Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Hypocrisy of a Ban

Once again I find myself turning to an article by Jonathan Rosenblum. This time it is in the Jerusalem Post.

Therein he discusses the evils of the Internet and cites some staggering statistics and observations by professionals. Here in part is what he has to say:

Dr. Yitzchak Kadmon, head of the National Council for the Child, says that parents have no clue as to what their children are doing on Internet. They have been completely neutralized. Forty per cent of Israel youth have given out private information about themselves to strangers over the Internet, but no more than 5% of parents suspect their child in this regard.

Pornography is the greatest threat for both children and adults. It is possible to get to erotica or bestiality sites by accident – at least the first time – while doing school report on a halachic topic or zoology. But the search for pornography rarely ends with the first accidental stumble nor does it always begin by accident.

Mary Ann Layden, co-director of the sexual trauma and psychopathology program at the University of Pennsylvania, calls pornography the greatest threat to psychological health today. She describes a generation of addicts created by 24/7 free home access via the Internet. In Layden's view, pornography addictions are even worse than drug addictions. Toxic drugs can be removed from the system; visual images cannot be removed from the brain…

And there is more. This article is a worthwhile read just for that.

None of this surprises me. That it is why I have consistently agreed with Charedi Rabbinic leaders about the dangers of Internet. I have also pointed out that they are not alone in expressing this view. Responsible secular educators agree. My disagreement is only in what to do about it.

Beitar is typical of how Charedim to deal with this problem. As Jonathan points out:

The rabbis of Betar Illit, for instance, recently instituted a rule that no child whose family has Internet at home will be admitted to the town's educational institutions.

Jonathan also beautifully points out that these kinds of solutions are not realistic even in his own Charedi world - and he explains why:

Tens of thousands, of haredi homes are connected to Internet, and the number will only grow as an increasing number of basic transactions can only be done by Internet or much more conveniently done. Hi-tech is the likeliest growth area of haredi employment, and that too often requires Internet access. Many English-speaking haredi wives of kollel students already earn good livings working via Internet during hours that their children are sleeping.

In my view there are a great many additional positive benefits of the Internet. But that is not my issue here. My issue is the hypocrisy of the direction in which Charedi leadership seems to be going in dealing with a contradiction between the real and what they say is the ideal.

They maintain that the ideal - is an Internet free home. To that extent they have instituted various forms of community bans with serious sanction for violations, like those in Beitar. If I understand correctly Lakewood has a similar ban. But there is so much Internet use going on in Lakewood as to make any ban they have - observed more in the breach than in adherence to it.

Obviously Charedi rabbinic leaders realize that the Internet is here to stay and that Charedim use it. Apparently they now privately advise people how to use it responsibly via good Internet filtering programs and other measures. Here is how Jonathan puts it:

Rabbinical leaders may hold up one ideal in private and privately guide and advise individuals who need to work. Were they not to provide any guidance, they would simply lose control of social forces welling up from below and any ability to guide the transition.

But without constantly proclaiming the ideal, the community would be drained of its vitality and self-identity. A difficult tightrope to negotiate.

You can’t have it both ways. There is no such thing as a public stance proclaiming one ideal and a private stance proclaiming another. That’s called hypocrisy. If there are so many exceptions and so many people have it in their homes as a means toward Parnassa - with the blessing and guidance of rabbinic leaders - then the ideal becomes responsible use of it. Which is what I’ve been saying all along.

Once you have a critical mass of people who have it in their home it cannot be considered an ideal anymore than proclaiming an ideal -a ban on telephones. Telephones are the biggest single advancement toward spreading Lashon Hara since the advent of Lashon Hara. Would a ban on telephones be the ideal? Would Charedim be better off without telephones? I don't think a single Gadol alive today would say that. Nor do I think there is single Gadol alive today that would not use a telephone.

Once we agree that an ideal of an Internet free home does not apply to Parnassa situations then we are just quibbling over which uses are permitted and which are not. Reasonable people can disagree about that.

To proclaim that the Internet is forbidden and then to privately allow it to masses of people for Parnassa purposes albeit with specific instructions is disingenuous even if it is done with the best of intentions.

They should be far more honest with themselves - and the public - and concede that Internet has positive value and that the ideal is responsible use of it. Not banning it entirely – at least as it pertains toward trying to solve the Parnassa crisis. And solving the Parnasssa crisis is an ideal with which we can all agree.