Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
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.
(Note to those who receive these posts via e-mail: If you ever wish to write to me, even just to comment on the blog post, do NOT hit reply to the email post. Instead, please compose a new message with a new subject.)