Naturally the very religious world, be it Christian, Jewish or Muslim, jumps at such examples of cultural decadence to bolster their claim that only they are safe, moral societies with waterproof and airtight morals and standards. If only it were true. For all the outward piety of secluded or protected ghettos or enclaves, we are constantly being made aware of the disgusting sexual abuse of minors, followed by cover ups on the part of major authorities and pressure on victims to remain silent. Cheating, deception, and corruption are constantly bubbling to the surface and being outed, precisely because the very modern media tools that allow us to behave so badly, also reveal the dirty underbelly of ghettos of every kind. Closed societies allow problems to fester and their denizens to think that if they excoriate the outside world, that will make their inner worlds safe and secure.
So yes, the internet, television, phones with cameras, all the trappings of modernity do indeed allow for abuses and misuses. Prostitution and pornography have always existed. If now one can get it all on cellphone, that doesn’t change the pathology. But at the same time these very tools have allowed us to take the lid off the heavy layers of hypocrisy that much of the religious world has used to keep itself pure and untouchable. The attempted ban by some very Orthodox on the internet, which is manifestly failing, might for awhile help prevent such new words as these reaching the top of the list: mikvahrape, ghettobully, koshertaxfiddleifitsforayeshiva, or glatwaysofrefusingaget. But that doesn’t mean these are not problems. And if this true of us, how much more so is it true of much bigger and more dangerous religious hierarchies.
I need to add this line to preempt the usual response I get if I ever criticize religious communities. I am NOT, I repeat NOT, saying all, or most, or much of the Charedi world is like this. It is not. But small parts and some individuals really are. It does us no good to pretend all is perfect in our garden and let them get away with it.
Information, publication, dissemination, and revelation, these are our best safeguards against the tyranny of the closed and narrow-minded. But we need to learn how to use them responsibly, ethically, and morally. Happy is the person who can sleep tight at night knowing he or she has nothing embarrassing that might appear on Facebook in the morning. A little less selfie-ishness and rather more consideration.
About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.
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