Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Is the Agudah Really Not on the Internet?

I’m sorry Agudath Israel, you cannot say that you are opposed to the internet and refuse to have a website when we see an ad like this.

The Agudah (as is well known by now) does not have a website. The reason for this is because they oppose the internet. They therefore think it would be hypocritical to have one. How can they be opposed to something they are a part of? In fact one of their employees once designed one and had it up and running for a while. The Moetzes told her to close it. 

Why they oppose it is also well known. It is considered one of the biggest Michsholim (obstacles to observant Judaism) of our time. The instant availability of pornography is the most frequent example cited. Aside from the forbidden nature of viewing such images, there are ample examples of family discord, divorce and even jail time by users that have been caught with illegal porn on their computers - resulting from that. But equally detrimental are the websites, blogs and other social media that undermine our Emunah. There is ridicule of rabbinic figures. And there is the simple waste of time that people spend on it that could be used for better purpose.

I’m not here to debate the obvious downside of internet use. It is so obvious that the Torah world is not the only one that sees those dangers. The secular world sees it too. In fact anyone with half a brain knows that this valuable tool can be used for bad… and that it can lead to tragic consequences.

I’ve been saying this for quite some time now. Nothing new here.But as I have also said, it is a valuable tool. Increasingly so. As the dangers increase, so too do the benefits. Anyone who uses it, knows that too.

I think even Agudah knows that. Which totally undermines the internet Asifa that took place a couple of years ago. One may recall that the internet was so vilified there, that anyone caught using it in their homes was practically thrown out of Judaism. 

That attitude was expressed by popular right wing speaker, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman. Prior to his introduction of world renowned Bnei Brak Posek, R’ Shmuel Wosner, he quoted a passage from Rabbenu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva which says that when multitudes of Israel gather and decisions are made by the leaders for action by the group, anyone who separates himself from the group has no portion in Olam Habah (the world to come)!

Pretty strong words. R’ Wosner them proceeded to forbid any internet use in the home even with a filter- and outside of the home only for work and only with a filter.

So for those of you reading this post… cheeseburgers anyone?

Of course Rabbi Wachsman’s words about violating R’Wosner’s decree would mean that very few people will merit the world to come. Since that time there are very few Frum people who do not use the internet in some way even when not work related. Even Charedi Magazines like Mishpacha and Ami have websites. As do Charedi newspapers like Hamodia and the Yated. (I guess Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz will be joining us.) 

I will not forget the irony of Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, Agudah’s Executive Vice President, reading from a website on his smartphone right after a harangue against it by one of the more prominent speakers at an Agudah convention.( He took it out apologizing as he read from it.) It is so matter of fact now, that I rarely hear anyone condemning it anymore.

But no one ever retracted the harsh opposition expressed in the past (like at that Asifa - but elsewhere as well) against it either. There was no one saying - well maybe the internet can be useful for more than work. Maybe smart-phones are a useful tool and shouldn't be banned.  What we end up with is a ban that is increasingly breached by the majority of religious Jews. Even Charedim. So much so that it is really impossible to do anything about it.

I think that even the Agudah realizes this. They too know that the vast majority of even Charedi internet users do so responsibly. They realize that even though there are dangers, that it is indeed a useful tool that is too valuable to be banned. But they still officially refuse to use it. I’m sure that part of their thinking is:  How can they go against a world class Posek like R’ Wosner – and other rabbinic leaders who have expressed similar sentiments?

But they do use it unofficially as this ad shows.  This is not the first time they have done it either. This ad has Agudah written all over it. You can reserve seats and choose a sponsorship category. There is even a payment form on the ad. At the very bottom it says: Agudath Israel of America. I don’t see how they can say they have no presence on the internet with an ad like this.

I’m sure they will though. They will say what they have said before. That their opposition to the internet precludes them from having a website. But they do not stop anyone else from posting about them. It says powered by Duvy. That’s nice. I’m sure that Duvy is a wonderful website designer.

But, I think this ad is a bit more than allowing others to post about them. The Agudah is on the internet. They can say it is unofficial all they want. I can say it too. My blog is unofficial. There. I said it. Can I have my Olam Habah back?