The Internet and Rabbinic Bans

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Unlike other of our handiwork that may have ethical implications – medical advances and design of clothing come to mind – technological innovations inherently are ethically neutral. Much of what we now take for granted is little more than tiny chips that have the capacity to contain an astounding amount of information or to perform complicated tasks in no more than the blink of an eye. How technology is used is another matter.

As a rule, technology that is utilized for visual purposes poses a greater challenge to religious sensibilities than technology that is aural. The ready explanation is that what the eye sees has a significantly greater impact on behavior and attitudes than what is merely heard. This is akin to the familiar Talmudic principle, lo t’hei shmiah gedolah mi-re’ah. Hearing is less reliable than seeing.

This may explain why certain innovations that may be problematic from a religious Jewish standpoint do not evoke strong negative reactions. The cell phone, which is now indispensable to most of us is also a frequent instrumentality for improper midos, as when it interrupts tefila. It is addictive and results in the enormous waste of time or bitul and (along with conventional telephones), it is a great catalyst for lashon hara. However, rabbinical hackles were raised only when cell phones became Internet accessible.

Because they are visual, movies and televisions are regarded as off limits by rabbinical authorities. Apart from their addictive capacity, it is easy to get along without watching any movies or television. They are diversions and nothing more. We can also get by without reading the daily newspaper and while we may know less as a consequence, what we are missing is nearly always tangential to what we must know and do.

The computer and Internet are different. Of course, they can be dispensed with, yet the universe of people who do not rely on the Internet is shrinking rapidly as the younger generation which is computer literate replaces the older generation whose literacy in this regard is often limited. This is evident even in Orthodox circles, as it is everywhere else. The Internet is indispensable to most people in business and for lawyers and other professionals. Teachers rely on it, as do students. It is a key source for needed medical information, a money and time saver for shoppers and it is vital for air travel. Before long, the Internet may be the primary means of making telephone calls. Each day, bright people are figuring out how to expand its vital uses.

Too many have also figured out how to put the Internet to less than admirable uses. There is a gray zone occupied by many bloggers and a certain genre of entrepreneurs, and there is a far darker zone comprised of those who convey totally offensive material that is at once repulsive and yet also exciting to young people and many adults. There has been an explosion of such material and it has been abetted by a culture of permissiveness and the inability to constrain the Internet within national boundaries.

What is evident is that we face a serious problem. Younger people, especially teenagers, are vulnerable, as are many adults. We are faced with a destructive phenomenon that can enter the core of people’s lives and alter their behavior. For religious Jews, the danger posed by the Internet may be greater still and while this may seem incongruous in view of the standards within Orthodox life, the explanation is that because we adhere to a moral code that proscribes immodesty, the intrusion into one’s life of such material can be jarring and transformative, impelling those who are influenced to abandon entirely the values and standards that they were taught.

The easy part is to condemn that which is hostile to our way of life. The far more difficult issue is to determine what to do about a technological conveyer of what is highly improper when that same technology is utilized to help us do what is beneficial in our lives. It’s pat to say that we should ban the whole kit and caboodle, starting with the ordinary computer. The strategy of throwing out the baby with the bathwater cannot be effective in a business and societal environment that mandates access to the information and tasks available via the Internet.

We can hope that one day courts and society will come to their senses and cease putting a constitutional stamp of approval on material that is far more harmful to far many more people than dozens of items on the Food and Drug Administration’s forbidden list. There is little prospect that this will happen soon, even with world-wide opprobrium and criminal charges directed at the purveyors and viewers of child pornography. We have yet to sufficiently recognize how harmful pornography is to the children who serve as viewers.

Our options are therefore limited. Technology to restrict what can be accessed has been developed. While apparently it is not totally effective, improvements are being made, and together with parental determination to establish firm rules regarding where computers are placed and how and when they can be used by children, we should be able to attain a comfort level regarding the availability of inappropriate material.

This is not good enough for yeshivas and Beth Jacobs in Lakewood. They have decreed that the Internet is entirely forbidden and parents who transgress this decree will suffer the expulsion of their children from the schools. This isn’t the first time that such a policy has been adopted; as with its predecessors, with all due respect to the Rabbis and educators who are its architects, this is not the way to go.

The new policy allows – because it must – exceptions for parents who can show just cause for Internet access in their homes and who will install the proper controls. This inevitably means that there will be loopholes exploited by some parents, while other parents may well pursue the path of deception, which is the usual outcome when something that is useful is banned. At the end of the day, the parents and their children who will be most affected will be those who are most truthful.

This protest against what I regard as a wrongful policy should not be misread as a justification of wrongful behavior. The Internet is not going away. More and more people in our community will utilize it because it is increasingly required to get done what people need to get done. We must not target children because we have problems with the Internet and we must avoid the halachically and ethically dubious notion that we can so easily expel students from our schools. Not long ago, our schools focused on the mission of bringing children closer to Torah and mitzvos. It is painful that those who set policies for the yeshiva world are finding justifications for keeping children out of our schools. We are moving away from the great goal of kiruv rechokim to the ignoble principle of richuk kerovim. The children who we throw out or reject are out of sight and out of mind and we blissfully continue on our self-congratulatory path, proclaiming that we are people of chesed and goodness. This is the most disheartening development that I have experienced in half a century of involvement in Torah education.

What the Lakewood schools have done needs to be challenged, lest what is toxic spreads. We must not be fearful. Last May I protested in this space against the refusal of certain Lakewood schools to admit applicants whose fathers commit the unpardonable sin of working. This wrongful attitude came to a crisis point at the start of this school year when a significant number of female students had no school that would accept them. Fortunately, Israeli Torah leaders mandated that Lakewood’s Beth Jacobs could not open until all of the applicants were placed. Is it possible that the Internet policy is meant to circumvent this ruling by finding a “legitimate” way of excluding students?

Instead of following the well-trodden path of issuing bans, our rabbis and educators should deal with the obviously troubling consequences of Internet access by teaching and emphasizing how restraint and prudence can reduce and perhaps eliminate the potential harm to children. Inadvertently, the employment of harsh measures conveys a lack of faith in the ability of our schools and community, as well as our parents, to properly guide our children.

I hope that those who have authored the expulsion policy will reflect on their handiwork and will pull back. The process of reflection might begin with a clause in the frequently cited Mishnah in Sanhedrin that speaks of the merit of saving a single Jewish life. The next statement, which is rarely quoted, teaches that he who destroys a single Jewish life is as if he has destroyed the entire world.

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36 Responses

  1. dovidul says:

    I would be so interested to know how many YIDDESHE NESHOMALECH WERE EXPOSED TO THE DIRTIEST FILTH and what effect it has had on them in the long run.

    I like many have unfortanatly happened on many sites that I wish i hadnt seen, but as wrong as those sites seem, they never effected me in a way that I felt destroyed my neshama. I have a more horible feeling after I send in my tax return and it bothers me to no end when i see other Jews make a chilul Hashem of any kind. It is those times that I question my Hihadus and wonder why we exist as a people.

    I would really like to hear other opiinions on this matter, especially from those who know others that left the clan because of the unavoidable pictures.

    duvidle

  2. Joshua says:

    Michoel,
    In plenty of neighborhoods people still have TVs and they watch with moderation. Most people understand that not everything on TV should be watched just like the internet. But if it took a ban on TVs to get rid of your tv then kol
    hakovod to you. I think that people spend too much time on the internet including myself and the time can be spent better on learning torah. Of course one can spend hours on the internet watching and listening to various shiurim and can achieve a lot in learning so one has to know what is important in life.

    Regards from Yerushalyim,

    Joshua

  3. Michoel says:

    Joshua,
    People had TVs, enjoyed them and then stopped having them. It became a stigma in frum communities. It was not a sudden community wide hisorerus d’l’satta. The ban was effective.

  4. ja says:

    “The point is, if you put our good and reasonable information, it will eventually have some effect, perhaps even generate real change. The same is true about these rabbinic bans. Their effect may not be immediate or manifest, but they do matter.”

    They may or may not, but when it comes to tv, the rabbinic proclamations were not what had the effect. What happened was that schools began only accepting kids from homes without tv. Schools are the agent of change.

  5. Joshua says:

    Edvallace,
    I think people choose not to have a TV and it has nothing to do with a ban. We do not have a TV because we do not
    want a TV. Many people do not allow the internet in the house because they are concerned what will appear when they turn it on and nothing to do with a ban.

  6. Edvallace says:

    Joshua,

    you write:
    “One last thing a number of years ago when a letter went out against televisions there was one gadol who didn’t sign it because he felt would people would still have TVs so it was not going to accomplish anything and therefore it would have a negative effect.”

    I hope you weren’t using this to back up your point because all the evidence points to how wrong that person was. When I attended a very mainstream New York Yeshivah in my youth, there were only a handful of students [myself included] who didn’t have TV’s in their homes. Today, of those former classmates [36 in all] I doubt that even five of them have a TV in their homes.

    My own children attend more of a community type school with children from all backgrounds and very few of the kids have TV’s in their homes. The ban on TV’s has accomplished an enormous amount and we’re all much better for it.

  7. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Joshua, I too know gedolim that avoid signing those proclamations because they feel they are ineffective and divisive. This reminds me of Ralph Nader, who never focused on mandating seat belts because he was convinced that Americans could never be made to wear them, so he worked on structural safety issues instead. He was wrong; most rational people (i.e., non-smokers) do wear belts now. The point is, if you put our good and reasonable information, it will eventually have some effect, perhaps even generate real change. The same is true about these rabbinic bans. Their effect may not be immediate or manifest, but they do matter.

  8. Joshua says:

    The internet is here to stay in fact there will be a new internet service starting soon.
    The new service will also have rabbinical approval. If you do a google search on google.co.il
    and type in hebrew glattnet you will find it.

    Now I personally think that if we were to ban something we should ban money. Money corrupts people and can lead people to do terrible things. Of course this will not happen because most people worship money and people who have money. I know of one person although he had to fund raise he never worshipped money and that person was the great Rav Ahron Soloveichik.

    One last thing a number of years ago when a letter went out against televisions there was one gadol who didn’t sign it because he felt would people would still have TVs so it was not going to accomplish anything and therefore it would have a negative effect.

  9. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    To the extent that Dr. Shick’s post was a protest against visiting the sins of the parents on their children, I think most of us agree with him.
    However, it is ironic that many of us bemoan the absence of central authority in the orthodox community, and then turn around and gripe when authority is exercised, thus inhibiting the development of that type of authority here in the US by the death of one thousand cuts. There is a yiddish expression that describes this phenomenon– “burcherin.” I know that I have a very strong tradition in Jewish law and theology, and I know that I would not like anyone but Reb Moshe telling me what to do, but I would happily give up that autonomy to live in a community that had clearly stated standards and practices, as was the case in many shtetlach in Europe. That’s certainly better than endless and debilitating bickering about eiruvin, kashrus, school dress codes and mikva’os.

  10. Yaakov Menken says:

    Yisroel Moshe, Rabbi Reinman became involved with a book project and decided that he had to take a ‘hiatus’ from C-C. This began before the ban and to the best of my knowledge he has not changed his mind about returning.

  11. Pro Ban says:

    All sentences in “quotations” are quoted from Marvin Shick..
    – “The Internet is indispensable to most people in business and for lawyers and other professionals.”
    Correct. A ban was never issued on not having internet in business.
    – “It is a key source for needed medical information,”
    Ever heard of Echo Medical Referals (718-859-9800)? I’d trust them a 100 times more than “askthedoctor.com”
    – “a money and time saver for shoppers and it is vital for air travel.”
    vital??? Did you forget how to use a phone? Ever heard of a Travel Agent???
    Lets be clear. The issuers of the ban didn’t proclaim “Internet is Assur”. They said internet has no place in a Jewish home.
    In the average Jewish home, how often do people fly? Once a year? Twice a year? Does the average Jewish home need “medical information” – Daily? Weekly? (I have 6 kids at home. Is it two or three a year that I may have needed medical information?)
    Can someone please explain why the internet is “vital” for a Jewish home???????????
    (And please don’t write that you need it for parnosah. For that you can get an Ishur.)
    A time saver?
    How many hours does the average internet user end up wasting time surfing?
    Money Saver?
    We all know that it cost to be a Jew. Isn’t non kosher food a lot cheaper? So is non modest clothing. So if the Gedolim say not to have internet in a Jewish home, and thereby I can’t save money by shopping online, then its just part of being a Jew. (Just like we spend $ 15 a pound on matzos etc…)
    And true that the Torah is chas al mamon shel yisroel, but not at the risk of a danger that with one click, a yiddeshe neshoma can be totally destroyed. Don’t deny it. Its happened.
    – “Inadvertently, the employment of harsh measures conveys a lack of faith in the ability of our schools and community, as well as our parents, to properly guide our children.”
    At what point did they issue the ban?
    After the NUMEROUS STORIES THAT YIDDESHE NESHOMALECH WERE EXPOSED TO THE DIRTIEST FILTH.
    WHAT HAPPENED TO THE “ABILITY” OF THOSE PARENTS TO GUIDE THEIR CHILDREN??
    In who should the Gedolim have faith? In curious not so innocent teenagers walking around with laptops and wireless cards??
    What will the gedolim answer in shamayim when asked – What did you do to stop the danger? Oh, we had “faith” in the schools and parents??
    I would like to know in what way will my kids will be deprived that I don’t have in my house internet/computer/TV/video …

  12. Michoel says:

    It would be useful to have to actual text of the ban posted so we can comment intelligently.

  13. Yisrael Moshe says:

    I noticed that R’ Reinman has not posted in a while. Is it because of the ban?

  14. HILLEL says:

    Dear Reb Chaim.

    I’m a bit surprised at the bitterness of your invective against Satmar and Lakewood.

    The overwhelming majority of the fine people in those communities mind their own business and do not participate in politics. Those who do are the exception, who prove the rule.

    Satmar is THE address for anyone who needs a helping hand. They have an incredible variety of volunteer Torah lecturers in any subject imaginable. They are a bedrock source of support for many non-Satmar groups, who do not have the clout to go it alone, as witness their leadership role in the current battle over traditional circumcision in New York City.

    Lakewood is a beacon of Torah, providing a reliable source of Torah scholars for communities all over the united States.

    If there are significant numbers of people in Lakewood who object to the high standards that have been set by the Roshei Yeshiva, they are free to organize their own educational system that reflects their standards. They have no right to force the existing community to downgrade its standards to accomodate theirs.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think Dr. Schick overstates the case, offering up unsubstantiated fears. Who is being expelled? Who is being refused admission? Amanda is mistaken, because individual responsibility is an absolute requirement here, without which the whole endeavor fails. The Roshei Yeshiva are simply setting a standard. It is up to each family to decide whether and how to comply — it is not as if someone is going to go from house to house, seeing if the computers have active Internet accounts and also finding out which Rabbi permitted them.

    Because I employ people who work from home in Lakewood, as well as in Israel, I am somewhat familiar with how real-world families address this ban. In one case, someone who was working only a few hours a week decided it was not worthwhile. But that does not apply to all of those for whom their work is a significant source of income.

    One family first approached one of the rabbinic judges in Lakewood appointed to permit exceptions — he asked a few questions and decided immediately that it was okay. This family, however, did not only want permission, they wanted to know that they were truly doing the right thing.

    So although it took a month or two, they were able to get an appointment with Rav Matisyahu Solomon, the Mashgiach. He again asked how they were doing things — which involves password-protection such that only the wife, who is the relevant employee, has access. He made it clear to them that not only is it permitted, but it is absolutely fine.

    Is it not true that there are dozens of Torah schools where the family is expected to not own a television? We surely don’t imagine that everyone complies, but how many children have been expelled for violations? Yet no one can deny the positive impact that the no-TV policies have had on an entire generation of Torah Jews.

  16. Chaim Cohen says:

    “Rebbe Teitelbaum learned from this experience and decided that he would focus only on his own followers, from whom he demanded Maximum standards—he succeeded in building one of the largest Chassidic communities in America.

    Lakewood was built by Horav Aaron Kotler, who demanded maximum standards—it is a resounding success. Don’t mess with this successful formula.”

    Satmar & Lakewood, resounding success? Satmar fighting a civil war in the streets and in secular court, Lakewood rudderless and out of touch with its founding principles, two fine examples of success.

  17. Edvallace says:

    Joel,

    you write:
    Evidencing an interesting bias – anyone to my “left” is anything goes.
    KT

    FYI I don’t live in Lakewood so don’t make silly assumptions. I chose not to move to Lakewood in large part because I didn’t want to be beholden to that mindset but I don’t begrudge the ones who do and that was my point. BP is Chassidish, Monsey’s a mix and Teaneck is more along the lines of MO and that was precisely what I was trying to demonstrate. None of them have rigid standards imposed upon them by anyone and people are free to do as they wish. If you don’t like the Lakewood model don’t live there. There are enough options out there for all. But don’t write about it as if they’re trying to control the frum world either.

    Cyrk,
    You write:
    1. How snotty of you! No one reading Cross-Currents wants ‘anything goes’.Ed, This is the same psychology which puts honest working people on the level of a baal hogola 2. Boro Park can only be equated with Teaneck by someone ignorant of Jewish sociology. It seems to me that Lakewood is the new chareidi suburbia more than a yeshiva community.

    I’ll leave your gratuitous insults aside and ask you to refer to what I wrote to Joel just above. I obviously have internet [not in my home but in full view of my secretaries and it’s locked down pretty securely] and I’m no longer learning full time so get off your soapbox and read what I wrote. When I say “anything goes” I do not mean that people actually watch adult movies. I mean that you are free to do as you please without reckoning with a ban imposed by others. That’s it. Fairly simple I believe.
    I am aware that BP and Teaneack are different [FWIW – I grew up in BP] and that was my point. You can stop worrying about the ban and live in any number of places you choose. But if you choose to live in Lakewood and reap the benefits of living in a community which is centered around a Yeshivah, be prepared for the Roshei Yeshivah to impose their will in some form or another. When it happens don’t cry for pity.

  18. S. says:

    >This requires a certain sacrifice and will certainly make it hard on some but that’s something one needs to take into consideration when moving to that community.

    A lot of people were already living in Lakewood prior to a few months ago, who didn’t move to a community that doesn’t allow parents to use the internet.

  19. Marvin Schick says:

    As I reflect on the comments to what I wrote in the RJJ Newsletter about the
    Lakewood Internet ban, it occurs to me that two points need to be
    underscored. The first is that while I believe that the ban itself is
    unwise, my primary complaint concerns the expulsion or refusal to admit
    children to a school. I regard such a policy as sinful.

    Secondly, while it is not possible to assert with certainty what Rav Aharon
    Kotler, ztl, would do under contemporary circumstances I am confident that
    he would not in any fashion endorse a blanket policy of expulsion. He was
    quite tolerant when it came to basic Torah education and he did not follow
    in this regard the path exemplified by the Satmar Rebbe, ztl, as is evident
    in his students sending their children to the local co-educational day
    school, his leadership of Torah Umesorah and his establishment of Chinuch
    Atzmai or Torah schools for Israel. For more on this subject, there is the
    essay that I wrote eighteen years ago at his 25th Yahrzeit.

  20. Cyrk says:

    Edvallace:
    If you want a place that tries to uphold a certain standard . . .
    1. How snotty of you! No one reading Cross-Currents wants ‘anything goes’. We all have standards we rigorously adhere to, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
    Ed, This is the same psychology which puts honest working people on the level of a baal hogola (or worse) while elevating a kolel yunger man who misuses government funds to stay in lernen to sainthood (and before you start thinking anything else, all of my children, including married ones with children of their own are learning full time and I’m proud of them)
    2. Boro Park can only be equated with Teaneck by someone ignorant of Jewish sociology. It seems to me that Lakewood is the new chareidi suburbia more than a yeshiva community.

  21. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Although I think it is an avla(wrong) for the Lakewood leadership not to accept students whose families do not adhere to their standards, the Lakewood Kehila is in its rights as a voluntary organization.

    However that being said, I have no intention of supporting the Lakewood mosdos. I am commanded to teach my son Torah and the obligation to support Torah flows from that. Since the Lakewood mosdos would not accept my son, I do not consider myself bound to help them.

    My father learned in Kletzk and has always considered himself a talmid of Rav Aharon and has supported BMG to the best of his abilities. It would pain him to find out that his Rebbe’s grandsons would expel his own grandson from mesivtah.

    Memo to the Lakewood Cheder School: Please stop sending me the wall calendars.

    Menachem Petrushka

  22. Amanda Rush says:

    The problem I have with bans like these, (the one on cell phones as well as the ‘Net, and books), is that it removes individual responsibility from the picture. I think some Roshei Yeshiva are taking their calling as shepherd of the flock a little too seriously. The technology isn’t all bad.

    It’s enabled someone in my position literally to be able to accomplish tasks most of you take for granted. It’s also very easy to avoid smut and ideas that don’t mesh with your particular hashkafah. All it takes is a little self-discippline, and discippline on the part of parents. Get a hardware firewall, block everything by default, and select the sites you want to allow through.

  23. HILLEL says:

    This discussion reminds me of the differences of approach between Horav Jacob Joseph, Rav Haklali in New York during the early 1900’s and Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe, 50 years later.

    Rav Joseph wanted to fix all of America by imposing minimal Kashrus standards–he failed and died of a broken heart.

    Rebbe Teitelbaum learned from this experience and decided that he would focus only on his own followers, from whom he demanded Maximum standards–he succeeded in building one of the largest Chassidic communities in America.

    Lakewood was built by Horav Aaron Kotler, who demanded maximum standards–it is a resounding success. Don’t mess with this successful formula.

  24. yeshivasociety.blogspot.com says:

    What’s most troubling about this ban (and every recent use of rabbinic force on the public recently) is not the ideas the rabbis are expressing but the manner in which they express them. The rabbis have not come out and said that using the internet is assur. So why did they ensure that no child in Lakewood who has internet in his house can have a frum education? Why was it neccesary to make all the schools agree to the same non halachic standards?

  25. joel rich says:

    Bottom line: If you want an open environment where anything goes, try Teaneck, Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey to name a few. If you want a place that tries to uphold a certain standard move to Lakewood but don’t kvetch when standards are imposed.

    Comment by Edvallace
    =====================
    Evidencing an interesting bias – anyone to my “left” is anything goes.
    KT

  26. sarah elias says:

    I agree completely with edvallace. The Internet ban applies to Lakewood only – and Lakewood has always been a kehilla directed by the roshei yeshiva, whose members lived there because they wanted their children to grow up in a Torah environment. The vast majority of “yeshiva” people (whether currently studying in kollel or not) has no problem with the new takanos (which include cellphones, btw). Those who disagree with the roshei yeshiva are free to move elsewhere — or not to move into Lakewood to begin with.

  27. ja says:

    You are a voice of sanity, as always.

  28. Observing says:

    Very good article. I have struggled with the shmutz on the internet and was affected as a child, so I have always felt hesitant to be at all permissive of the internet. This article has affirmed my real feelings that brushing things under the rug and creating walls of steel will still rust away with time and leave everyone with major social trauma. This topic needs to be addressed in the right way through-out our communities opennes leads to solutions of the problem it’s that simple.

  29. Anonymous in LA says:

    I solve the Internet problem at home with my kids by whitelist-only systems.

    Email: They need to get me an explicit list of email addresses and ONLY email originating from them can get through.

    Websites: They also provide me a list of websites that I review and “open” to access. Every other attempt at seeing a non-whitelisted page is blocked. Completely. No, I don’t trust the values of third-party “nannygate” software providers to be identical to my own.

    No Googling. EVER. My kids want research for a school project? Email me a list and I’ll Google for them and email back results I’ve checked for content. It sure beats the time spent shlepping them to a library.

    No chatrooms… EVER. Why on EARTH would people want to communicate at typing speed?!?!? IM is great for sending a brief “is now a good time to phone?” blurb, but why don’t we just go back to smoke signals for speedy long distance communications, OK?

    But the camel’s nose that has slipped under the tent and nobody is discussing here is cell phone technology’s increasing ubiquity. Tell haredim here in the US and moreso in Israel that they can’t have their cell phones and you’ll cause pandemonium.

    Within 2-3 years it will become as IMPOSSIBLE to buy a plain cellphone that can only do phone as it is to buy a 5.25″ floppy drive today. Make that a 3.5″, even. Can anyone remember the last time they used a cutting-edge 100MB ZIP drives? No doubt someone will learn to hack cellphones that well-intentioned haredim filled with photos of their dear mishpachas… and insert stuff that would make Potiphar’s wife blush.

    Regarding bans, what makes them most distasteful to me is that the reasoning isn’t open source so the logic can be followed by the average literate observant lay-Jew. Instead, we get books and wigs banned and the news spreads like wildfire by phone — and bonfire in the street — and the responsible Jew wants to hear the specifics… without a game of “telephone” along the way corrupting the original message. It’s like testing to see who will dare to break a chain letter.

    Is it too much to ask gedolim to hire PR-sensitive writers to craft a well-written and self-contained press release that they’d permit to be distributed in their name, with footnotes to the specific halachic sources BEFORE going public with a ban… and acknowledge that English is the lingua franca of contemporary Judaism and have an authorized translation into English made available?

    Let’s call such a domain responsa.org.il (or something like that) and have criteria as to who qualifies to have their responsa online (PDF of the original, HTML for searching).

    Don’t we have toll-free numbers for Lashon Hara shiurim, which we call on our phones bearing dire warnings about L”H accompanied by a photo of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l?

    If I want to guarantee my ideas become and remain immortal, I’ll ask you all to ban me.

  30. jewboy says:

    I applaud you for taking this stance against what I feel is yet another ill advised step. With Hashem’s help, those who promulgate these bans will take your words to heart and stop the inexcusable richuk kerovim that you speak of.

  31. Edvallace says:

    Mr. Schick,

    I think your analysis is off the mark for the simple reason that you fail to take into consideration that you’re talking about a community that thinks very differently than you. Most people who live in Lakewood do so precisely because they want an internet-free environment. They want a community where they don’t have to worry that the teachers in their shcools will hand out assignments that require internet access and they don’t want their children to play at the homes of other children where the risks of being exposed to some of the worst filth known to man is very real.

    This requires a certain sacrifice and will certainly make it hard on some but that’s something one needs to take into consideration when moving to that community. If you want something different, there are lots of places where one can have as much internet as he desires and still have a shul to daven in and a school to send the children to.

    Dropouts are not exclusive to Lakewood. They’re everywhere and can hardly be pinned upon an internet ban or anything like it. The same theories were bandied about when television first becamse mainstream and the Frum community has admirably withstood the challenge and turned out much better for it.

    Bottom line: If you want an open environment where anything goes, try Teaneck, Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey to name a few. If you want a place that tries to uphold a certain standard move to Lakewood but don’t kvetch when standards are imposed.

  32. Leapa says:

    Please note that I have a blog dedicated substantially (though not exclusively) to this issue: frumnet.blogspot.com

    And for the record, I completely agree with Dr Schick, and in fact would carry it further to saying that it is an abdication of communal responsibility to ban a technology that the vast majority of students will have to deal with.
    Especially since, as Dr. Schick mentions, neither technical nor behavorial modifications have been attempted.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    With all due respect for the promulgators of the ban, one cannot view this ban in a vacumn. Take a look at a recent article in Haaretz that detailed many of the pros and cons of life in Lakewood, including kids at risk and other antisocial behavior. The response of the powers that run Lakewood were running those afflicted out of town, banning books and the internet, as opposed
    to treating the problem. Of course, Lakewood’s administration views itself as vested with watching over its talmidim, etc to an
    extreme degree because they view the future of Klal Yisrael is contained within its Beis Medrash and therefore warrants extra
    close supervision, as opposed to being trusted with any degree of trust. That point of view clearly stems at least back to the
    well documented practice of the Alter of Slabodka who openned and censored mail.

    On the other hand, when expects a husband to be learning and a wife to be making the bucks, the question of how a wife can earn
    a living or maintain contact with a web-based office and such sources as Google, etc, cannot be dismissed by merely saying that
    people will learn a living or write papers as they did in the “alter heim.”

    The other issues that are not discussed are those of pretext and control. Obviously, net based shmutz or any kind of shmutz is shmutz. That would seem unworthy of even a Mussar shmues or vaad. In my opinion, Lakewood, like any other society that demands complete allegiance from its denizens, wants to control commuications as much as possible-including discussions between
    Lakewood Talmidim/Avreichim and other Bnei Torah on issues of halacha or more importantly, hashkafa. Sure, the BMG office may use the net, but that is a one-way use for funds , etc, as opposed to a give and take on issues of the day affecting the overall
    Torah world.

  34. ori says:

    From what I read (and I’m not observant, so it’s just from reading), the leaders of the Lakewood community spend all of their lives in “4 cubits of Torah”. This means that their understanding of the needs of most Jews are not based on direct experience. Naturally, this will affect their decisions.

    The sages of the Talmud worked in other jobs. Rashi made wine, and the Rambam healed the sick. Even the Chazon Ish in the middle of the 20th century had a grocery store from what I read. Did it affect the breadth of their knowledge? It must have, but apparently it was still wide enough. What is different today?

  35. David Brand says:

    I would love to know if there are any historians who could provide documentation of the reaction that Rabbonim had to the Guttenberg printing press when it was invented. My guess is that the response was similar. The internet is not going away, but it looks like the Lakewood internet ban was enacted to have such opinions “on the record” so that the community takes the inherent risks seriously. Nobody will be able to ask “What did you do about it?” and their objections will be recorded for posterity.

    I think everyone understands that the technology itself, as R’ Schick says, it neutral. Just like the printing press.

  36. Chaim Cohen says:

    Bravo. Yet, you underestimate the insularity of the Lakewood powers that be. They believe that their beliefs are G-d given and that they are the only true purveyors of Torah values. Mention the pragmatic behavior of their founder, and the conversation ends.

    The Internet is treif. End of story. Yet, the BMG office uses the Internet continuously and their operation would cease without it.

    Is there a disconnect? I daresay there is and the damage this continued heavy-handed thoughtless behavior is inflicting upon their children is beginning to show in the increasing number of Lakewood teenagers struggling with their place in society. Drop out rates are up, drug use is increasing and alcoholism is no longer shocking.

    Unfortunately their leaders are anything but.