Monday, December 01, 2008

Who’s Driving the Bus?

Those who read this blog regularly will know that one of my biggest issues with the rabbinic leadership in Torah world is their desire to solve all problems via sheltering. What I mean is that they tend to see the world around them as generally an evil influence that their children – and even adults when possible - should be sheltered from. I have always maintained that – taken to the extreme that they do - this is a prescription for disaster. Sheltering to an extreme in many Charedi communities has already resulted in disasters in the homes of many Charedim.

I say this fully realizing that my values do not exactly match those of the Charedi world. For example I do not view as evil many of the things that they do. But even granting their views on what is good and what is evil in general society - they still over do it. The question is why - why do they not understand that over-sheltering is one of the causes of the many problems and not one of the solutions?

The ban on the Internet by Lakewood is the prime example of this over-sheltering approach. How many times are we going to read about Charedi children who went off the Derech when they suddenly discovered the ‘banned’ outside world via exposure to the Internet?

Is a banned Internet the best way to assure that their children will never be influenced by the negatives that are so easily available via the click of a mouse? Is it not better to show them what the Internet is and direct its use via good parenting and good filters? Yes, it may be difficult. But in my view it s a far better option than trying to hide the un-hidable.

There will be some point in time when they will be old enough and resourceful enough to find it on their own. Without any pre-exposure they can easily become addicted to the worst of pornographic sites – or God know what else!

This does not mean that controlled exposure will prevent that from happening. There are always risks involved no matter what parenting approach one takes. But in my view there is a far better chance of preventing such misuse of the Internet by being wise about it.

Sheltering is a good thing. That is what good parents - and good Kosher filters are for. Over-sheltering on the other hand can be disastrous. That is what happens when something that is a mere tool is made so taboo. It then becomes a forbidden fruit. The Interent is after all nothing more than a tool that has both a good and bad side. But the potential for mis-use is very great. That is a real problem. Charedi leadership recognizes this fact. But their solution is to ban the entire enterprise (…with the exception of use for work. And even that is discouraged. I have heard of Charedi Rabbis telling people to change jobs if they are required to use the Internet at work!)

As a whole rabbinic leaders, seem to feel that the greater good is served by sheltering as much as possible. The negative effects of even the slightest exposure far outweigh the positive effects.

In a perfect world that might be true. If one could forever control the environment of their children than they could have their way. But they can’t. And they know it. Insisting on an unrealistic standard only serves to increase the possibility of a disastrous result

I think this is obvious. And so does Rabbi Yakov Horowitz who has once again hit a home run! (The Cubs could sure use a home run hitter with his batting average!) He seems to be saying exactly what I just said in a very clever column he wrote for Mishpacha Magazine.

It would seem then - that this would put him at odds with the Charedi rabbinic leadership. They apparently do not agree with him. As I understand it the ban against the Internet in places like Lakewood still remain in effect. No child whose parents are connected to the Internet will be accepted into one of the Lakewood schools. Not elementary. Not high school. At least not into the most desirable ones. What do the rabbinic leadership say about this ban? They are silent. This says that they in fact support it. They must feel that if a parent decided to have a Kosher filtered Internet in their home with parental guidance - that is a public area of the house, then that parent is unworthy of an education for their child!

Now I am fairly certain that not every Charedi rabbinic leader feels this way. I am equally certain that there are rabbinic leaders who actually agree with Rabbi Horowitz. The only question is, why do they not speak up? Why does not a Rabbinic leader from the Agudah Moetzes write an article like Rabbi Horowitz? Why the acquiescence to an ill conceived ban in a place like Lakewood? Such bans have already proven harmful. Bnei Brak a city that is wholly Charedi adheres to The ban by Israeli Charedi leaders on the Internet. But that city has a number of its adult members going over to nearby Bar Ilan University to use their free computers. These are married Charedi men with families. They sneak out late at night and ‘surf the net’! Who knows what they access over there?

I end by using a metaphor often used by Rabbi Horowitz. If the Charedi rabbinic leaders do not speak out and support him, the Torah world will end up being driven right off a cliff.