Monday, April 04, 2011

Internet Use and the Agudah Moetzes

A common term used in Charedi parlance is ‘The Gedolim’. This is usually a reference to the rabbinic leaders that are a part of The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America. The Moetzes is a self selected group of Rabbanim who are in various ways religious leaders. Some may be Roshei Yeshiva of major Yeshivos.

Others may be world renowned Poskim. Still others may be Chasidic Rebbes or leaders of other groups like a Sefardi Rosh HaYeshiva or a leader of the German-American Jewish community. These are all men of distinction and of high accomplishment in Torah - with the wisdom and willingness to work for the benefit of Klal Yisroel and to guide us religiously.

But as has been pointed out by many people – including those who speak on behalf of Agudah, the Agudah Moetzes recognizes that their members are not the sum and substance of all the Gedolei Yisroel in America. This should be obvious to anyone who recognizes that some of the greatest Torah minds and leaders of the previous generation were not on the Moetzes nor are some of the current generation members.

So I take issue with how this body of Rabbanim identified itself on a recent document. They refer to themselves (in Hebrew) – not - as the Agudah Moetzes but as the ‘Gedolim of America’.

While I respect them all as great Torah leaders, the implication is that there are no other Gedolim in America. The fact is however that there are people who are equal to or in some cases perhaps even greater than some of those who signed onto this document.

They might have signed on to it (or not) but they are not members of the Agudah Moetzes so they are in any case excluded. However they are no less American Gedolim than are their Agudah counterparts.

In order to correct that impression I would respectfully ask that the Agudah Moetzes consider identifying themselves as the Agudah Moetzes and not as ‘the Gedolim of America’.

Be that as it may a new proclamation – a Kol Korei - has been issued by this august body dealing with internet use. A while back my friend Yerachmiel Lopin posted that they were working on such a document. One that would be draconian in its edicts. It turns out not to be the case.

Yerachmiel has posted a copy of this document on his blog. It spells out their rules with respect to internet use. Surprisingly, I am not really all that much in disagreement with them. They discourage use but understand that it is virtually impossible to ban and basically insist that filters be used.

What is interesting is that they do not ban the internet. They simply require using filters. This proclamation is a radical departure from the Israeli rabbinic leaders. They have banned it entirely. The Agudah Moetzes realizes that as much as they’d like to – from a practical standpoint that is an impossibility. As Yerachmiel reports (via another forum):

While Internet use continues to be strongly discouraged, the Gedolei Yisrael have recognized that forbidding it completely is a Gezeira She’ein Rov HaTzibbur Yecholim La’amod Ba (the Novominsker Rebbe said this in a recent Hamodia Magazine interview). In hindsight (which is always 20-20), completely banning the Internet had an unintended effect: countless people, from the most frum circles, not only did not abide by the ban, but they had no incentive to install filters or other safeguards, because they were in violation of the ban in any event. Not anymore. Today, having Internet access, while not recommended, is permissible for those who need it, provided that an effective filter is used; without a filter, it is assur.

It’s not that I entirely agree with them. Unlike the Agudah Moetzes I do not discourage use. The medium is too valuable to discourage its usage. But I do encourage caution and awareness of the potential dangers. They can be stumbling blocks for the uninitiated and unprotected. Especially children. Disasters have happened to families who fell victim to these stumbling blocks.

Where I part company with them Moetzes is the absence of any mention of the beneficial aspects of the medium. They see it only as a necessarily evil to be avoided at all costs unless absolutely necessary.
But their bottom line is not to ban it but to proceed with extreme caution. While it is true that - as Yerachmiel points out - the precaution they advise smacks a bit of big brotherism, I nonetheless do not see this document as draconian. My biggest fears about what would happen – did not happen.

My fear was that they would silence dissent. That they would silence the voice of the people. That they would eliminate any venue for people to vent their frustrations. That reports of wrong-doing would be eliminated. That commenting would be banned. That blogs and websites have a Posek and to identify him. That certain subjects would be off limits. Like I said - none of this happened.

As written the Agudah Moetzes document doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It will not interfere in any way with my blog nor will it impact on what I write about and how I write about it.

As for the Charedi blogs and websites that may have abided by such edicts, I am pleased for them as well. Even though some of the comments there (as well as a few posts) have in the past been pretty critical and even insulting to me, I believe in freedom of expression. I believe in giving everyone the ability to vent their frustrations with what they see – even if I am their target. Public discourse is a good thing - not a bad thing. Because it is through public discourse and debate that we can best find the truth.