Fair Treatment of the Lakewood Internet Ban

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Saturday’s Washington Post has (via the Religion News Service) an article from the NJ Star-Ledger, Edict turns many Jews in Lakewood into library regulars. A possible subtitle of the article is “blogs don’t represent community consensus” — especially when it comes to a community like Lakewood.

“Most Orthodox Jews, interviewed recently almost nine months after the edict was issued, said they support the policy.” The result is that Internet use in the library is up, and there is ongoing discussion of creating a public Internet center. People without Internet at the office can still do what they need to do — such as online banking or shopping — or even read their favorite sites, without exposing their children to the Internet’s harms.

The article is very balanced and fair. While it uses language like “edict” and “ban,” it also points out that those who need access can get an exemption. If a person has a legitimate need, they get permission and it’s fine. You also hear that a few residents don’t like the policy, and that blogs have ridiculed it, but you also get lines like the following:

The rabbis realize they will never get 100 percent compliance and do not intend to sniff out users, said Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, who runs a social services agency and, like other Lakewood rabbis, has long stressed the dangers of the Internet.

“There’ll always be a small fringe that will be there no matter what anybody tries to do,” he said. “We’re very, very concerned about the mainstream and we’re happy to report it has not spilled over into that area.”

As I said, this was exceptionally balanced coverage — better than much of what appeared in the Jewish media and Jewish blogs. With great respect for Dr. Marvin Schick, this ban was prudent, reasonable, and supported by the affected public. More power to the Star-Ledger and Jeff Diamant, the reporter, for getting it so right.

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16 Responses

  1. Moshe Friedman says:

    With all due respect, the phrase “filters and monitoring software” means “concurrently.” Hence the use of the word “and”.

    As to your second point, to the extent that it is true, it is because you spent a fair amount of time online researching how to do that. If a parent was using monitoring software diligently they would notice that their child was looking into that sort of thing.

    Also, there are physical hardware methods for monitoring computer use, such as keystroke loggers and the like, which will not be fooled by Knoppix or any other alternate operating systems.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, there’s no point to put this on cross-currents.com, but as a fellow techie, I think you’d appreciate Knoppix ( http://www.knoppix.org/ ) if you don’t know it already.

    Just download, burn to a CD, and boot from the CD. You get a complete Linux system without any changes to the hard disk. Unless they have a network sniffer, or some authentication on network access, the monitoring won’t work.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Moshe,

    Please do not call what I wrote “a straw man.” First of all, I wrote my article in 2000, which was before eBlaster or Covenant Eyes was on the market. And, furthermore, when you wrote “filters and monitoring software” you did not say “concurrently.” Few would think you intended for parents to use both at the same time, until you clarified later. So I had no reason to elaborate upon how both could be bypassed.

    The third point is that, frankly, you’re still mistaken. Bring me your laptop, and in an hour or so I’ll have a ‘virtually undetectable’ alternate operating system installed. No blocking software or monitoring software will be activated, regardless of what you have in your current system.

  4. Moshe Friedman says:

    Amanda: No one said that blocking software was enough. That was a straw man created by R’ Yaakov, in response to my comment about blocking software AND monitoring software, which is the same thing as parental supervision, as you mentioned.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    If you are a denizen or surfer of blogs posted by Shomrei Torah uMitzvos, they are a number from Lakwewood and even from Avreichim within BMG who have continued to post on a variety of issues, despite the ban. FWIW, I think that those who have analyzed and critiqued the ban have done so in both a thoughtful and careless manner. That being said, I see no reason to change my comments on this issue that I have voiced elsewhere in a calm and respectful manner.

  6. Amanda Rush says:

    Yaakov’s right. No blocking software, whatever its name, is foolproof. It still takes personal responsibility, and, in the case of minors and teenagers, parental supervision.

  7. tzvee says:

    Your agenda is showing again. You are trying to soft-pedal a rather embarrassing edict or ban. All I’m feeling is that it is rude for rabbis to presume that schools and parents have not imbued values of sufficient quality in their children and families and that the rabbis need to step into the fray. And such bans make us as a community look like neanderthals. Are you saying that reports in the blogs are not true? I have read some off the wall stuff attributed to major rabbinic figures. You know the quotes so I need not repeat them. Are you presently saying they did not say those things? Please clarify.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “So this will not be a question asked of parents when applying for their childrens’ school?”

    Isn;t it possible that for the sake of their children learning Torah, parents will be able to get a heter (halachic dispensation) to lie on the school forms asking about Internet?

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I think that the ban refers to children and teenagers. The grownups can drive to the library and use the Internet on their own, but the children can’t.

  10. Moshe Friedman says:

    Yes, blocking software by itself is not too useful. But when monitoring software such as eBlaster is used, the combination is virtually foolproof.

    Eliyahu – As some bloggers have mentioned, the fact that the library is a public place does not seem to deter people from viewing inappropriate material. At home online one is NOT private and anonymous if one installs the proper software.

  11. Yaakov Menken says:

    This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Rabbinic warnings against the Internet. In my previous article, I wrote:

    Blocking software, of course, is imperfect. It is designed to be simple enough for a middle-aged technophobe to install, yet powerful enough to withstand the efforts of a sophisticated teen hacker. The idea that it can actually do both is so patently ludicrous that Scott Adams spent several of his Dilbert cartoon strips lampooning it.

  12. Eliyahu says:

    a library is a public place. At home online one is private and anonymous. And with a frum run internet center (cafe, if you want to be progressive), there would be no constitutional issues with installing filter or monitoring software.

  13. Moshe Friedman says:

    “People without Internet at the office can still do what they need to do—such as online banking or shopping—or even read their favorite sites, without exposing their children to the Internet’s harms.”

    Right… this makes sense because at home parents can install filters and monitoring software, but at the library that would be a breach of the Constitution. So it’s safer for the kids to be online at the library than at home! Gotcha.

  14. Christiansontheclock.org says:

    While I certainly understand the rationale behind the edict, there are more practical answers that promote a long-term solution of personal responsibility.

    For example, some of my frends and I got together and used an online service (in this case xxxchurch.com) that tracks the websites we visit, and sends the URLs to email addresses of our choosing. Every couple weeks our accountability partner(s) look over the list and ask us about suspect URLs.

    God gave us freedom to choose, but left the tree of life within reach. He also gave us an accountability partner right in the beginning. Maybe we’ll get it right this time : )

  15. Ori Pomerantz says:

    For a gentile like Jeff Diamant, this is Anthropology (I don’t mean that disrespectfully – a good Anthropologist likes the people s/he is researching). He can write about it from a neutral perspective, since nobody is expecting him to follow the ban.

    For other Jews, however, this is Sociology. Heterodox Jews often feel the need to explain, at least to themselves, why they don’t follow Halacha – I know I do. Orthodox Jews outside of Lakewood who have Internet at home probably feel the need to explain why they don’t follow this particular ban.

    Plus, maybe I’m being racist, but we Jews seem to be argumentative and to feel the need to express opinions about what other people are doing more than the general population. It’s probably due to “Kol Israel Arevim Ze LaZe” – all of Israel are responsible for one another.

  16. Joel Rich says:

    The rabbis realize they will never get 100 percent compliance and do not intend to sniff out users, said Rabbi Moshe Weisberg,
    =========================================

    So this will not be a question asked of parents when applying for their childrens’ school?

    KT
    Joel Rich