Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gathering

There is a lot of virtual ink being spilled about the upcoming internet Assifa on May 20th at Citifield, a sports stadium in Queens.  The purpose of that meeting is to raise awareness about the dangers of the internet (and related technology) and how to shield ourselves and our children from the pitfalls of it.

The Assifa which is Hebrew for ‘gathering’ is being billed as a tremendous moment of Achdus.

I have been wrestling with this thing ever since I heard about it. There was something very troubling to me about it. But although I was dancing around it, I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why. How could this be a bad thing? After all the purpose is a good one. The internet has its dangers. Everyone agrees with that. There are things that can be done to counteract those dangers. And the fact that the right wing has finally come around to accepting the reality that they will never be able to ban it is a step in the right direction.  And isn’t Achdus a good thing?

What could possibly be wrong with that? Almost sounds like a win for our team – those of us who have been saying for the longest time that the internet cannot and should not be banned.

And yet I had this troubling sense about it which – as I said - I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Until now.

It is the idea that a group is spending in excess of a million dollars to hold this event – the purpose of which is to tell us what we already know. And then suggest that this is a uniting moment.

There is also no doubt the rhetoric will still be to condemn the internet as an evil medium. It will only grudgingly be seen as a necessarily tool that should nonetheless be severely limited for use except where absolutely necessary. Like for paying bills online. They are thus conceding this as a reality which cannot be banned. But that in no way should be embraced.

The attitude will still be as negative as it ever was. There will probably be little if any concessions to the positive side of the internet which is vast and just as much of a reality as the negative side. This is pretty much the message I got from reading their promotional literature about this event.

This is the kind of Achdus they are no doubt are talking about.  

Speaking of Achdus, I have mentioned this before. They are billing this as unifying moment in the Torah world. But it is only a unity of the right wing. That too is obvious from the promotional literature. They do not include all of Orthodoxy. They mean only their own right wing. People they often call “Torah True Jews” or Bnei Torah”. Those who worship the term Daas Torah.

What about those of us who are in the modern Orthodox camp? Chas Ve’Shalom. We are apparently Chutz L’Machaneh – outside the Torah world camp.  Not they they will keep us out if any of us choose to attend. They will take our money and welcome us with open arms – seeing it as a victory of persuasion over us to come and join them. But it is definitely not intended toward us as a group.  Not even for those of us on the right wing of modern Orthodoxy.

I think that’s because of our very different attitude about the internet – that it is not an inherently evil thing. That with all the dangers there is also a positive side. The vast majority of people in all camps are not interested at all the porn that is out there. If somehow one accidentally stumbles onto a pornographic website – it is just deleted.

Now it is true that some people might stumble onto it and stay there. Especially adolescents.  There is no question that protection is vital in these instances. But for the vast majority of adults, It is a valuable for research, information, and communication. For most people therefore, the positive far outweighs the negative. Not because the negative isn’t there. But because we don’t pay any attention to it.

For those who do, they have pre-existing  problems. The internet exacerbates them.  There may be a lot of people like that. But that is no reason to ignore the invaluable tool that internet is and bash it as though it were the devil incarnate.

In my view there is either a level of naiveté in among many of these Roshei Yeshiva. In others there may even be outright dishonesty in refusing to present the positive side for fear that people would not take the negatives seriously enough.

The bottom line is this. For those of us who have been using the internet positively for many years - decades probably – without becoming addicted to porn, the whole this Assifa  seems like a ridiculous waste of time and money. Those of us who have been using it for a long time, know very well what the internet is all about. What is good, what is bad, and how to deal with it.

For this they need an Assifa?! For this they have to spend millions? Of course one could be cynical and say that this event will probably raise a lot of money. Attendance will not be free. If the fill the stadium they should turn a nice profit.

The unfortunate fact is that prominent Roshei Yeshiva that are involved with is belittling them in the eyes of many of their own people. Most moderate Charedim who have tremendous respect for these leaders, as I do,  have been using the internet themselves right along with the rest of the world – and with noted exceptions have by and large not been negatively affected by it.

This Assifa has the unfortunate potential to make a mockery of their leadership in the eyes of their own people. I have spoken to some Charedim who shall remain nameless that have actually expressed those thoughts.

With all that’s going on in the world, this is the hill that they are making a stand on?! This is where they are spending their efforts and money?! And they wonder why they are losing respect?! Perhaps that’s why speakers at the last Agudah convention were so focused on the virtual infallibility of their own Daas Torah – shouting   it from the rooftops like never before. The lady doeth protest too much.