Friday, September 02, 2011

The End of Insularity?

I am happy to report that the insularity of the Charedi world is being challenged like no other time in history. As an AP story published at Ynet suggests - the huge walls they have built to insulate themselves from the outside world are being pierced. More Charedim than ever have internet access. This despite the best efforts by their very own rabbinic leaders to ban it from their homes.

The language used in the bans in Israel make internet use seems like the worst possible thing a Jew can do. Even in this country - though there is no outright ban - the same kind of strong language is used against it. The Agudah refuses to have a website for that reason.

In one case I know, a Lakewood style Rav of a very popular American Shul told his members that he will give a TV to any member who gives up the internet. And we all know how the right wing feels about TV. That’s how strong they feel about the internet. And yet, their words go increasingly unheeded.

Most Charedim do not have TVs. But they increasingly have the internet. Even in Israel. As this trend continues the rhetoric against it seems to be getting stronger. And yet internet use among Charedim is growing. If the trend continues what does this say about the influence of what they call Daas Torah?

I think the handwriting is on the wall. As I have said many times, the internet is too valuable to discard. Most intelligent Charedim know that. They also know about its evils. But common sense prevails as it continues to proliferate in their communities.

I recall a post by R’ Gil Student (probably over two or three years ago) reporting that while driving down the streets of Lakewood he could find almost unlimited Wi-Fi connections. That means that many if not most Charedim are simply ignoring their Daas Torah. At least on this issue. And once that wall is pierced on one issue – how long will it be before they are ignored on all issues?

Although many of Lakewood’s schools require that the internet be banned from the homes of their students, there are simply too many loopholes (like permitting it for Parnassa reasons) that make enforcing it almost impossible. Especially today with hand held devises like I-phones capable of full internet use. And more amazingly in Israel, where the rhetoric is even stronger and the isolation more complete, the same thing seems to be happening.

Insularity was never a good idea in my view. While it succeeded in keeping people in the fold, it has a downside in that it does not properly train people how to function in the civilized world. A recent letter from a resident of Squaretown ‘explaining’ that a young arsonist community member that ended up setting a fellow resident on fire did not really mean it… that he was only doing ‘Mischief’!

This demonstrates just how skewed their value system is with respect to the rest of the civilized world. While they might argue that isolation worth ‘the price’ - it doesn't matter. It simply is not working anymore. There are now more windows to the world for their people than ever before. (As an aside – I think the village of Squaretown should just close down. But that’s another post.)

It isn’t only the internet. It is also their own media – like Mishpacha Magazine. They too are opening up the eyes of these people to the outside world unlike anything they have ever experienced in the past. So not only is it not a good idea – it isn’t working anymore - and that is a good thing. We do not need anymore Squaretowns!

If the rabbinic leaders want to maintain their influence they are going to have to deal with the reality of today’s world. They can no longer simply ban something so valuable and expect everyone to follow their dictates. Even in Israel where the tight control of their rabbinic leadership is beginning to be weakened.

This is not to say that their concerns aren’t legitimate. They are and I have said so many times myself. But I think it should be clear to everyone by now that the new world in which we live where information is instant - and not really subject to censorship - that rabbinic leaders need to find a new way to deal with the evils of the internet and stop their attempts at complete insularity. They need to instead teach their people how to better deal with the inevitable encounters with the outside world via the explosion in technology enabling it.

Of course there will always be those who listen and follow. But the population of those people is shrinking. And it will continue to shrink as the internet becomes more vital to society than the telephone. Unless these leaders are satisfied with a shrinking pool of followers they need to realize that this 21st century technology is here to stay. And that burying your head in the sand is not the way to deal with it anymore.