Monday, September 12, 2016

Get Rid of Your Smartphones – or Else!

Rabbi Osher Schapiro
What a contrast. In more ways than one. There is Rabbi Osher Shapiro, the son of the Chasidic Naroler Rebbe of Stamford Hill section of London - an area populated by Charedim (mostly Chasidim if I understand correctly).

And there is Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein – a clean shaven Orthodox Jewish motivational speaker with a large following who is invited to speak to young people all over the country.

One might think that when speaking about the internet and items that can access it, that the bearded Chasidic Rabbi Schapiro would be haranguing against it urging people to follow the ban on such devices, While the more modern looking Zechariah Wallerstein would have a more sensible view about these devices… urging caution and education about how to properly use them. Well, if that is what you think, you would be wrong.

One may remember Rabbi Wallerstein from a couple of incidents. One was where he railed against Orthodox women exercising via the popular Zumba dance - claiming that by doing this religious women would end up pole dancing or worse! Even if they were doing Zumba in an all women’s exercise class.

More recently he told survivors of sexual abuse to just get over it, stop defining themselves that way and get on with their lives… oblivious to the hurt he caused so many survivors with such comments! He later apologized for hurting survivors which was not his intent - but still stood by his original message. (Which isn’t much of an apology – if you think about it.)

During the course of his original harangue to sex abusers, he mentioned in passing with apparent pride that he has no smart phone. That is a device that among other things can access the internet. That he has a website advertising his school Ohr Nava (a website in which he extols his own perceived virtues) is a contradiction to that message did not occur to him. 

He recently made an appearance at a girls high school where he had yet another one of his harangues. Instead of inspiring them, he scolded them. He apparently told the young students there to get rid of their smart phones. And if they did, he promised them they would get Shiduchim. If they didn’t, he implied they wouldn’t.

I don’t know how this guy survives let alone has any kind of following. But he does. He has an entire school full of them. If my daughter were in that school, I would pull her out faster than a speeding bullet! If there is anything that will turn young people away from their Yiddishkeit, it’s telling them how bad they are for having this technology. And practically promising them life as a spinster if they don’t change.

I know that smartphones are a problem. Not just for teenagers. But even for adults much older. They are addictive to many people regardless of age or religious affiliation. And they can be abused in a variety of inappropriate ways. Not the least of which is porn addiction. That’s why the Charedi world - especially the Chasidic world with its all or nothing approach to everything - has banned these devices. I was recently reminded of that ban while attending a Mincha Minyan during my short visit to New York last week. I entered a Chasidic Shul for Mincha, couldn’t find a Siddur so I used my I-phone siddur app.

As I was sitting waiting for the Shaliach Tzibur (cantor) to begin, I noticed a sign on the wall which read (in Yiddish) that people with smartphones will not be allowed into the Shul! I didn’t know if I was going to be asked to leave or not. But I decided to take a chance and Daven there. In the end I wasn’t asked to leave. But that event demonstrated to me that the ban is alive and well in these circles.

My approach to these things is that indeed these devices could be misused and could be detrimental. But at the same time – as those of us that have them know – they are very useful and can enhance our lives in many ways. It is for example an instant resource for information that could prove to be vital. Banning such a device is therefore not a solution to its dangers. Nor is disposing them if you already have them ala Zechariah Wallerstein. Here is what Rabbi Osher Shapiro says about banning internet use. From YWN
In short, the rav feels that based on his vast experience, the all-inclusive bans on the internet have made it more appealing to many and he feels this has contributed to youths defying the ban and beginning the path to a different lifestyle. Rabbi Shapiro explains the matter of youths off the derech is not a new concept and not one unique to this generation, a problem that was in existence before the internet and WhatsApp.
In a recent interview with Kikar Shabbos News, Rabbi Shapiro explains that instead of investing resources in love and affection towards these youths, we are busying ourselves with bans and prohibitions, which are not going to save them... 
(T)he idea is not an all-inclusive ban but to rather educate the young as to how one properly uses the internet, which is an integral part of today’s world…
“This generation should be embraced and loved and that is what is missing. I mean anyone who uses the internet with supervision or filter can bring a great deal of good into the world and spread spirituality” 
You hear that, Zechariah Wallerstein?

What makes Zechariah Wallerstein’s message so grievous is not only that he urged these young women to get rid of those devices. The truth is that I would be reluctant give my own daughters such a device at such a young age. The potential for misuse at that age is too great.  What makes it so grievous is that he threatened those that already have smartphones with a heavenly punishment if they don’t give them up.

What kind of motivational speaker does this?! How does this communicate the pleasant ways of the Torah? How can this make any student at that school feel good about themselves? How can it not make them feel guilty if they don’t give up their smartphones? I doubt that there will be that many (if any) young women in that school that will be following his advice. So what has he accomplished? How does he have the gall to tell them what their heavenly punishment will be if they don’t! Is he now a Navi too? Is God talking to him?

I have to wonder what it is that people see in Zechariah Wallerstein that motivates them to send their daughters to his school… and what it is the young women that attend it see in him. They obviously see something. But  I see someone with an ego identity that is hugely out of proportion to who he actually is.