I confess to occasionally experiencing the temptation to add a few additional berachos beginning “she lo asani . . . ” to the list of those given by our Sages. Chief among those would be “she lo asani manhig b’Yisrael – that You did not make me a leader of the Jewish people.”
Our gedolim are constantly confronted with issues involving the unwritten fifth section of Shulchan Aruch. The issues found there by definition have no perfect solution; they involve a delicate weighing of many factors and speculative predictions about the future. Many of those issues require balancing a particular Torah ideal against the state of Torah society b’asher hu sham (in light of current realities).
A shmuess given in Lakewood Yeshiva, for instance, about the proper uses of bein hazemanim will find a receptive audience. The same shmuess given outside the walls of a yeshiva, and particularly if enunciated in the form of ban, might be widely ignored. Rather than influencing behavior in the proper direction, the most immediate impact would be to lower the stature of gedolei Yisrael and their edicts in the eyes of all those who ignored the ban. Knowing when and in what form to promote a particular ideal is but one aspect of the delicate balancing process between the Torah ideal and the actual level of a particular community.
The ideal of long-term Torah learning for all males promoted by the Chazon Ish in Eretz Yisrael and Rav Aharon Kotler in America has completely transformed the Torah world over the past half century. The strength of that ideal ensures that the ambitions of males in the community are directed towards gadlus b’Torah and the ambitions of young women to marrying a budding Torah scholar.
Of course, no ideal ever reflects the needs of every member of the community. Gedolim always privately advised certain individuals to pursue their avodas Hashem in other ways than full-time learning because of their particular circumstances. Such individual exceptions never threatened the ideal.
There can come a point, however, where the exceptions become too numerous not to affect the ideal. The ideal of long-term Torah learning still remains unchallenged in a large segment of the Torah community of Eretz Yisrael. There are, however, growing numbers of families incapable of sustaining themselves on the earnings of the mother alone and the father’s kollel salary and, as a consequence, more bnei Torah entering the workplace.
Even as they struggle to maintain the ideal, the gedolei Torah cannot ignore the situation of those families. How to do both at the same time is an almost superhuman task. For we cannot deceive ourselves: any tinkering with the ideal will have a profound effect on the form of the glorious Torah community that has developed over a half century.
INTERNET IS ANOTHER example of the tension between ideal and an emergent societal reality. The threat to the kedushah (sanctity) of the Jewish home presented by Internet is unprecedented. The Internet does not just facilitate access for those already in the throes of their yetzer hara; it creates access and arouses desires that never before existed. Even the most innocent user of Internet is almost guaranteed to find himself exposed to forbidden sites inadvertently (at least the first time).
The Internet is rife with violence, some of it even in the form of children’s games, which can only dehumanize and desensitize anyone who comes into contact. On-line gambling sites can quickly lead to addictions that destroy families. Even when the user does not fall prey to any of these dangers, the Internet can quickly become an alternate reality in which users spend ever greater amounts of time without any normal social interaction.
Concerns about the Internet are often phrased in terms of protecting our children, but children are far from the only ones at risk. Every communal rabbi has his own stories of families utterly destroyed by the Internet use of an adult. .
The communal ideal would be no access to Internet whatsoever. The rabbis of Beitar Ilit, for instance, recently instituted a rule that no child whose home has Internet will be admitted to local educational institutions.
The problem, however, is that in addition to being the most dangerous trap for the unwary ever invented, the Internet is a very powerful tool. An ever increasing number of basic transactions can only be done via Internet. And even when alternatives are available, the convenience of conducting the transaction via Internet is immense. Internet will one day allow many chareidim to work from home, and thereby minimize the dangers of mixed workplaces. A number of wives of American kolleleit living in Israel already work on Internet during hours when their children are sleeping.
After witnessing the destruction of lives wrought by Internet on the secular and national religious worlds, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the hesder yeshiva of Ramat Gan, created an Internet service provider, Internet Rimon, which denies access to pornographic and gambling sites and those promoting abnormal violence. Internet Rimon is not billed as Kosher Internet, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Internet cannot be rendered completely danger free and kosher.
Internet Rimon was not originally marketed to the chareidi world: the minimalistic standards designed to protect users from the worst dangers were far below the standards of the chareidi public. Over time, however, ever more stringent levels of filters have been added for customers desiring them. The most visited Israeli sites are continually being screened according to the level requested by the subscriber, and users cannot open up a page without it being pre-screened.
The challenge faced by the gedolim is that even filtered service providers, like Internet Rimon, may be seen as encouraging Internet use and putting a hechsher on something for which none is possible. On the other side, are the tens of thousands of chareidi homes connected to Internet, with little or no protection.
To say that the latter are not really chareidim, as some are wont to do, won’t solve the problem. They live among us, and what they do affects all of us. Most important, the souls lost to the Internet are precious Jewish souls, however they are defined.
What to do?
This article appeared in the Mishpacha on 23 October, 2008