Spared the Responsibility

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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

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6 Responses

  1. YM says:

    Dave, read the Rav Aharon biography that came out a few years ago. It is clear that he wanted as many men as he could get to stay in learning for as long as possible, for the sake of K’lall Yisroel, even when the individual’s own needs may have been better served by going to college or working. A specific case of this is mentioned in the book.

    Now, the definition of “as many men as he could” is limited by the reality of the times that Rav Aharon was living in. Whether he would still feel the same way now is an open question.

  2. Shmilda says:

    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.”

    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 charedi.” The chareidim can say “she asani kirtzono.”

  3. LOberstein says:

    Excelent article dealing with very important societal issues. Two anecdotes that I would like to share. I was reliably told that a major philantropist who supports kiruv in a major way personally went to RavStheinman and offered to put up fifty million dollars to create a framework for avreichim to learn how to earn a living in a kosher environment. The offer was refused because the rav said that if that option existed there would be a mass exodus from kollel learning.
    Anecdote two: An American businessman asked a kollel wife I know well to hire other kollel wives (and others) to do telemarketing from their homes in Israel to cusotmers in the USA. The kollel wife sent her husband to ask Rav Yitzchok Berkiowitz who decided that as long as it was a laptop that could be put away when not in use that was properly filtered, then these employees could use the internet to earn a parnasah.
    From this we see that native English speakers can have the internet and not flee from their Torah way of life but Israeli chareidim are on much more dangerous ground. They cannot handle the choice, it is all or nothing.
    Am I drawing the right lesson? If so, what is the future for Israeli chareidim? Will they ever be able to combine Torah and Parnassah? Why is their society so afraid of any contact with the outside world and isn’t that a sign of weakness, not strength?
    I know someone who made aliyah to Beitar and his children made yeridah back to Canada because they couldn’t take the oversight, even though they are as frum as can be. This is a problem that begs fir Gedolei Yisroel to find a solution besides bans. Will they?

  4. Steve says:

    Your article reminds me of the levaya I went to one Rosh Chodesh. Someone there got up to give a hesped, and said, “Being that today’s Rosh Chodesh, we are not allowed to say hespedim. But if it wasn’t Rosh Chodesh I would say…”

    If you’re so grateful about not having the burdens of leadership on your shoulders, why not leave the job of deciding what problems to deal with to those who are the the leaders?

  5. SM says:

    Isn’t it the other way around? The Internet provides untold opportunities to learn and communicate. The problem is that the subject matter is hard to regulate.

    This seems to me an important difference in two respects. Firstly, by acknowledging that the Internet is primarily positive we present a confident face to the world. The risk inherent in your approach is that anything that cannot be utterly controlled is dangerous. I am not part of your community (I am MO) but I cannot imagine the message is particularly appealing even to your own members. Speaking personally it leave me cold.

    Secondly, we can also eat what we like, go where we want and talk to who we wish to. Every area of life presents us with choices and included in those choices are the negative ones. I do not think for an instant that this is your view but – taken to its logical extreme – your approach would forbid anyone to leave their house unless chaperoned. And, que estos custodiat est? (as I believe the original Aramaic has it – ‘who shall guard the guardians?’).

    Surely it is better to encourage people to use the Internet with respect. We are a community which can manage to walk past MacDonalds without coming over all faint and dashing inside. We are capable of turning our backs on the violence and unpleasantness that certainyl exists. We can do it by replicating ‘non-kosher’ sites (as we do with restaurants and shops) and by giving a kashrut certificate to others (ditto). The latter might even allow for some income raising as there are advertisers who may wish to make it clear that they are NOT associated with various ‘products’.

    But bans and talk of bans simply send people where they should not go and demonstrate that those who lead do not trust those they lead. And, ultimately, leaders who don’t trust their followers find that the lack of trust is due to their own defects rather than the followers’ wickedness. Moshe Rabbeinue proved precisely that on several occasions. He overcame rebellion by demonstrating that the majority of the people would take the opportunity to stand with him when given the choice.

  6. Dave says:

    ‘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.’

    Rabbi Rosenblum,
    Without getting into the situation is Israel, what is your source for saying that Rabbi Kotler promoted the idea of ALL males learning in America, something that has not happened since the Jews lived in the Midbar with the Man falling? In his time, I imagine, he was happy to get whoever he could to join his Kollel.
    Secondly, I don’t understand this concept of there being one ‘ideal’, one derech for everybody.