Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reflections on the Internet Asifah

The previous guest post, Internet Asifah A Great Kiddush Hashem, generated some interesting reactions. While most people liked it very much, some detested it. Others simply didn't understand it; one person wrote to me in bewilderment to ask that surely the Asifah hasn't happened yet? In this post, I would like to outline some of my own thoughts on the forthcoming Asifah, and explain why I liked the guest post and decided to publish it. (Let me state, though, that it drives me nuts when people entirely ignore the words "guest post by... " and assume that the post was written by me!)

When the Asifah was first announced, there were a lot of negative reactions, which I did not understand. OK, perhaps it's slightly over the top to host it in New York's third largest venue. But the Internet does indeed pose great challenges to society in general and Orthodox Judaism in particular, not to mention it being absolutely lethal to charedi society.

People who claim that the enticements of alien values, pornography and heresy always existed, and that the internet doesn't really change anything, are, frankly, naive. Of course these things always existed, but when they become vastly more easily accessible, they are going to be accessed by people (and especially children) who wouldn't otherwise access them. In fact, people who claim that the Internet doesn't change anything are precisely those people who need an Asifah that will open their eyes to the reality!

Then there are those who criticize the "Unity" theme of the event, pointing out that this unity does not include YU, MO, Chabad, and various other groups. But it's difficult to sustain this criticism, when most of us would limit our "unity." YU does not want unity with YCT, YCT does not want unity with Reform, Reform does not want unity with Jews for Jesus, etc. I suppose one could make an argument that some seek to be as restrictive as possible while others seek to be inclusive, but I'm not sure that such an argument would be airtight enough to allow a criticism of charedim for wanting unity only with other charedim.

So, the internet poses serious challenges. That's why the Asifah seems to be a good idea. But then there are some disturbing questions about the nature of this event.

First, despite the problems and dangers of the internet, there are also some tremendous benefits. Now, apparently this Asifah will not be about banning the internet; instead, it will be about using it properly, acknowledging the necessity of the internet for many people in the modern world. But the internet is not just an evil entity that is useful for parnassah. It has numerous benefits, and specifically in one area in which Charedi society fails dismally and which is an even bigger problem than the internet: the scourge of child abuse and other abuses of power. Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, the rabbinic name behind the Asifah, complained to a friend of mine that he knows of three dozen pedophiles walking around Lakewood. Well, it's only because of the Internet that this problem is starting to be addressed! There's plenty of grounds not to like blogs such as UOJ or Failed Messiah, but there's no denying that to the extent that serious steps have been taken to deal with abuse, it is primarily due to such blogs. This makes it especially ironic that an Asifah is being dedicated to the evils of the Internet rather than to the plague of abuse.

Second, there are a large number of (mostly anonymous) claims that the main initiator and organizer of the event is a problematic individual who would be right at home with Pinter, Schmeltzer and Tropper. It's disturbing that those who wield power in charedi society often turn out to be such people. The results are always bad.

Nevertheless, as stated, the Internet does pose serious challenges, and it is something that Orthodox Jewish society should address in a serious way. That's why I liked the guest post. It was not unreservedly cynical (at least, that's not how I read it). It acknowledged that in theory, the Asifah is a good idea, and much good could potentially come of it. Unfortunately, as we have seen with the bans on rationalist Rishonim, the Lipa concert at Madison Square Gardens, Mishpachah, and with defending abusers, EJF, Troppergate, the general effort to condemn all charedi society to enforced poverty and so on, the charedi rabbinic pseudo-leadership seems to never miss an opportunity to mess up.

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  1. As usual, lots of balance and commong sense. I agree with you on all counts.

  2. The internet may pose spiritual dangers to people in general. But aren't their other issues that warrant such a gathering like this one if not a bigger gathering. For instance the demonization of working Jews, the focusing on dress more than actual actions, the corrupt yeshiva system, the restriction of individual thought and so on and so forth. The problem with this asifa is people use the internet as a scapegoat for other problems happening in the Jewish community because it easily identified. A big problem in the Jewish community is the clampdown on individual Jewish thought, a big issue that people say is a result of the internet, is people going otd when in actuality its cause is the same system that claims its the internet.

  3. Have you seen the comments on the link "condemn all charedi society to enforced poverty".
    They say that Rabbi Eliyashiv was not condemning those encouraging Chareidim to earn a living.
    Are they correct?

  4. To have MO part of the Asifa makes no sense.

    MO values are so different than Charedi values, it would just dilute the message.

    I fully understand why Charedim don't want MO there.

    What I don't understand is why MO would want to be there.

    Oh, yes, I forgot. some MO still crave Charedi approval. Silly me.

  5. >Second, it has emerged that the main initiator and organizer of the event is a problematic individual who, by all accounts, would be right at home with Pinter, Schmeltzer and Tropper. It's disturbing that such people always seem to wield power in charedi society. The results are always bad.

    It seems? Really Rabbi Slifkin? Do you have any solid evidence that this is the case other than anonymous accusations on the web?

    This is the flip side of the blogs. Since it is absolutely true that blogs have uncovered important info which has heretofore been covered up, people tend to believe any accusations regardless of their sketchiness - ( no named source, not knowing the accusers agenda.. Etc)

    I would have thought that you of all people would be extremely careful before posting something which could ruin someone's reputation. Someone who I might add that I have never heard even a hint of scandal until FM posted unsourced rumors about- and I know quite a few who dealt with him extensively.

  6. > This makes it especially ironic that an Asifah is being dedicated to the evils of the Internet rather than to the plague of abuse.

    This is one complaint against the asifa that I think isn’t valid. Sure, there are other problems in the Chareidi world. And yes, that they are having a huge gathering to “discuss” the internet rather than abuse shows where their priorities lie. But problems don’t have to be solved in order. Just because there are other problems doesn’t mean that if the internet is one it shouldn’t be addressed until all the others are solved.

    The asifa is ridiculous because of, among other things:
    1. The expectation that 40,000 people will show up, especially after they banned half the potential audience, which has lead to schools pressuring parents into buying tickets.
    2. The rest of the world has adapted to the internet just fine without huge gatherings where authority figures instruct the masses.
    3. They’ve banned women.
    4. If the masses do need instruction, it’s only because the Charedi leadership tried to completely ban the internet. While it’s admirable that they’re trying to clean up their mess, it remains to be seen if their new ideas are any better.
    5. The whole thing is predicated on the idea that people are incapable of thinking for themselves, and need the gedolim to hold their hands and be their mommies.
    6. The gedolim probably wouldn’t be able to find the power button on a computer, and yet people think they’re qualified to comment on the internet.
    7. People who really don’t know how to navigate safely around the internet – even if we use the chareidi definition of “safely” – need an instruction manual, not a few hours of speeches in a stadium.
    8. If they’re worried about kefira online, they should improve the sad excuses for hashkafa classes in yeshivos, not try to ban access to information.
    9. If they’re worried about people being mevazeh the gedolim in online forums, then the gedolim should stop doing stupid things. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    And so on.

  7. "with Pinter, Schmeltzer and Tropper"

    i was taken aback that you put all these people together in one sentence without any clarification. i wonder if this caused "mark" to misread you.


  8. "(Let me state, though, that it drives me nuts when people entirely ignore the words "guest post by... " and assume that the post was written by me!)"

    Um, your the one posting it regardless of who wrote it.

  9. Sure. And I liked it. But it still doesn't mean that I actually wrote it!
    (I'm talking about people who simply don't read carefully and actually do not see the words "guest post by...")

  10. 1) My cynical side says that the internet serves an invaluable purpose to the Haredi society, and that is, it is a convenient scapegoat to explain away every human tragedy that unfortunately crosses our path (add to this iPhones and MP4 players).

    This is the flip side of the blogs. Since it is absolutely true that blogs have uncovered important info which has heretofore been covered up, people tend to believe any accusations regardless of their sketchiness - ( no named source, not knowing the accusers agenda.. Etc)

    This is true and obvious. All technological advances, and in particular communications, come as package deals with the good and the bad. On the other hand, it is not the blogosphere's fault that many people are gullible and/or lazy in regard to verifying information.

  11. R' Slifkin, a thoughtful and moderate argument. I would just point out the false comparison you make between YU:YCT and Reform:Jews for Jesus. There isn't some clean scale which descends from true "Torah Judaism" to apostasy, and this type of hierarchy come off as churlish.

  12. --"Let me state, though, that it drives me nuts when people entirely ignore the words 'guest post by... ' and assume that the post was written by me!"

    That's what large fonts and bold type are for. You used bold type, but it apparently wasn't bold enough or large enough.

    Don't get mad. Try something different.

  13. When a Godol signs a pashkevil that you dont like, you manage to weave your way out by saying he was manipulated by askanim, but when you hear from a friend who supposedly heard from Rabbi Salomon that there are 3 dozen peodofiles roaming Lakewood you believe it without any questioning.
    This is what i dont like with this blog, everything gets twisted to an idea you want to express.

  14. You have it entirely backwards.

    I am generally of the opinion that even when askanim are involved, the Gedolim hold the views that they sign to (or as close to it as makes any difference). E.g. with the ban on my books. I have no problem with Gedolim saying things that I really don't like. It just makes me lose respect for them, that's all.

    Also, the friend that told me what Rav Mattisyahu said to him is of sterling character, and he was saying it to Rav Mattisyahu's credit.

  15. "he knows of three dozen pedophiles walking around Lakewood" to his credit? an you please elaborate?

  16. Sorry, I wasn't clear. It was told to me in the sense of his readily acknowledging it and being deeply pained by it.

  17. According to the following post and comments, there are several Rabbonim and Gedolim who are against the asifa, for various reasons:


  18. Dov said: "there are several Rabbonim and Gedolim who are against..."

    Just who elected them Gadol? Not me. If I wanted someone else make all my decisions for me, I would have been Catholic.

    Nobody can make their own point anymore. Nobody can reason on their own. It's always "Rabbi Smith says we can't..." and "the Gedolim say..." I feel like I'm surrounded by small children. Are they going to tell my Mom if I misbehave?

  19. I understand - somewhat 0 why they didn't include women or MO, or chabad for that matter, but I don't get why their didn't include the sefardi and syrian communities.
    I think this was all done without enough thought.

  20. These allegation of physical abuse can be easily substantiated. All one needs to do is speak to boys from the school. Its not secret information. I spoke with 3 that were physically abused. The schools policy was to allow hitting and it is no surprise that the abuse followed. A large percentage of boys from that school are not religious and on the streets today because of the abuse. Is this the person to organize an Asifa for klal Yisroel. I think not!

  21. The reason for the general disdain of the forthcoming 'asifa' by bloggers of an MO persuasion has to do with sponsorship as well as the anticipated stances taken by the speakers at this event. While the askan(im) presumably behind this event may or may not have been correctly identified or characterized, some of the leading rabbinic sponsors are well known in the JBlog world. they do not inspire confidence that this expensive undertaking will produce much of benefit - particulary when they saw fit to exclude females (shades of the cancelled Lipa concert due to such rabbinic interference).

    When the leading sponsor was quoted as stating in a keynote speech at an Agudah convention that hiding some allegations of pedophilic behavior was mandated by the torah, his judgment could be called into question. When the blog owner recounts a conversation that this figure had with his reportedly respected friend, whereby that rabbinic leader mentioned the presence of 15 pedophiles in his community, that shows that his attitude has been counterproductive. Why are these people still walking free in this tightly run community? If he can't deal with the real evil in his community, why should he be expected to provide guidance on a subject of which he has even less knowledge? Awareness of a potential danger associated with the internet provides only a very incomplete picture. Awareness of its benefits is also required. The potential danger associated with the ease of accesss of all kinds of information and images in the internet is obvious, as are the actual benefits of the modern information age. The availability of filters that may alleviate some of the problem is well-known. What was it necessary to rent a 40,000 seat stadium to inform the largely Hareidi public of this matter? Are they going to take attendance and pressure the attendees to sign up for one of the filter companies that will be exhibiting wares?

    Hopefully, our concerns and issues will prove to be exaggerated. However, I see no reason to support this support this venture.

  22. I'm surprised that you didn't address the poster going around signed by the "gedolim." The poster claims everything in the world happens because of the Jews and that the Internet was possibly only(!) created to test us Jews.

    I find that statement amazing. The only purpose of the Internet -- which has revolutionizied a world of six billion people -- is to serve as a test for 1 million Orthodox Jews?!

  23. I'm in Israel, I haven't seen any posters. Can you scan it and email it to me?

  24. That the internet provides "easier" access to pornography should not set aside its value in so many other areas. For example, the idea of using it only for business seems to discount its value as an educational tool.

    Children who study Limudei Kodesh 7 hours a day can't be expected to learn English from teachers and institutions who regard it as unimportant—because it's the language of the "outside world".

    When children are taught the bare minimum of English and Science necessary to give a school its state certification, they need better resources than their schools give them. Why aren't rabbis welcoming educational tools for the children of their community?

    They've said in many ways that they don't want members of their community seeing certain things; in other words, they want to control what information gets into the hands of their congregants/community members. Controlling the flow of information is not religion, it's first grade politics and power grabbing.

  25. Thanks for this balanced and rational post.

    Unfortunately one of the conclusions I have come to is that Charedi Judaism simply does not possess enough tools to deal with the 'evils' of developing society and likely are fighting a losing battle in that respect.

  26. Dana Friedman wrote:

    "Controlling the flow of information is not religion, it's first grade politics and power grabbing."

    Another word for it is "totalitarianism."

  27. If only the frum leadership would fill stadiums calling upon American Jews to make aliyah!

  28. I do come to this blog to get fascinating insights to Torah and rationalist Judaism or even current events.

    I don't come to this blog to read over the top satire of what such an event will be like. It is cynical because we all know it was written by taking what we all know will happen with the asifa and inverting it into a completely sane rally not lead by a bunch of crazy people who don't know what this fandangled internet thing is and don't care.

    So for what it's worth, I knew it was a guest post and I still do not think it has a place on this blog and should never have been posted here in the first place. If I wanted an article like that, I'd have gone to frum satire or, ironically, FailedMessiah.

  29. For Yehudah: "Even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel's sake." (Yebamos 63a)-- Internet, ships, what's the difference?

  30. I'd like to. But a) I don't have a scanner, and b) I only saw the poster/flyer in my shul; I don't own it.

    Hopefully, someone else on this site has seen the poster/flyer with the letter I quoted from (the letter is in Hebrew and English) and can send it to you.

    My apologies.

  31. It's sad that as soon as I saw information about this event I assumed it was a money making scheme and some kind of pointless exercise in superficial religiosity. Talking about how frum we all are and slamming all the evil things lurking and trying to get us.. and so on. I hope I'll be surprised to hear from people who go that it was much different than that. But this is what people in this community have caused me to expect. The actions of leaders and "activists" have bred this cynicism. Does anyone really think this will be anything other than a glorified telethon?

    On the subject of "gedolim" or roshei yeshiva supposedly being "against" this - Who cares? If they are against it, they don't have to go or participate. Are they going to try to force people to go or not go? They cannot control that. Maybe they'll throw kids out of a school if word gets out that parents went? Is this what our mafia-led society has come to? What exactly is the reason to be "against" this asifa whether you like it or not, whether you want to participate in it or not. Against it because of politics? Ie I and my leader friends aren't the ones organizing this and don't appear on the gedolic support list, so people will perceive other gedolim/roshei yeshivas as more relevant and more in charge than us? Is the opposition all about ego? I don't care to go myself (i'll hear the recap instead) but I certainly don't think an opposition to this event would be coming from a wholesome place. That's the natural assumption, that it isn't. Just my 2 cents.

  32. The problem is that the organizers put the signatures of these rabbionim on their advertising without permission. That is why they have to come out against the event rather than just remaining silent.

  33. So what are some constructive ideas to deal with the internet challenges? I want to hear from whoever has ideas.

    "Even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel's sake." (Yebamos 63a)-- Internet, ships, what's the difference?

    No difference. It's talking about the ideal Israel that uses the the goods from Gaul and the internet for the benefit of humanity. Obviously, the marine shipping and internet have other benefits.

  34. Pliny,

    That is an aggadic statement. It is like the statement, "Bishvili nivra ha'olam." It is meant to impart a teaching about how dear the Jewish people are in the eyes of Hashem. It is not to be taken literally.

    Let me ask you a question: Do you honestly think that the Internet, which has affected the lives of billions of people, was really and truly only invented so that one million Orthodox Jews should have their morals tested?

    Does that make any sense to you? Is the rest of the world simply fodder for us Jews? Complete inicidentals? For heaven's sake, why create humanity if they don't matter? Why also should we be a light unto the nations? Who cares about the nations anyways?

    In fact, from the calling to be a light unto the nations, you can argue the opposite -- that the nations matter much more than we do. Our only purpose is to benefit the nations. We are Hashem's tool. It is the nations, though, that that are the ultimate purpose. We are a means; the nations are the end.

  35. "Let me ask you a question: Do you honestly think that the Internet, which has affected the lives of billions of people, was really and truly only invented so that one million Orthodox Jews should have their morals tested?"

    No, but it was clearly invented for the sake of Israel, so that Jews in various parts of the world can more easily find Jobs in Israel without traveling here first.

    Nothing is created in this world on purely to be a test. That's a christian concept.

  36. I would not use the term ',bishvili nivrah haolam' which reflects the wrong sentiment, but rather 'lo nivrah zahav eleh bishvil beis hamikdash' which reminds us that everything that Hashem created, 'lo nivrah eleh l'kvodo' and that everything in the world could and should be used for kdusha.

    As for the asifa, they lost me when they wrote Chabad out of Klal Yisrael. the depth of tumah is that sentence is greater than all of the porn in the whole interent. A khilla kedosha of people for which Hashem says they are bovos eino can be cavalierly rejected is a sorry reflection of a person trying to be one of our 'gdolim' (sic). He should be more ashamed to walk the streets, than one who was caught with a computer full of shmutz.


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