – implying that a person should acquire one rabbi, and one friend. We, however, live in a culture in which people ask questions to multiple rabbis and acquire friends in droves. It is not unusual for an observant Jew to call one rabbi with questions about Kashrut, another for the laws of Shabbat, and yet another for advice on dating or marriage. As for friends – the extraordinary multiplication of ‘friends’ on Facebook indicates that we maintain some sort of relationship with an ever larger group of people – at least some of whom we would classify as actual friends.
The multiplication of friendships in modern times is not the only way in which friendship has changed. George Simmel, an early 20th century sociologist, writes that our friendships, as they have multiplied, have changed in a substantive way; they have become differentiated.
These differentiated friendships which connect us with one individual in terms of affection, with another in terms of intellectual aspects, with a third in terms of religious impulses, and with a fourth in terms of common experiences – all these friendships present a very peculiar synthesis in regard to the question of discretion, of reciprocal revelation and concealment. They require that the friends do not look into those mutual spheres of interest and feeling which, after all, are not included in the relation and which, if touched upon, would them feel painfully the limits of the their mutual […]