In yet another tour-de-force, Mrs. Judy Brown does an excellent job in evaluating the impact of the internet on Orthodox Jewry. I think she has put her finger on exactly what the greatest danger is. It isn’t porn. It is knowledge. Knowledge not generated by the Torah but knowledge generated by the entire world. She calls them gentiles. And characterizes the internet as “Gentiles at the Gates.” But there are plenty of Jews who contribute non Torah – even anti Torah knowledge to the world wide web.
Mrs. Brown tells the story of one Lakewood family where a daughter was given permission to use the internet for a homework assignment Long story short, the information she inadvertently encountered eventually led her go “Off The Derech.”
That devastated the family. They threw out their computer after the fact no doubt regretting ever having it. They also cut off all ties to that daughter – who has since left home – fearing the negative influences she would have on her siblings. Obviously the wrong move, but not the subject of this post.
In essence Mrs. Brown seems to be capitulating to Charedi rabbinic leaders desire to rid the community of all internet access. Here is how she puts it:
Technology can trample on this way of life, claim some souls here and there, but the well-shackled mind is ultimately stronger than any knowledge thrown at it. Sacred ignorance has survived the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, democracy, world-changing scientific discoveries and women’s liberation. It has endured two millennia of knowledge and change. It will survive this, too.
The idea of a well-shackled mind being in a superior position to battle going OTD is certainly understandable. But in practice, the mind can no longer stay well-shackled. The internet is not only here to stay. Its ubiquity is increasing by leaps and bounds via the smart phone. No ban in the world has the power to stop it. It is like spitting in the wind.
Nor do I concede that ignorance is in any way sacred.
Surely being ignorant of all the questions and challenges to our faith would serve to keep us devout. But ignorance is being increasingly replaced by the ability to gain instant answers to difficult questions. No longer will a child be scolded for asking a tough question and retreat in shame for even thinking to ask it. If it is unanswered – or worse derided by a parent, Rebbe, or teacher, the internet is right there for the asking with answers galore. Answers that are anything but devout.
So even if ignorance is bliss (or sacred) it is disappearing from the masses like no other time in history. Bright and curious people are going to have these questions and seek answers to them somewhere.
This is nothing like withstanding the winds of enlightenment a couple of centuries ago. Those winds were responsible for many a devout Jew to going off the Derech. The stories of some of the great young minds of the great Yeshivos in Europe becoming heretics are legendary.
But that took diligence. A student had to go out of his way, to a library or to attend a University and buy into the convincing arguments of heretical thought being taught in books and universities there. Being unprepared hashkafically for the challenges encountered, they bought into the arguments and became heretics.
But today, all that is brought into the home in an instant. There is no point in trying to legislate it out of the home. Saying the internet is Assur is more futile than saying college is Assur. All the haranguing in the world will not impact all but the few.
All the bible thumping… all the scare tactics about saving the soul will just not work on vast numbers of Jews. That should be obvious by the fact that internet Asifa scare tactics haven’t really changed things all that much.
Even if we accept the numbers quoted by Mrs. Brown one in four families inBoroPark- one of the largest enclaves of Charedi Jews in the world – has internet access. Even with filters, it’s virtually impossible to filter out all the information that would lead a child – or even an adult in many cases – into going OTD! Filtering out smut is one thing. Filtering out information that is not strictly Torah based is another. I don’t think it is even possible.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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