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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘internet’

The State of the Internet Revolution in International Affairs: Less Progress Than You’d Think

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

In January 2000 I wrote an article entitled “Bringing Middle East (and International Affairs) Studies into the Twenty-First Century.” Rereading that piece exactly a dozen years later to the day is an eye-opener. Some of the things I predicted then have become so commonplace that it is hard to believe such ideas were so daring to present back then. Others haven’t happened much at all.

Here I’m talking about how international affairs writing has been changed. I began by pointing out that our project to produce a high-level online journal on the region, the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, then four years old, was an innovation that some had mocked and predicted would fail. But now that journal is entering its 17th year, having published around almost 500 full-length articles each reaching an audience of around 30,000 people! By way of comparison, most printed academic journals in the field have a circulation of around 1000.

At that time, I also had to explain our new turn to PDF/Adobe and how that was more convenient in several ways. That, too, is now taken for granted and new more advanced systems have been developed. I continued:

It is also necessary for funding agencies to rethink how their monies can be most effectively used. Amounts that have been paid for individual books–or even papers–and conferences could have 100 times more impact if applied to some of the new [computer-based] approaches discussed below.

Strange as it might seem, this still hasn’t completely happened. The money spent on a single conference or on a print journal could probably fund a journal or other online project for one or two years.

Following that I suggested a program for the future.

Equality for internet publications with printed media. Internet publications that meet the existing criteria should have equality in being indexed and being used for academic rank and tenure decisions. There is no intrinsic reason why a publication should not be treated differently simply because it is not produced originally on paper.

What might be called digitalphobia, however, has only gradually waned. In theory, this goal has been achieved but it is hard to get that point implemented.

Internet book publishing. Today it can take up to one year just to work through the reviewing process and gain acceptance for a book, as well as another year to be published. The resulting books usually sell for $30 to $50, putting them out of range for almost everyone except libraries (whose resources must be reaching their limit). It isn’t as if anyone is becoming rich in this process, on the contrary, academic presses are often losing money. We must work out acceptable ways to publish via the internet, both on a for-sale and free basis, so that authors will receive the proper credit and academic benefits. We should also be very aware of the possibility of creating `living books,’ monographs, and papers, which can be updated as events, new sources, and the author’s own interpretations develop. Such materials can also benefit from criticism so as easily to correct errors or alternative interpretations.

Twelve years later we are still only at the beginning of this transition. Publishers have benefited from the Kindle and other such products enough to save themselves. As for ebooks, the terms offered to authors are quite unattractive. And publishers do nothing much to publicize ebooks. Of course, they don’t do much to publicize print books either. It’s strange to have written books on Egypt, Syria, and Arab reformers—to cite only three examples—at a time when these issues are front-page news every day and see the publishers do absolutely zero to promote them.

The use of teleconferencing and computer telephones for research, meetings, and discussions. We now have access to low-cost, easy-to-use teleconferencing and voice-conferencing systems that allow us to erase geography in our daily work. These will come into increasing use in the coming years, especially as high-speed internet connections (such as ISDN, DSL, and cable modems) become more widespread.

It is amazing the extent to which this has not happened. Oh yes, there are such things but they have been strongly resisted and are still rare. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on plane tickets and hotels instead. The argument is face-to-face meetings are so much better. Certainly, that is true on one level but the ratio of “in-person” events to those using digital communications is still absurdly high.

New styles of research and academic projects….An international team can be assembled to study a topic in which all exchange materials or smaller groups of partners work on a paper together. When impossible to meet face-to-face, they can meet now by teleconferencing after the papers are completed for a discussion on a higher level than would otherwise occur. The monies saved could be used to pay the researchers. The resulting book or individual papers can be published traditionally or on the internet.

While I know you can think of examples of such things they are still amazingly rare.

Big online archives and research tools where people know how to find them. We need a system of documentary collections and other materials that can be readily used by researchers.

This has happened to the extent that many college students only use online sources, more’s the pity. Often, though, these troves are mishandled (in terms of judging the quality of sources) and underutilized when it comes to primary source material. Ironically, it is just as easy to go to the original source yet people use the tool of Internet to restrict themselves lazily to secondary sources, for example, the opinions of journalists or bloggers rather than what people actually said or did.

Specialized seminar groups on every topic. Those interested in any subject, no matter how specialized, can organize mediated, membership discussion groups involving experts from anywhere in the world.

This has happened to some extent, both in terms of institutional and individual lists. Yet one wonders whether this is as systematic as it could be.

The use of internet broadcast lectures and conferences. Using current technology like Realplayer and Windows Media Player, sites can make available on demand either radio (sound only) or television (sound and picture) coverage of lectures and meetings so they would be permanently available to people everywhere in the world. The cost of such technologies is quite affordable. The greatest advantage of this technology, however, is that a lecture or conference attended by one hundred people on one day can now easily be seen by thousands of people–at their convenience–over a long period of time. Of course, as with other media, people must get used to using them.

Such things have developed dramatically.

Embedded footnotes. Increasingly, in publishing papers and books on internet, we can use notes linked to the sources being quoted, allowing instant access to sources. This creates an infinite chain of information that provides far more breadth and depth than anything written on paper. Obviously, any quotation out of context will be clearly seen, while translations can be checked as well.

This, of course, has happened so thoroughly it is hard to remember what earlier life was like.

Is Making Money on the Net Passe? (Podcast)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Making money on the internet is not just a science fiction fantasy. On the second part of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show, Ryan McKenzie, director of Infobarrel.com, returns to give more interesting tips on how to make money by crowd sourcing and using your creative talents. So is writing articles on the internet for you? Find out by listening to part 2 of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show.

Kosher or Not, the Internet Cannot be Stopped

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

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.

Was ‘Internet Ban’ an Authoritative Decree of Torah Sages, or Just Baloney?

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

OK. The title is a bit extreme. But at least I have your attention. Last May – one will recall – there was a giant Asifa – a gathering of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews dealing with the dangers of the internet. Although it was billed as a way to properly use the internet, it was ultimately about trashing it and forbidding its use altogether accept for livelihood purposes. And even then – only with filters and only outside the house.

Not that any of that surprised me. But what did surprise me is the way Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman who introduced 99-year-old Israeli Posek, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner.

Using Rabbenu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva as his source Rabbi Wachsman said that when Rivivos Yisroel (thousands of Jews) gather in one place and decisions for action are made by leaders of Klal Yisroel, those who separate themselves from those actions lose their portion in Olam Haba. I suppose he would call this ‘decision for action’ by Rav Wosner Daas Torah.

After that introduction what followed was Rav Wosner paskining in the most serious and solemn of tones that it is absolutely forbidden to own or use any device that has internet capabilities in one’s home – even if it is filtered. The only permit was for business, with a flter, and only outside the home. He added that it is even forbidden to enter a home that has the internet. And that religious schools should exclude children whose homes have it.

Despite that edict and Rabbi Wachsman’s dire warnings, that Psak has been almost completely ignored by the vast majority of Charedim. Although immediuately after that Asifa there was a flurry of activity by a number of Charedim to get rid of their smart-phones and remove the internet from their homes – the ban has basically been unsuccessful. I guess those poor people who still have smart-phones and the like (which is probably the vast majority of Charedim) have all lost their Olam Haba.

One of the things I noticed the most in my recent trip to Israel was that in the Charedi neighborhoods in which I hung out – virtually everyone had a smart-phone. They were so ubiquitous, that I could barely believe my eyes. Perhaps some of them had filters, I don’t know. But that wasn’t the Psak of Rav Wosner that Rabbi Wachsman said must be followed – or else! Rav Wosner said that it was only to be used for Parnassa purposes – with filters – in places of business. The Charedim I saw were using their smart phones causally at their leisure during Chol HaMoed Sukkos. Tons of them!

Not to let things just slide, members of the strident right keep coming out with public statements about such devices. Most recently just before Sukkos it was claimed by the Israeli Yated and other Charedi newspapers that Rav Chaim Kanievsky issued a public notice saying that anyone who owns an i-phone should burn it. It was later denied by sources close to Rav Kaneivsky saying that he only wished to warn people about the dangers involved.

Then something amazing happened. Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak was photographed using an i-phone in his car. One may recall that he was one the earliest proponents of destroying them – railing against its dangers. And yet, there he was using it himself. He defended his own use of it claiming he got a Heter (permission) from another elderly Gadol, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, to use it for Kiruv purposes.

Well… all of a sudden the internet seems to carry some value among Charedim, at least enough to make exceptions to destroying it. And in the case of Rav Kaneivsky – he too seems to place some positive value on it. At least enough to be moved to deny the claim that he had called for destroying i-phones.

One of the biggest criticisms I have about the strident right, is their black and white – all or nothing approach to everything. Of course this is quite in character for them. Everything In their world is black and white, including their clothing. They never heard of the word grey. There is no nuance. No subtlety. No concessions to any of the positive values of something they don’t approve of. If they think the bad outweighs the good – then they just say it is all bad and forbid it. But life does not work that way. Reality will trump rhetoric every single time they come into conflict with each other. As can be plainly seen by the way their bans are ignored.

As I have said over a Gazillion times, the internet is a tool that can be used for good and bad and should be treated that way. The right always said that the bad so far outweighs the good that there is nothing to talk about. Rav Wosner sure felt that way. Even though he probably never used the internet in his entire life.

Another thing I have said over a gazillion times is that I agree with the right about the dangers of the internet. I also agree that precautions must be taken to prevent encountering those dangers. Where I part company with them is in their all or nothing approach. And in their refusal to acknowledge that there is a positive side to it worth utilizing. Their public knows it. Which is why Rav Wosner’s Psak is honored more in the breach than in its adherence.

Rav Shlomo Aviner has the most sensible attitude about using this technology, it is basically the same position most moderate Charedi and Centrist rabbinic leaders have. From YWN:

The rav explained that SMS text messages and internet connectivity are helpful to many people. He feels there is no prohibition in using either of these services.

“It is certainly preferable to have a kosher phone but this is a chumra and not obligatory. One who feels a non-kosher phone is a michshol must prohibit himself from using such a device” the rav stated.

Rabbi Avi[n]er  continued by explaining there are things the Torah did not prohibit but if a person realizes such a device will cause him to stumble, such a person must set restrictions into place to avoid falling due to this michshol.

I wonder if Rabbi Wachsman still believes we are all going permanently to hell?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Rabbi Kanievsky: Burn Your iPhones

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who of Israel’s pre-eminent haredi rabbis, issued a public notice on Sunday urging owners of iPhones to burn their devices, comparing the popular cell phones to weapons of war.

The ban on iPhone products was published on the front page of the popular haredi paper Yated Ne’eman.  The edict stated that not only is it forbidden for Jews to possess an iPhone, but that it is also not permitted to sell the phone to non-Jews, citing a Jewish law forbidding the sale of weapons to non-Jews.  The only solution – burning the device.

Rabbi Kanievsky’s ruling came after he was approached by businessman asking his opinion about the phones.  The Eda Haredit has also condemned iPhones and all other smart phones.

Smartphone devices have been condemned by many hareidi rabbis due to the ease of using the internet privately, taking part insocial media, and accessing pornography sites.

Members of the hareidi public have been encouraged by their leaders to use “kosher cell phones” which have no internet or text message capability.

Learn Hebrew with Israel’s Best Teachers – In Real-Time, In Your Home

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

eTeacherHebrew.com offers a unique online environment where classes take place via internet video conferencing, in real time. The service not only brings Hebrew tuition right to your home, but also connects you personally with Israel’s finest Hebrew-teaching professionals.

Family is central to Israeli and Jewish culture, and the source of the genuine warmth that gives the nation its character. eTeacherHebrew.com is a family business, like many of Israel’s greatest and proudest organizations. Company founders Boaz and Yariv are the grandsons of Aharon Rosen, a respected teacher, author and theorist in the field of Hebrew tuition for non-native speakers in the nation’s early days.

Rosen’s grandsons have combined state-of-the-art technology with their grandfather’s dream of teaching Hebrew to anyone who wishes to learn it, at any age, anywhere in the world. The Internet has provided the ideal medium to realize such a vision, bringing the best teachers in Israel to the homes of students throughout the world.

eTeacherHebrew.com is a friendly and intimate niche in the often impersonal online environment. Teachers and students – though separated by oceans and time differences – form strong bonds, in many cases traveling overseas and actually visiting each others homes in person.

Shira Cohen-Regev has been teaching with eTeacherHebrew.com for seven years. She has frequently visited and hosted her students from all over the world. This Passover, she hosted a ‘virtual Seder’ with her class.

“We read from the Haggadah, and I explained what everything meant. We sang the songs and talked about the food, the calories,” she laughs. “I felt so privileged to share Passover with them, to be their first connection with a real Israeli Seder.

“For Independence Day I asked my students what they wished for the nation. Love and peace, money, and new immigrants were their answers,” she says.

Students at eTeacherHebrew.com have expressed their satisfaction with the program, and have been pleasantly surprised by the ease and effectiveness of the online learning method. Sanne Terlouw of the Netherlands says, ” I had never expected that I would benefit so much from an internet school, but it really works.” Coyle Pam of South Carolina, USA particularly enjoyed the student contact. ”

“This is the best course I have had. I signed up for a telephone course before, but it was one-on-one for the whole hour and it was too much pressure. With other students in the class, there are breaks between talking, and the other students are heard, so I learn from them.”

 

According to Tami Weil, Didactic Consultant to the writers and teachers of the eTeacherHebrew.com program, the online learning environment provides a unique opportunity for learning language at all levels – from beginners to advanced – while allowing for an enjoyable, social experience.

“At Hebrewonline.com, our program is comprehensive, including homework, yet flexible enough to include interesting surprises, such as special exercises relating to current events and holidays, colloquialisms, slang speech and more. The pace of the lessons is quite challenging, yet there is the constant online support of staff and fellow students to ensure all participants gain the most they can at every stage of the course.”

eTeacherHebrew.com’s history is a heartwarming tale of one family’s success – of immigrant beginnings to international achievement, across the generations. It is also your opportunity to learn Hebrew from the comfort of your own home, yet truly connect with the land of Israel and its people.

eTeacherHebrew.com has recently launched a new and exciting program for people with an interest in Biblical Hebrew. With eTeacherBiblical.com, you can learn Hebrew as it was spoken in biblical times. eTeacherBiblical.com brings the most experienced teachers and scholars of Biblical Hebrew direct to you, so you can increase your understanding and appreciation of biblical texts in their original language.

eTeacherHebrew.com and eTeacherBiblical.com are the most effective, enjoyable and convenient way to learn Hebrew – without leaving home.

Click here for more details and to sign up

Just Say No… to the Nonsense of the iPhone Smashing Rabbis

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Stories like the one in a Jerusalem Post article about the public smashing of an iphone by a Bnei Brak rabbi are so common place that reporting on them is no longer news worthy. And commenting on them has become an exercise in redundancy. In fact I just wrote about a story like this. This story takes it step further though. It is not only about how evil smart-phones are. It is about how vile and disgusting the people who own them are!

I am beginning to find that the more I see a story like this, the more I just want to fold up my tent, and go home. No matter how much one wants to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus and judge people and their actions favorably, a story like this comes along which makes it extremely difficult to do so. Here is an excerpt:

During his tirade, given from behind a table with an iPhone sitting on it, the rabbi inveighed against anyone possessing the popular smart phone. “A religious person who owns this impure device is an abomination and a disgusting, vile villain,” (Rabbi Lior) Glazer said.

OK. We all know about it. We all know that improper use of a smart-phone can lead to a disaster:

(Rabbi Lior) then gave an account of a man who had purchased an iPhone, which “ruined his life” and on account of which he got divorced from his wife.

Of course Rabbi Lior fails to take into account the very likely fact that this fellow probably had ‘issues’ that led him to “ruin his life” in that way. Issues that mentally healthy people do not.  That was the real cause of the problem.  As was the case with a Charedi principal who published his own story (in the now defunct Jewish Observer) of how he got caught up with child pornography on his computer.

As I recall him telling it, he said he never had any issues with child porn until he accidentally chanced upon it one day. Which led to him being caught in a police ‘sting’ operation. (Right!  He wanted us to believe that he was never a pedophile. As if the computer made him become one. Does anyone believe that?)

Nonetheless, Rabbi Lior, like virtually every other Rav in the very right-wing Charedi world of Bnei Brak blames such things on the technology. And not the abnormal psychology of the individual.

This is not to say that there aren’t problems for normal people. Of course there is. Especially for children whom we want to protect from these images. But this community sees a problem and uses the nuclear option to solve it! It is tantamount to killing a patient that has cancer in order to destroy the cancer.  Obvioulsy they see absolutely no value in smart-phones.  Which is why the following happened:

At the end of his sermon, the rabbi recited a brief prayer requesting that God defeat the nation of Amalek, an ancient enemy of the Israelites and Jewish people used as a catchall for evil in general. He then proceeded to smash the offending iPhone with a hammer in front of his audience until it was left in pieces on the table.

I need not mention how absolutely ridiculous this is. Or how much ignorance this shows about the value of iphones. Or how futile this gesture is. Or the possible Chilul HaShem this may be because of how ignorant it makes our rabbis look.

I also seriously doubt there are too many people who bought an iphone who will be moved to rid themselves of it by hearing of this.  Nor do I believe that of those Charedim who do own iphones would ever access pornography – except for those like that elementary school  principlal that have some sort of psychological problem.

One of the things that I believe to be driving this mentality is the idea that it is only a problem for religious Jews. And that the non Jewish world is evil by nature. Or just doesn’t care about it. We are not like the Goyim. We are a holy people! We must separate ourselves from them!  And THIS  is how a Torah Jew deals with it!  THIS is how we are Mekadesh Shem Shamyim – sanctify God’s name!

Really? That is another big mistake they make. There is not a decent parent in the civilized world – Jew or gentile – that isn’t concerned by what goes on in the dark corners of the internet. Pornography is available at a single click of a mouse.Chat rooms abound with pedophiles trying to lure victims into their net all the time. They are good at what they do. They can entice even the nicest and most innocent young girls or boys from the best of homes to come and see them under the most innocent sounding pretext.

This happens every day. Hundreds of times. These rabbis are not the only ones who know that. Everyone does. It is not a secret. We are all in this together – Jew and gentile alike. The Torah world is not unique in its very legitimate ‘fear’ of the internet’s very accessible dark side. That’s why there are filters. Filters -  and guidelines of internet use for children – that were created by non Jews.

No rational person should do to an iphone what Rabbi Lior and many others like him did, smashing it to pieces as though he was destroying Amalek… and treat anyone who uses an iphone as though they were the most vile people on earth!

A far better example for us is the non Jewish “First Family”. From the Daily Mail Online (May 12th):

Barack Obama has revealed that he made his eldest daughter wait until she was 12 before allowing her to have a cell phone. The President said that he finally agreed to give 13-year-old Malia a mobile last year – but banned her from using it during the week. His youngest daughter Sasha, nine, has been told she must wait before being given the same privilege.  During the week neither of the Presidential daughters can use their computers or watch TV for anything except homework either, he added.

This may not be the exact way we should handle it. But it is a lot closer to that than what Rabbi Lior did. I think most rational people realize that smashing iphones is not the way to solve the problems of the internet.

Or do they?

I wonder just how many people are affected by something like this. It isn’t like Rabbi Lior just decided out of the blue to smash an iphone in public. This technology was after all banned by another Bnei Brak Rabbi, whom many consider the Posek HaDor.  And he was not the only Charedi Rav in who banned it! Rabbi Lior and others like him are simply taking their cues from them.

Is it just a few extremists or are there actually mainstream Charedi Jews who so shun the internet that they would resort to smashing them when they find them – as if they were destroying Amalek?  Is this how the world of the right sees it?

Is this the issue they think will destroy the Jewish people more than any other? If that is the case, how are they going to treat the vast majority of Jews who will no doubt ignore this event and the edicts that generated it.  It isn’t only Modern Orthodox Jews that use smart phones. It is the Charedi world too. Like Agudah Executive Director, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, who pulled out his Blackberry during a speech he gave about the evils of the internet at the last Agudah convention!

Is there now going to be a new divide among Charedim themselves – the “evil” Charedim who are as vile as Amalek for having an iphone and those who think iphones should be smashed?

I almost hope that is the case. Because if that happens, I welcome the “evil” ones.  Because they are NOT evil.  They are normal. They will survive into the future. Those who smash iphones will isolate themselves into extinction. We should honor those who stay on the rational side of this new divide. And for their courage in just saying NO! to nonesense.

The Road Paved with iPhones

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I wish I could say that I am perplexed by what happened at a wedding hall in Jerusalem last week. Because that would be the normal response by someone who had heard that a Rosh Yeshiva disqualified an individual designated as a witness to sign a Kesuva (the Halachic marriage contract).

It would be shocking to most people that a witness was disqualified because he owned an iPhone But the way things are going now, I am not shocked or even perplexed by it at all. From YWN:

As the kesuva was being written, Rabbi Yosef Ze’ev Feinstein, Rosh Yeshivas ‘עמלהשל תורה’, the mesader kedushin, asked to meet the Eidim (witnesses). He asked them to see their cell phones. One pulled out a kosher phone. The second an iPhone. The latter was disqualified as a witness.

There are many Halachic reasons to disqualify a witness. But owning an iPhone is not one of them. And yet this Rosh Yeshiva decided that owning an iPhone is so bad that it is enough to… not only disqualify someone from being a witness, but enough to embarrass him in doing so in front of those who designated him as such and those who watched this happen.

This is the state of the extremism that runs rampant in certain Charedi circles in Israel I guess. While I don’t think anyone has yet been disqualified as a witness in America for owning an iPhone, it can’t be that far off. In the never ending chase to be seen as the frummest (more observant), what happens in Israel… doesn’t stay in Israel.

There is always someone here who will take up the cause and be the first to be the “Frummest”! It happened with the devaluing of Limudei Chol (secular education) and it will easily happen to iPhone owners.

I know all their arguments. The internet is pure evil – worse than anyone can imagine! If you have any device that can access it… YOU are evil! Especially if it is a hand held device where one can hide access and pretend to be “holy”.

And now, post Internet Asifa, one is in direct violation of the edict against the internet imposed by someone who many consider the Posek HaDor. An edict about which a key speaker said that violating a public Psak by such a Posek causes one to lose their place in Olam Haba. This was not contradicted by any of the many rabbinic leaders who attended that Asifa.

So this poor ex-witness who very likely does not use his iPhone for illicit purposes has not only lost his status as a Kosher witness, he may very well have lost his portion in the world to come too. Nebech!

But… perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva was doing us all a favor. This witness will now realize the evil of his ways; throw away his iPhone; and do Teshuva. And the rest of us will now take heed of how terrible owning an iPhone is.

I’m sure glad to know that the worst thing anyone can do is own any device that can access the internet. (I will now forever spit every time I say the word “internet”.)

I hope Rabbi Nechmya Weberman is paying attention. He can rest easy now knowing that compared to owning an iPhone, sexually molesting numerous young women – teens and pre-teens – who came to him for guidance and “therapy” wasn’t so bad. At least not compared to owning an iPhone.

I’m sure if he were one of the witnesses at that wedding he would have passed with flying colors. I hope the judge in his case takes note of the fact that Rabbi Weberman does not own an I phone. And never would! Chas V’Shalom! If not I hope his character witness point that out. I can almost guarantee there will be numerous character witnesses at his trial testifying to what a Tzadik he is.

Good to know where the Torah world’s priorities are heading.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

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