Monday, July 07, 2014


Failed attempt to ban the internet at Citi Field Stadium in 2012 
Just when I thought that the reality was sinking in with respect to the use of the internet, I find that there are some Charedi leaders that still think they can prevent it from entering the lives of their people. There is a new initiative taking place in Bet Shemesh. From the Jerusalem Post
A project was recently launched by hard-line sectors of the haredi community in Beit Shemesh to discourage the use of the Internet and the devices that enable easy access to it.
The idea behind the initiative, called “Haver,” is to encourage members of the haredi public to sign a declaration in front of their community or synagogue rabbi that they either have no access to the Internet at all, or that they have only rabbinically approved devices, with content filters, which they need for work purposes.
Anyone signing this declaration will be awarded a membership certificate which, in the language of the publicity material, “testifies that he counts himself among those who fear the word of God.”
…After the initial sign-up period, lists of those who have signed up will be posted at synagogues in the haredi neighborhoods of the city, which organizers say will be “to glorify the names of the members.” 
Don’t let anyone tell you that ‘big brotherism’ is dead. It is alive and well in Bet Shemesh. The purpose of this list is not to glorify anyone. It is to ostracize those who are not on it. ‘We are watching you.’ We know who you are.’ ‘If you are not on this list, you are not a part of the Kehilla.’ ‘You are not Chareid L’D’var HaShem (Charedi) ‘Don’t expect a good Shiddach for your daughter.’ ‘In fact don’t expect a Shiddach for her at all.’ ‘No one will recommend her if you are not on that list.’

Telling a Charedi Jew that he has been kicked out of his society – even by implication – is a pretty strong sanction for a Charedi Jew. They want to belong. That’s why they call themselves Charedi. Labels are very important in Israel. To lose your Charedi credentials is a pretty harsh sanction. 

Thus the pressure is on to sign up. Not everyone will of course. And it would not surprise me that there will be some who will sign on for fear of being ostracized but will privately cheat.

Their stated reason for this new initiative is the following: 
(T)he use of the Internet by haredim had turned into “a terrible plague” and was turning members of the community into secular people, despite their outward appearance.
He said that the organizers do not deny the utility and usefulness of the Internet and are not opposed to the use of the Internet for work purposes, but said that the “terrible images which no haredi person and no secular person either should see” were causing tremendous harm and distancing people from God.
“Ninety percent of the Internet is comprised of this immorality, this is its principal foundation, and it is this which we are fighting against,” the Haver organizer said. 
That there is easy access to pornography cannot be denied.  But the greater fear is now out in the open for all to see. They call it ‘turning members of the community into secular people, despite their outward appearance’. I call it joining the real world.

But their leaders and activists obviously don’t see it that way. They believe that isolation from the outside world is the only way by which the Jewish people can survive as a holy nation. They will point to our history of being isolated from the rest of the society, whether by force or choice as evidence of what has kept us alive as a people.  Am L’Vadod Yishkon - Balaam tells us in last week’s Parsha. We are a people apart and will not be counted among the nations.

Indeed. But being a people apart does not mean we are supposed to isolate ourselves from the world. What it means is that we are a Mamleches Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We are supposed to be a nation that teaches other nations how to behave ethically and morally. This is our mission – even if we all too often fall short of those goals. But we can’t even try do that if we insist on isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. If we are not seen, we are not heard.

The rabbis who insist on isolationism seem to ignore this mandate. The actually believe that isolationism is the only way to preserve our holiness. The internet is the antithesis of that.

Yes, porn addiction is a problem and the internet makes it all too easy for an addict to feed that addiction. But the internet is not the core problem. Porn addiction is a symptom of a pre-existing condition that requires therapy from professionals trained to deal with it. I think that in their heart of hearts these rabbis know that. While it is true that removing the temptation helps -  those who are truly addicted aren’t going to get rid of it just because of this new initiative. They may sign on. But they are going to continue to feed that addiction in private when no one is looking.

This is yet another futile attempt to try and stop the inevitable. The internet is a fast moving train that has long ago passed them by and taken a lot of Charedim with them. Mostly in constructive ways. There are so many Charedim that have smartphones that it would be futile to even try and count them. And the vast majority of the Charedim on that train are fine and decent people who use it responsibly.

Let us look at their Charedi counterparts in America. If there is any organization that can be described as the one representing Charedi Jewry in America, it is the Agudah.  That they advertise themselves on the internet – albeit in a back door way, is proof to me that their membership is fully online. To think that they all use filters and only use it for work would be the most naïve assumption in history. In fact I was told by an official at Agudah that its lay leadership are required to own smartphones!

And yet the Charedi leadership in Israel still think that they are going to control things with this new project. They won’t. But they will make life miserable for those who don’t sign on to it. I agree with MK Dov Lipman, the Charedi member of Yesh Atid. Here is how he put it: 
“(It is) a last gasp effort to keep the haredi community isolated.”
“High numbers of haredim have Internet and more and more are going to work. This exposed them to broader society, and while they don’t become less religious they do become more moderate,” Lipman said.
The community leaders then lose control and power. The pressure will work on a small level but the battle has already been lost, and within a generation or two I believe haredim will be integrated into Israeli society – while remaining fully committed religiously. This will be good for them and for all of Israel…” 
Indeed. This is a last gasp effort for control by people who are clueless about the world outside seeing it as so bad that extraordinary measures must be used to battle it. But they are wrong. The outside world has a lot to teach the Charedi world. And Charedim are increasingly finding that out by their little ‘windows to the world’.

This new initiative will ultimately fail. It’s too bad that in the interim some people will be hurt by it.