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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.

T’shuva Starts at Home!

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

In today’s blog, we are going to take a short hiatus from the writings of Rabbi Kook and look at a different aspect of t’shuva. In last week’s Torah portion of “Ke Tetze,” we find the following:

When your camp goes out to fight against you enemies, then keep away from every evil thing. If there be any man among you who is not pure by reason of the impurity that chances by night, then he shall go outside of the camp, he shall not come within the camp; but it shall be when evening come on, he shall immerse himself in water… for the Lord your G-d walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He shall see no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you (Devarim, 23:10-16).

Unlike the claims of “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews of today who negate, and even denigrate, participation in Israel’s armed forces, there are several commandments explicitly written in the Torah which deal with Jewish soldiers and our wars against our enemies. The holy heroes of our Biblical past, whether it be Avraham, the sons of Yaacov, Moshe Rabeinu, Yehoshua, King David, the Macabbees, or Rabbi Akiva, who gladly carried the weapons of Bar Kochva out to battle, were also fierce military warriors.

A reality in conquering and settling the Land of Israel, the Land where Hashem commands us to keep the Torah, then as now, is the need to use the military capability that G-d gives us. One of these mitzvot is to keep our army camps holy, not by dodging our share in the war effort, but in working to insure that the proper level of holiness is maintained, which would certainly be the case today in Israel if all of the “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews would enlist alongside their brothers. However, this is not the subject of this blog.

The commandment to guard our holiness applies to our communities and homes as well. Our Sages tell us that “keeping away from every evil thing” means keeping away from sexual transgression and from gazing at women (Avodah Zara 20A). The continuation of the verse is clearly referring to the unintentional spilling of seed in vain which is wont to occur when a man gazes at immodest images. Engaging in this wasteful act deliberately is even graver, and is considered one of the severest transgressions in the Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 23:2). The Torah informs us that as a result of the spiritual impurity which this causes, the Shechinah flees from our presence, making us vulnerable to our enemies. No other sin triggers such an extreme reaction. The Midrash teaches that the Holy One Blessed Be He is slow to anger in regard to every sin, except immorality (Bereshit Rabbah 26). “Rabbi Simlai taught that wherever there is sexual immorality, indiscriminate destruction comes to the world and kills the good with the wicked” (Ibid.) This is the reason why we are called upon to keep our camp holy, to insure that the Shechinah, which guards over Israel, never leaves us prey to our enemies, G-d forbid.

Today, the “evil thing” in our communities and homes is the onslaught of immodest websites and images on the Internet. For example, a while back, every time I punched in the words “Jewish Press” on my search engine, an ad for a website called “Hottest Jewish Girls” would show up right next to it on the page. Now a man has to be an absolute tzaddik, or have the strength of Superman, or have downloaded a reliable filter, not to be tempted to look. Unfortunately, the evil inclination often wins out, and the result is that our homes become polluted with a terrible spiritual pollution which drives the Shechinah away, leaving ourselves and our families exposed to terrible consequences, may G-d have mercy!

On the eve of Yom Kippur, to enter into a mood of repentance, many congregations recite the prayer called “Tefilla Zaka,” which begins:

Almighty, Father of mercy and forgiveness, Whose right hand is extended to accept those who return in t’shuva, and Who created man to bestow goodness upon him at the end of his days, and Who created in him two inclinations, the good and the evil inclination….

Stolen Waters are Sweet

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

The great debate over the internet has been focused on the Shmutz (pornography) it contains and the pitfalls of dragging people into an abyss of internet addictions that have destroyed families. I don’t think this is an arguable fact. It is a danger that affects everyone. Religious , secular; Jews and non Jews alike.

There are religious Jews right here in Chicago I know personally that were ensnared into online chat-rooms that in one case – if not for intervening circumstances – may have led a married male adult into an affair with a minor teenage girl!

I am not going to go into what the root psychological causes are for such things. Suffice it to say that the internet is not a cause but a facilitator to such terrible ends. I would go so far as to say that there are probably more people who have these problems than we may think – considering that addictions of this type are so easy to hide because of the ability to quickly both access and delete an internet site.

In that sense I agree (and always have) with those on the right who say that these dangers are real and we need to protect not only our children – but ourselves from becoming exposed and addicted to these sites. I would add that if one does have such an addiction that they seek professional help before it ruins their marriage …and their lives. Because – as I said the addiction is there for psychological reasons.

But this post is about another less talked about but serious issue about the internet. It is about opening up a world heretofore closed to many religious Jews. It is the world of information and knowledge that is not sourced in the narrow culture that one is raised in. One will find perspectives on life that are radically different from what they are used to and are quickly accessed. And sometimes this new information can play havoc in one’s life.

This phenomenon was ably described in an article in Tablet Magazine. It was written by a young woman who has left her Chasidic community. It’s hard to tell from her article whether she remained observant – although there are hints that she may no longer be. But clearly she lost a lot because of her odyssey on the internet. Her husband eventually left her.

Even though one can see here how online experiences contributed to her journey, I reject the notion that learning about and even accepting the perspectives of other people is necessarily a bad thing. It can be but it depends on the particular perspective one accepts. I happen to believe that some of what she experienced was a good thing. The following is a telling excerpt about her journey:

I was not raised to think. I knew what I needed to know: about tznius and that modesty is, or should be, my most important preoccupation. I knew that striving to have seven or 10 or a dozen children and being a good and pious homemaker is the pinnacle of achievement for a woman, the thing I was brought into this world to accomplish. Secular education was frowned upon. More than frowned upon: Being educated, oifgeklert, was a shame, a blight on the family. There was the very bare minimum of secular education, of course: reading and writing and elementary math. But even that was an afterthought. Fear of God, being a good girl, and growing up a pious Hasidic woman was the meat and potatoes of our education.

On the Internet, I cared about so many topics, yet knew that I still knew so little. The world, the physical boundaries, the world of ideas, the world of dangerous questions and of even more dangerous answers seemed big, wide, and endless. It was a world of things I never imagined and never even dared to try and imagine.

I got to know some people on the Internet. A rabbi from Brooklyn, father of six children, emailed me that he read my questions about the prohibition on birth control and that he would be glad to show me the rabbinic sources on the matter and that a lot of what I was taught in my Hasidic girl’s school might be not be true. A woman, Modern Orthodox, responded to my description of the Hasidic ritual of shaving the head by asking, “Why in the world do you do it?”

Because you have to, I said.

That she learned that the dogma of Chasidus does not define observant Judaism for everyone is a good thing. Knowledge in this case is power. But did her online experience take her too far? Could that have been prevented if it did?

It is never a good idea to live two lives which she did at first. An overt one in her isolated real world – and a covert one in her virtual world online. At the same time – had she been more open from the start I’m not sure her online education would have been tolerated in her community. Even if it meant only changing her Hashkafos and not essential religious beliefs and practices.

Knowledge is good. It is a powerful tool for improving one’s life. But in some cases, as with this woman it also had a terrible consequence.

This is not to say that all knowledge will improve one’s life. Many skeptics have been created by being exposed to contradictions between science and Torah that seem to be irresolvable. Or to Biblical criticism based on modern scholarship.

One well known blogger (who no longer blogs) very famously and very publicly became a skeptic in precisely that way. And he expressed sorrow at it – although to the best of my knowledge he remains a skeptic to this day. This is not a good result.

Does that make a ban worthwhile? One could argue that it does – since saving the soul of even one Jew is worth the price. The problem is that the internet is not the cause. Just as is the case with porn addiction, the internet is a facilitator.

Bright young minds will have questions. The most logical place to see answers is from your parents or teachers. But when questions are explicitly or implicitly forbidden, these very same young people will seek answers elsewhere. The easiest place to find them is the internet. Ban, no matter how strong they are, no matter how enforced they are will not prevent a young person from somehow finding access. And that’s when the slippery slope begins. Furthermore the taboo against the internet will prevent any countervailing arguments.

Young people will have questions and the internet is too ubiquitous to withstand any ban, no matter how severe. Once one is convinced they found the truth in the words of heresy, no one will be able to disabuse them of that notion.

A far better approach in my view is to meet the challenge head on. Orthodox students should never be discouraged from asking questions. And more importantly teachers have to be prepared to answer them. And admit when they don’t have a good answer.

Mayim G’nuvim Yimtaku. Stolen waters are sweet. The more something is banned, the sweeter the forbidden fruit becomes and will surely be sought out by increasing numbers of people. It is of no use to simply say to a student “Don’t go there.” Or accuse a questioner of heresy by dint of merely asking a question. People with unanswered questions will find a way to answer them. And often those answers are what leads them astray.

Nowhere is the ban stronger than in the Chasidic world where this writer is from. Did she leave observance entirely? I don’t know. Could it have been prevented if she had been denied internet access? Again, I don’t know. But one thing is certain. The internet is here to stay and becoming as integral a part of our lives as the telephone is. More so, in fact.

I may be spitting in the wind here. I’m sure that very few Chasidim will be reading this post. And even less pay attention to it. Certainly not their leaders. But even though I am a Daas Hedyot, that doesn’t mean my points aren’t valid. Or that my warnings aren’t true. Or that my advice shouldn’t be taken seriously. MiKol Melamdei Hischalti. So I will offer it anyway knowing full well that no one in that world will take heed.

Learn a lesson from this woman’s story. Open up your minds. Allow questions to be asked. Be prepared to answer them honestly and to admit not having answer when you don’t. Teach your students to use the internet responsibly and don’t make into a forbidden fruit with bans and extreme sanctions. Do not expel people form you community who do not adopt ever Chumra you demand of them. Be tolerant of all Hashkafos. You never know. This may actually do more to preserve your way of life than all of your

Libby Kahane Questioned by Israeli Police

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Libby Kahane, widow of Rabbi Meir Kahane HY”D, was questioned by police this week after her grandson, Meir Ettinger broke his bail conditions last Shabbat.

Ettinger has been under house arrest for several months after being indicted approximately six months ago on charges that he gathered information on IDF troop movements in order to block further evacuations of outposts in Judea and Samaria.

Rebbetzin Kahane had signed on as a guarantor on the conditions for Ettinger’s release.

The terms of his release include: not using the telephone, not using the internet, and not to leave his house. Police arrested Ettinger after he went to pray on Shabbat.

IDF Redefining Cyber Space as Battlefield

Monday, June 4th, 2012

The IDF Operations Department has put together instructions for military operations in cyberspace against enemies of the Jewish state.

According to a document released by the department, the IDF will engage in consistent and continuous intelligence gathering operations online, and said it will handle cyberspace as a battlefield as important as those at sea in the air, and on the ground, executing attacks when necessary.

Among the goals of Israel’s cyber warfare program are thwarting and disrupting enemy projects limiting the operational freedom of the state and the IDF, reducing the capabilities of Israel’s enemies online and on the ground, conducting public diplomacy, advocating for Israel, and assisting in IDF military operations in combat.

In January, the Israeli Defense Ministry established a special cyber warfare administration, to conduct cyber warfare in a coordinated effort between the IDF and Israeli security agencies.

January saw a significant increase in cyber attacks on Israeli interests.  Hackers broke into the Israel Fire and Rescue Services website, threatening a war between Israel and Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad, writing “Death to Israel”, and posting a picture of an armed Palestinian Authority man.  They also broke into the website of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon .

In an attack causing grief throughout Israel, a group of Saudi hackers published the credit card information of many thousands of Israelis, urging haters of Israel and other hackers to use the credit card information to make purchases online.  Israeli banks froze the accounts of those who were hacked, and compensated owners of cards which were used to make illegal purchases.

According to senior security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Isaac Ben-Israel, the state of Israel suffers 1,000 cyber-attacks every day.  Ben-Israel said the increased number of attacks have led Israel to pass laws requiring that major Israeli infrastructures institute measures to protect themselves from cyber terrorism.

Israel’s involvement in cyberwarfare has not been limited to its victimization, however.

In June 2010, Israel gained international admiration for its alleged involvement in the Stuxnet virus which caused severe damage to the Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems utilized by Iran’s uranium enrichment infrastructure.

In September 2007, Israel carried airstrikes on Syria dubbed Operation Orchard. Sources in US industry and military speculated that Israeli cyberwarfare had allowed Israel to pass under Syrian radar undetected.

Jerusalem vs. The Asifa

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I missed the Asifa. Admittedly, I wasn’t planning on going, though I do feel jealous of those software developers who managed to get 50,000 men (and an unknown number of women who participated remotely) to pay actual money to listen to a multi-hour sales pitch of their products, and then have their community leaders tell them to go buy them, which on top of that, they probably will.

Now that’s marketing to a captive audience.

Obviously internet filtering is important if you have kids in the house, and I guess for a closed, insulated community being hit on the head with the outside world it warrants an outing to Citi Field on a Sunday to find out how to protect yourself (and to get out of the Beis Medrash on a Rabbinically sanctioned field trip).

But in my mind, I was comparing it to another mass gathering that same Sunday – one I participated in with my family.

The Jerusalem Day Parade.

30,000 people, a significant number of them teenagers, mostly religious, gathered together to celebrate one of the modern, open, unexpected and important miracles of our day, the reunification of Jerusalem.

I admit that at one point I wondered, which gathering was the bigger Kiddush Hashem?

But mostly I asked myself, which one would inspire my children about the beauty and possibilities of Judaism?

A public gathering that demands yet even more conformity to community social pressures and standards, this time only to buy a kosher phone, or use an internet filter with the proper hechsher, or a gathering that thanks God for the incredible gift he gave us that actually we prayed for.

Obviously, one gathering isn’t mutually exclusive of the other.

I’m sure many of the Israeli yeshiva students who marched yesterday have internet filters in their homes.

But I wonder, how many men at the Asifa said Hallel that morning, or at least didn’t say Tachanun in commemoration of the miracle that occurred for all of Klal Yisrael, that they too benefit from whenever they visit their national homeland.

 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/muqata/jerusalem-vs-the-asifa/2012/05/21/

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