What are the implications of the success o … What are the implications of the success of Wikipedia for general encyclopedias like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and for the specialized encyclopedias like the Encyclopaedia Judaica? First, that there is no future to print on paper, the public expecting constant updating online. How can this be achieved? Some publishers have found a clever compromise. The Britannica Online allows “academic writers and amateur enthusiasts” to contribute and edit entries on a new section of its website, and their contributions “will be checked by the encyclopedia's professional staff.” They “will receive no payment for submitting articles, but their names will be displayed alongside their pieces if they are published” (Moore, 2009). The principle of responsibility for the contents and of authority is therefore respected. Larousse in France will also divide between traditional entries, incorporating expert knowledge, and entries from registered contributors, with known identity. To make its site economically viable, Larousse is considering accepting advertisements, following the example of Bertelsmann which already is financing its site ww.wissen.de with advertising (Florent, 2009; Barth, 2009). All in all it is not sure that these attempts will succeed in attracting valuable contributors to the online encyclopedias.
The second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (2007a, b) has failed to pass the test of authoritativeness. It preserved the articles in the first edition prepared by Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem (1897-1982) for the first edition (Saperstein, 2007). Scholem contributed over 100 articles to the first edition, some short biographies of Kabbalists, but also lengthier articles, such as the article on “Kabbalah,” one of the ten lengthiest articles in the first edition with 164 columns of text. Berenbaum (2007) stated that “Gershom Scholem's major essay on the Kabbalah [was] left untouched. Moshe Idel filled in what had been learned since.” But there are only 12 entries signed by both Scholem and Idel together, which leaves most of the entries by Scholem, not only the entry on Kabbalah, untouched. Furthermore, the post-Scholem generation of scholars is only partially represented. Only 18 entries are signed by Moshe Idel alone. There is no article by Lawrence Fine, Arthur Green, Daniel Matt, or Elliot Wolfson. Rachel Elior contributed four articles, one new article on the daughter of the founder of the Frankist movement, two revised short biographies, and one revision of the entry on “Chabad,” where her name is misspelled. In the entry “Zohar,” only 1,800 words on “Later research” by Melila Hellner-Eshed complement the 15,000 words of Scholem. All in all, this is not a reevaluation of the field of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, and does not accurately reflect 30 years of research.
The same deficiency can be observed in other fields of Jewish studies. The associate editor for the articles on Jewish women, Judith Baskin, wrote almost 50 articles, or some 30,000 words for the second edition. She “prepared entries in areas distant from [her] own academic expertise when it was clear that an important assigned article was not forthcoming,” (Baskin, 2006) giving us another clear indication that not all articles in the second edition were written by the foremost experts in a given field.
Because it is not fully authoritative, the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica has only a slight advantage on Wikipedia: authors of entries are known and their authority can be evaluated independently. The model offered by Wikipedia could work well for the Encyclopaedia Judaica, allowing it retain the core of the expert knowledge, and at the same time channel the energy of volunteer editors which has made Wikipedia such a success. It should be noted that because Wikipedia condones anonymity to its contributors, it cannot claim that it has intrinsic authority. When researchers publish articles in scientific journals, they put their reputation on the line. “Those contributing to Wikipedia lack … the incentives that keep science in good working order. The costs of mistakes to those who make them in Wikipedia are minimal” (Wray, 2009). What will remain unsolved is how to attract the experts in Jewish studies of our generation and the next, without properly remunerating them. Since the second edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica in 2007 has already failed to attract them, the challenge will not be easily addressed unless funding from a non-commercial source, public or philanthropic sources, can assure their cooperation. Failing this, the Encyclopedia Judaica might become a convenient source of information, but not a gateway to the latest trends in Jewish Studies.ay to the latest trends in Jewish Studies.