Friday, May 25, 2012

Choose Your Own Rabbi, Asifa and The Internet

A psak, (religious ruling) isn't supposed to be just based on the "sources."  According to chazal, our sages, it's supposed to be doable.  That's why you have to ask your question personally, individually, because a good competent rabbi-posek (decider) may give totally different answers to the same question posed by different people.

In the Mishne (Jewish Law book) of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, we're told to choose a rabbi.  Yes, that means that we must look for a rabbi that suits us.

We are not supposed to listen to every Tzvi, Dovid and Hershel who makes grand announcements about what Jews are supposed to do or not do.

That highly publicized self-promoting event aka the Asifa is just an exercise in tooting their horns or like a big "pissing contest" to see who can frighten more people.  You can find all sorts of reports about it like this one I found in Life in Israel.

When rabbis or any other moral leaders exaggerate they end up making themselves just look silly and turn more people off to Jewish Life.  The Asifa has given the comics great material.
Oy the Internet is evil...but I'm still watching a live stream. @The_Asifa
Too many ills in the chassidishe community and THIS is what they focus on? OY VEY. @YeahThatsKosher
Best part of the asifa was that I got new followers on Twitter! @gloooopy

Rabbis are not supposed to make a ruling that can't be kept, and this ban on the internet certainly transgresses that one.

The internet. like telephones, are here to stay.  And telephones are a good comparison to the internet, because today personal telephones, aka cellphones are the norm.  There are even people who don't have landline telephones, because they need the constant contact. And today most telephones have internet options.  Email, twitter etc don't cost anything once you're hooked up to the internet, so why waste money on a phone when there are verbal chats for free? 

There's nothing in Judaism requiring rejection of modern technology.

Food for thought my friends.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach


Anonymous said...

Batya please be careful of how you speak of rabbeim even if you disagree with them.

You may wish to post this response by Rav Friedman

videoat the bottom

The short version is "is your kedushah stronger than the kippah?"
chag sameach

ariela said...

Batya, not sure what to think about all this... I am sure though that the Rabbeim have our very best interest at heart. I did not get to watch the conference. I just think we need to keep our heads in Torah and our Hearts toward HaShem. Smile and spead emmuna

sara said...

they didn't ban it, but wanted to highlight its dangers. they just reiterated guidelines at this stage which include:
if one must have internet, then 1) not in the home; 2) at work only with a filter.

no real solution, just reiteration and highlighting the enormity of the problem.

and it is a problem since it has broken up many homes, marriages and destroyed lives. yes, it is an amazing tool when used properly, but right now it is pulling too many people into an abyss. and that is what the rabbis are attempting to grapple with.

there are no easy answers or solutions--they are just giving a heads up to a much bigger problem than many people want to admit. rabbi manis friedman's approach may work for very very few people and will probably be much more relevant after mashiach comes.

the internet will eventually be completely clean and danger-free one day, but we are not there yet.

don't slam these rabbis. even if you don't agree or understand, it is far better to say nothing at all and wait it out as hashem does His thing in the world. "emunat chachamim"- faith in the sages is one of the biggest issues people are being judged on in heaven right now. (emunah only starts where your intellect ends--that's the test...) don't be caught on the wrong side and ESPECIALLY beware of influencing others to the wrong side... the internet has a viral influence and you will be held accountable for every one you sway in a wrong direction. and the reverse is true as well.

Eli Skoczylas said...

Thank you, sara, for giving me the gist of the results of this "asifa" without my having to wade through a lot of halachic hand-waving and horrid Hebrew/Yeshivish. If my response is off-target, it's because I am responding to the idea, your notes, and my extrapolation of the exposition and doubtless extensive disquisition on those ideas.

The Internet is about raw, unfettered communication. And I mean that in a literal and precise, technical sense. The Internet is a collection of hardware and software standards designed to allow ANY kind of other information to be communicated across disparate networks, whether they are phone networks, satellite networks, computer networks, or what have you. It was designed by the U.S. military-industrial complex in the late 60's and 70's to provide a self-healing, robust network that could provide C3I (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) even through a nuclear war. Even if (when) parts of the Internet fail, the 'Net as a whole remains active, and can help restore service to the failed portions. It's more robust than the electrical power grid.

The part of the Internet people are most familiar with, besides e-mail, VoIP (phone, like Skype,) and VoD (video on demand, including YouTube and new cable services,) that few people realize form the core of the Internet, is of course, the World Wide Web (WWW,) or just "the Web," that so many mistakenly call "the Internet." WWW was originally designed in the 80's by a physicist, to help people exchange scientific papers and experimental data, if you can believe it. And WWW shares the common infrastructure of the Internet, and so it is pernicious, pervasive, and robust; like the cockroaches it, too, evolved to survive World War III.

BECAUSE the Internet is so much more than just "the web," and because it is more reliable than the electrical power grid, all modern forms of communication now use the Internet as their "backbone." If you have telephone, you have "Internet." If you have cable television, you have an Internet connection. And here in Israel, hevrat haheshmal (IEC - Israel Electric Company,) is currently running field trials of Internet provided over the electrical wires, so within 3-5 years if you have electricity you will have ANOTHER Internet connection in your home. It is really a basic service like water or sewage.

So imagine that the asifa had made the same pronouncement about, let us say, water or electricity or gas: You may use electricity within strict limits in the office, but you are not permitted to have it in the home. Water is dangerous (people can drown! property is damaged by flooding!) so we won't hook it up at home. Gas can cause fires, so we'll only permit gas cooking at commercial kitchens, where it can be carefully monitored. Had they said any such thing, everyone would have called them foolish Luddites. But regarding the mysterious Internet, only technology mavens clearly see the arrant stupidity of such a ridiculous, unworkable proclamation. No Internet? No email to communicate with relatives! No Skype for zayde to see and chat with the kinder, or learn with your hevruta overseas! No telephone or voice mail! No chance to watch Amnon Yitzchak shiurim late at night! (Actually, that last might be a blessing, after all, but that's another story....)

And in order to comply with this ruling, God-fearing people would need to disconnect from television, telephones, and even electricity. Why don't they just ban fire, while they're at it, and crawl back into some caves to gnaw on carobs during the week, and raw meat on Shabbos?!! It's fortunate that Monsey is relatively close to the Amish country - they're going to need help from those goyim to turn their backs on the nineteenth century.

sheldan said...

Batya, I think I am going to be the first commenter to agree with you...

With all due respect to these rabbis, you are right. Ultimately, it comes down to one's self-control. As I see it, the purpose of observance is to perfect one's character traits, and presumably one would learn about the hazards and how to avoid them. Although technology was not mentioned specifically in the Torah, we were meant to be able to function in any modern society using the interpretations developed. But it may come down to recognition of right and wrong and being able to control one's impulses.

Batya said...

One of my big points is that the "grand announcements" by rabbis are problematic. There are many more serious problems than internet.

I'd like to see more mehadrin derech eretz.

sara, it's not the internet that breaks up families, it's how people use it. Instead of more isolation, we have to teach our youth how to deal with the world and how to control themselves and the tools available. Hiding the tools won't help.

Sheldan, thanks

Pragmatician said...

This post made me laugh because it's strikes me as "so true".

Batya said...

prag, glad you liked it
How are you?

JOSH said...

Thanks you for this piece. I'll be only the second commenter (shockingly!) to agree with you. I think the Asifa was an enourmous mistake, and did far more harm (as a chilul hashem, both for jews and nonjews alike) than good. Here is why.

1) The internet is a problem for ultra-orthodoxy for the same reason as it is a problem for Iraq or Iran--it actually allows the free expression of ideas necessary for any healthy and just society. The Asifa was largely held in response to the recent tide of expression by jews questioning ideas (as we always should!) and jews from broken, abusive homes--like Deborah Feldman-- and victims of sexual violence in the chasidic community. The Asifa is another effort to muzzle free thought and expression that may cause people to actually think about the way that they live and the principals they stand for.

2) I was also surprised not to hear anything positive about the internet. I think the rabbeim speaking are not familiar that you just HAVE to use the net all the time: to book a flight, email a relative, see the stock market, look up what time shabbos starts...many school now even require it! A tremendous amount of torah is on the internet ( , so it's time we take the approach Chabad (who, by the way, were not invited to the Asifa) does to technology, and embrace it for the good qualities!!! The metaphor tot he phone (or automobile, or any technology)is a good one. why should we stay in the dinosaur age? This is not what Hashem had in mind!

3) There are more pressing issues in the Jewish community today, such as sexual molestation, racism, and COMPLETE indifference about human rights and the environment. Instead of facing these, we spend millions meeting about the internet, an amazing new technology??!

4) I don't see how they could announce that anyone who uses the internet loses their right to the world to come?! I dont see how they can make such a blanket I just lost my portion, and we all did on this site? What about looking up shabbos times, or omer nights? It is extreme statements like tihs that undermine the entire event, let alone the rabbiem themselves. If they had professors speak about the psychological effects of internet on the brain...THAT would have some credibility. But blanket, extreme statements about a technology they are not even familiar with makes one wonder.

More reasons abound, but I'll stop here.

Batya said...

Josh, we can just add them to the long list of false prophets.