Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Honoring a Ban in the Breach

Chasidim - picture for illustrative purposes only (Arutz Sheva)
No matter how much they try, it isn’t going to work. Once again the leadership of a Chasidus has attempted to forbid internet use. There was a convention in Jerusalem last week attended by thousands of Ger Chasidim.  From Arutz Sheva
At the “Emergency Meeting Against the Dangers of Technology”, Hasidim were reminded of the strict prohibition against using internet-capable cellular devices, even if content screening programs are in place. According to the regulation, only those who require internet access for business purposes are permitted to use even filtered internet connections.
The popular Whatsapp cell phone application was also dealt with during the meeting. Speakers lambasted the application and called upon Gur Hasidim to remove it from their phones…
One speaker at the convention issued an unprecedented ruling against internet usage, saying that anyone who uses unfiltered internet connections is no longer deemed worthy of respect from their children.
“Anyone whose parent possesses a non-kosher device is no longer obligated by the [biblical law of] ‘Honoring thy father and mother’, and is not allowed to visit them.” 
Well it seems that these new exhortations are being ignored, right in the heart of the Charedi world. I am not talking about outliers that have bucked the system. I am talking about mainstream members of Ger living in places like Bnei Brak. From another article in Arutz Sheva
Both the Abarbanel Shtibel in Bnei Brak and Beit HaHasidim Shtibel in Ashdod were shut down on Friday and Saturday. Those managing the synagogues noted that strict orders were given at last week’s conference, and that a number of congregants had been seen openly violating the rules concerning cell phone use.   
You can’t fault them for trying. But the leaders of Ger are spitting in the wind.  As time passes, the rules against the internet are increasingly being observed in the breach. Ger Chasidim realize what the rest of the world does – that there is great benefit in internet use. And all the haranguing in the world is not going to change that.

Of course there are Chasidim that adhere to the rules – probably the majority. But I have to wonder just how long it will be before that majority becomes a minority – as the world increasingly becomes more dependent on internet use in their daily lives.

As I have said many times in the past - this is not to say that the concerns rabbinic leaders have about internet use aren’t legitimate. Of course they are. They are right to be worried about the dangers inherent in it - when convenience turns into addiction. In many cases those addictions are to internet porn – which is what I think is the focus of their concern. But what may actually be worse than porn are websites that question our fundamental beliefs. That can be a danger to anyone. But no one is as unprepared as for those encounters as those whose secular education is as minimal as theirs.

This is why their approach is doomed to fail. It isn’t working that well now and will work even less in the future. Instead of honoring a ban which has been in place for a few years now, we see incidences like the one described above. They plunge into the web without any preparation or guidelines. Those that have filters might fare well. But if something is completely forbidden as one speaker at that convention indicated - why bother with filters? 

Besides filters do not filter out everything. I don’t think there is a filter that can eliminate websites that question our faith. At least not all of them. A community that has absolutely no preparation for such encounters is an easy target for their arguments. 

(On that last score, those of us that do allow internet use have not yet risen to the challenge of those websites in our educational systems. More work needs to be done with that. A lot more!)

The rabbinic leaders of Ger – and like-minded leaders of other types of Chasidus, are barking up the wrong tree. The more they ban… the more they yell and scream, the more people stop listening to them. And once they stop listening to them on one thing, can it be that long before they stop listening to them on other things… or eventually everything?

Chasidic leaders have had a fairly successful run at keeping their Chasidim isolated from the rest of the world. They did that because they saw the outside world as harmful to a Torah- true lifestyle. And to one’s very soul!  They maintain that the more exposure one has to it, the more they will be tempted by it. They saw isolation as the best answer. 

Perhaps. In my view that is at best debatable. But even if it worked in the past, it cannot work anymore. The internet won’t let it. And forbidding the internet is becoming about as futile as forbidding air. The internet is everywhere. It is not going to be stopped. And Chasidim are not going to be isolated from it.

I know I am basically talking to the wall - as nobody in the Chasidic world is going to pay any attention to me.  But I am going to give them some advice, anyway.

Start treating technology for what it is – a useful device that can improve one’s life. One must respect both its benefits and its dangers. Ignore it at your own peril. 

Take a page from us -your Modern Orthodox brothers. Not that we have all the answers – nor have we developed methods to implement some of our suggestions – but here they are. Don’t ban it. Teach responsible usage of it. Educate your children how to deal with websites that question your faith.

And by all means use filters – especially when there are children in the picture. Isolating yourselves from the rest of the world is no longer a realistic option. Teach your children how to engage with it responsibly. In my view that is the best – if not the only way to preserve  your culture… and maybe even expand it.