Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Daas Baalei Batim - Rebelling Against the Leadership

YWN reports that the fight for the hearts and minds of Charedi Jews continues:

HaRav Yisrael Hager Shlita, the son on the Vishnitzer Rebbe Shlita, who calls on the tzibur not to buy tefillin and mezuzos from anyone connected to so-called chareidi websites…

…quoting his father the Rebbe Shlita, adding that mosdos should not accept children from homes with internet connectivity. The Rav stated even if they only see “chareidi sites” they should not be accepted, warning over and over of the danger of bringing this ‘tuma’ into our homes. He added that teachers and rabbonim who are not committed to distancing themselves from the internet should not be employed in chareidi mosdos, deeming them untrustworthy for the responsibility of the next generation.

Teffilin and Mezuzos? Does accessing a Frum website Pasul a Sofer?

Vishnitz is not some small sect of extremists who live in Meah Shearim. They are mainstream Chasidim in Israel and around the world – headquartered in Bnei Brak. In fact one of the Vishnitzer Rebbe’s grandsons married a the daughter of a prominent Chasidic Rav here. She attended Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov and was a schoolmate of my daughter’s.

As is the case with Chasidim of every stripe, they are a rapidly growing group. 10 children per family is a pretty common number. They are growing exponentially every generation – much faster than any other Orthodox demographic. These are mainstream Chasidim. But their leaders take an extreme position about the Internet.

Even though all Charedim are to one extent or another insular, Chasidim are by far the most insular. It is their hallmark. They go to the greatest lengths to separate themselves from the rest of world. This is one reason they dress the way they do. They want to be as different as possible. So intent are they about their walls not being breached by outside influences.

As I have said many times, I understand and even agree with many of their concerns. But as I have also said solutions theirs are seriously flawed. You cannot treat people like children. If you do they will act like children and rebel. That is what is going on here. They are banning the Internet with such ferocity it sounds almost like its coming from Islamic fundamentalist Imams!

One cannot help but to make the comparison between the two cultures. They both see secularism in virtually the same light. And both have strong sanctions against participating in it. Chasidic rabbinic leaders want to punish violators in ways that are tantamount to excommunication. Their children are refused an education. Teachers who have been caught using the Internet will lose their jobs and be barred from teaching in their schools. And a Sofer who uses the Internet cannot sell his wares.

It isn’t just Vishnitz. It is virtually all major Chasidic and other Charedi groups in Israel. This fervor is matched here in America – not by an outright ban but with similar sanctions. American Charedim in cities like Lakewood have similar punishments for Internet violations by parents who want their children educated in their schools.

Charedi and especially Chasidic leaders in Israel are pushing very hard. I think the reason for that is their flock is pushing back. More and more of them are observing these bans in the breach. That was plainly obvious to me during my trip last Sukkos to Ramat Bet Shemesh. There were so many routers providing wireless internet connections in Charedi homes that one could walk down just about any street in the heavily Charedi section and never lose the connection to the Internet.

And yet these rabbinic leaders really believe Judaism will be destroyed by the Internet. At least that’s how they are acting.

What they don’t realize is that the harder they push, the harder people will push back. Most people who use the Internet do it responsibly. They know the dangers and generally avoid them. Most people realize that those who end up misusing it do so because of personal and individual problems – and that they are in the minority. Those are the ones who need these kinds of edicts. And these people are the very ones that will ignore them the most.

This latest push is not about porn addiction. It is about keeping truth in the closet. They call it Lashon Hara. They do not want their people accessing even Charedi websites because they will be reading negative things about ‘Frum’ Jews. Nor do they do not want their institutions and symbols to be questioned – which happens a lot on even the Frummest of websites.

To them the biggest danger of the internet is not porn. It is truth. They do not want their flock to stray into ‘TreifHashkafos. They do not want their Rebbes and Gedolim questioned even by other Charedim. They do not want to lose their grip on their flock. So they ban even Charedi websites and keep adding severe sanctions if caught using them. Like denying children an education. Or teachers from teaching. Or Pasuling the Safrus of Sofrim.

If you are a member in good standing of any Chasidic sect you will find that they are generally the warmest of people. The Rebbe is warm and understanding, kind and gentle, and often imparts great wisdom both to the individual and to the Klal. Their social networking is among the best in the world.

People from that community in need will rarely fall through the cracks. They will be taken care of by the community. Their Gemilas Chasodim – acts of kindness - are legendary and cross all Hashkafic boundaries.

But the price of membership is very steep. It appears as though their flock has had enough. They are increasingly starting to ignore their leaders.

That is a good thing. Leaders are only as good as their accomplishments. Good intentions? ...well you know where that can sometimes lead to. When that leadership starts to do harm – even if it is with the best of intentions – common sense has no choice but to take over.