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My Machberes

Dealing With Technology’s Negative Aspects

Proclamations abound in Hebrew, English and Yiddish concerning a mass rally called for Sunday evening, May 20, at Citi Field (Roosevelt Avenue and 126th Street in Flushing, Queens). Seating capacity is approximately 45,000, including standing room. Ticket sales, at $10, began on May 2.

The rally will focus on and attempt to deal with the negative aspects of technological advancements, primarily the Internet. Hardly a day goes by without yet another technological breakthrough being announced, with each new device further revolutionizing technological applications.

The rally was called for by Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, beloved Skulener Rebbe in Boro Park, and Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, greatly respected mashgiach ruchani of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood. Rabbi Salomon has for years stressed that the greatest challenge facing the frum world is the encroachment of the Internet.

The Skulener Rebbe’s call represents the invitation to the chassidishe community. Rabbi Salomon’s call represents the invitation to the yeshivishe community.

In addition to the Skulener Rebbe and Rabbi Salomon, attendance at the event has been endorsed and encouraged by the Monsey Vishnitzer Rebbe, the Beis Din Tzedek of the Eidah Hacharedis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, Rabbi Aaron Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Yehuda Adas, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, and virtually every leading chassidishe rebbe and rosh yeshiva.

An English broadside proclaims the importance of rabbonim from “out of town” communities participating in the event as representatives of their communities.

The call to “out of town” rabbis is from (in the order on the proclamation): Rabbi Chonon Wenger; Rabbi Doniel Neustadt; Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib; Rabbi Dovid Merling; Rabbi Naftali Burnstein; Rabbi Gershon Bess; Rabbi Moshe Silver; Rabbi Yitzchok Margareten; Rabbi Avrohom Teichman; Rabbi Zev Cohen; Rabbi Shmuel Baddouch; Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro; and Rabbi Dovid Haber, all prominent rabbis in the United States and Canada.

“Expo” hours are listed as 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the “asifa” (assemblage) program is from 7 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, the sponsoring organization, was established to deal with the challenges of technology perceived to be damaging to the fabric of religious communities.

The Internet

The Internet has of course had a tremendous impact on culture and commerce, including the rise of near instant communication by e-mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) “phone calls,” two-way interactive video calls, and online shopping sites. Every facet of the Internet serves and has an impact on the observant community. And the Internet continues to grow, driven by ever greater amounts of online information, knowledge, and commerce. Since 2007, more than 97 percent of the world’s telecommunicated information is carried over the Internet.

Some governments, such as those of Iran, North Korea, Burma, China, and Saudi Arabia, restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet, especially political and religious content. This is accomplished through sophisticated software that filters domains and their content so that they may not be easily accessed without elaborate circumvention.

In Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, Internet service providers have voluntarily restricted access to socially unacceptable sites listed by authorities. Many countries, including the United States, have enacted laws against the possession and/or distribution of certain material over the Internet, especially that of child abuse. But software filtering is not mandated. There are many free and commercially available software programs with which a user can choose to block offensive websites on individual computers.

The darker side of all the new technological advances is widely recognized. Legislation has been enacted to deal with practical problems such as hand-held cell phone usage during driving, texting while driving, privacy issues, etc. Monumental challenges continue to threaten civilized conduct in addiction to frivolous computer usage and Internet addiction. Some national political leaders, here and abroad, have been disgraced and destroyed by the exposure of their computer habits.

As of 2011, more than 2.2 billion people regularly use the Internet. Torah study has been immeasurably advanced by computers and the Internet. Heaven surely created the Internet for hebrewbooks.org, the website that has more than 51,000 sefarim instantly available, printable and downloadable for free. This means that if you have Internet access, you automatically have access to a Torah library of more than 51,000 sefarim regardless of how much shelf space you have or how small your home is.

Innumerable other websites house seemingly unlimited divrei Torah. Several illustrious chassidishe Rebbes have websites to disseminate their teachings and serve as successful vehicles of outreach.

The positive aspects of the Internet for the observant community can be extolled without end. However, the dark side of the Internet also affects the observant community.

Satmar Internet Usage

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe

The Internet is a reality, literally a necessity, and will not go away. That realization is accepted by all segments of the observant community. But the international Satmar community, led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe based in Kiryas Yoel and Williamsburg, has laid down the law on Internet usage for its chassidim.

Satmar is one of the largest and leading chassidishe communities. What happens in Satmar is closely followed by the entire chassidishe world. No Satmar home is permitted to have Internet access. Children from homes with Internet access are not accepted into any Satmar school. Business Internet usage outside of the home must be filtered. Computer kiosks have been established where individuals can conduct private and business Internet usage 24/6 at minimal cost. Of course, the kiosks are filtered and computer screens are fully viewable and monitored at all times by appointed chassidishe managers.

Several pages in the Satmar weekly newspaper were recently devoted broadsides and articles promoting the rally. The Satmar Rebbe, however, did not call on his followers to attend the rally, nor did he prohibit participation.

Speculation focuses on the possibility that the Rebbe, seeking to conform to the conduct of the Divrei Yoel, founder of Satmar, chooses not to attend any event where foreign languages, i.e. English, might be spoken. Further, with yeshivish and Modern Orthodox participation, not everything discussed or formulated would be necessarily acceptable to the hashgacha of the Satmar community.

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