Street posters in charedi communities in Israel warn that the Internet drives the Shechina from the home. Many charedi rabbis permit only “kosher” cell phones without Internet access.
Yet, smartphones have not been eliminated among charedim– to say nothing of the dati-leumi community, which encourages active participation in Israeli society.
Rav Shlomo Aviner, rosh yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim and a prominent posek in the dati-leumi world, recently wrote an article that touched on this topic, so The Jewish Press decided to pick his mind on it further.
The Jewish Press: Overall, would you say the Internet is good or bad?
Rav Aviner: The Internet is a modern-day reincarnation of the primordial snake – the yetzer hara. The snake looks like a decent fellow, promising all kinds of good things, but it is the epitome of evil.
Similarly, the Internet looks dazzling, but it is filled with horrible pitfalls. Recent research studies reveal that 90 percent of teenagers view inappropriate material on the Internet. While I haven’t seen similar studies for the religious community, the plague has reached our ranks as well.
Not only are many Torah prohibitions involved in using the Internet, exposure to inappropriate material makes men view women as objects, destroys the beauty of marriage, pollutes the soul, and fills young people with inner guilt and depression, alienating them from tefillah and Torah study until they feel cut off completely from Hashem.
In sum, for the benefit of the individual and the family, the Internet should be disconnected from the home and thrown out with the trash.
But there are many positive sides to the Internet.
The negative outweighs the positive. True, one can find endless Torah lectures on the Internet, but one doesn’t do a mitzvah at the price of a transgression. Besides containing immorality, the Internet abounds with lashon hara, violence, falsehood, ridiculing others – not to mention the waste of time involved.
Theoretically, the Internet could be a blessing, but we’re not speaking about theory; we’re speaking about dismal reality. The best remedy for this plague is to keep a safe distance from this modern-day snake.
People who are compelled to use the Internet for work or school or to teach Torah must use the best safety filter available – one you cannot turn off and on at will.
Does the rav have a smartphone?
But you have recently begun to answer questions on Twitter.
Someone else handles the mechanics of my tweets. If Avraham Avinu lived today, he would take a hatchet and smash all smartphones the way he smashed his father’s idols.
Of course, many people would be angry with him, insisting there are many worthwhile things one can experience via smartphones – such as seeing the wonders of the world without buying an airplane ticket and seeing faraway family members while speaking to them. Plus, you have an encyclopedia of knowledge at your fingertips and can learn Torah wherever you are.
People might even throw Avraham Avinu into a cauldron of fire for smashing their digital idols. However, we cannot allow the temptations of smartphones to deceive us. The Sages asked if the angel who wrested with Yaakov looked like a Torah scholar or a highway robber. They answered: He looked like a highway robber disguised as a Torah scholar.
Many rabbis have prohibited smartphones, but these prohibitions don’t seem to have stopped the smartphone craze.
The matter has to be explained. It isn’t enough to simply say no. The snake is too crafty and too strong an opponent. Our Sages teach that a man without a wife lacks goodness, happiness, and blessing in his life. Today the smartphone has replaced a man’s wife. Without a smartphone, he feels unhappy, empty, and lost. If his smartphone stops working, his life falls apart. He panics and curses the world in anger.
Every person has to face his situation honestly and activate his own intelligence to recognize that the wondrous device in his hand is his enemy, not a friend.
In what other ways are smartphones harmful in the rav’s opinion?
People who suffer from a digital obsession stop thinking for themselves. They become lazy and dependent on Professor Google, Dr. Google, Rabbi Google, and the like. Due to Internet overdose, the level of academic achievement has decreased in every modern country in the world. Because answers are an easy click away, one’s intelligence isn’t developed and man’s most exalted attribute – sechel – is neglected.
A person enamored with the Internet also becomes a less feeling individual. He believes his smartphone connects him with the world, but these connections are superficial and bring about alienation in the end due to his constant distraction from reality.
What can a parent or educator say to a teenager hooked on social networks like Facebook and Instagram?
Facebook might have [initially] been a blessing, strengthening connections between family members and friends, but unfortunately the golem rose up against its creator. A person is not just a face, but a soul that manifests itself in good character traits and good deeds, not in superficial poses and theatricalities to win the approval of others.
“Charm is false and beauty is vanity; a woman who reveres Hashem shall be praised.”
What’s the difference between a Facebook post and a letter or phone call to a friend?
Posts on Facebook are open to the public. A descendant of Avraham and Sarah is called upon to be modest and humble in his or her ways. Our forefathers didn’t reveal their doings, achievements, and feelings to the world. Moshe Rabbeinu wore a veil over his face.
Also, a person should overcome the pulls of curiosity and not get immersed in the lives of other people. Not to mention the prohibition of looking at immodest images of women, which can easily lure Internet surfers to inappropriate videos which children begin viewing when they are barely eight years old, may Hashem show mercy.
Life is filled with challenges. Must a person stay in his room all day long and be afraid to leave his house?
Life is life, but Facebook isn’t life. It’s all a show, filled with shallowness and nonsense. Spending hours on Facebook is a waste of precious time. In Israel, up to five hours a day is lost in Facebookland. Studies reveal that Facebook is the addiction of the world. Seventy-five percent of young people are spaced out on it.
Certainly there are pluses to it.
It is, indeed, an effective network of communication, but in the negative sense of promoting emptiness, narcissism, and solitude instead of true meaningful connection.
If a person has a thousand followers, how many of them are really friends? Furthermore, a Facebook addict becomes isolated from his family, half-listening to living-room conversations while his eyes are fixed on his smartphone.
In our post-modern world, the “smartphone family” sits together in a room – father, mother, and children, each with his own pet snake, each involved with the latest world news and personal WhatsApps. In Israel, the country suffered the tragic disengagement from Gush Katif. Today we have a disengagement from the family.
Would you say it affects marriages, too?
As the rabbi of a large yishuv for the past 40 years, I hear about domestic problems. A husband and wife can sit at a table across from one another, at home or in a restaurant, and be busy with their iPhones. It would be one thing if they sent messages to one another, but generally that isn’t the case.
If one or both of them is hooked on inappropriate sites (which is not uncommon, to our deep sorrow) that’s often the end of their marriage if they don’t seek professional counseling in a hurry.
Contrary to Darwin’s theories, human beings didn’t evolve from jungle primates, but they can regress to being apes if they lower the divine and holy institution of marriage to the pursuit of coarse sensual gratification. Beware, my friends.
Would you say excessive use of the Internet is like an addiction?
Absolutely. It’s like an injection into the vein. Each post, each incoming message, each WhatsApp, each new forbidden image is a “high.” One high demands another high lest the person crash. With each new stimulation, chemicals in the brain are released until the person craves the next high.
Take the smartphone away from a teenager and he’ll scream bloody murder and jump up and down all over the house. That’s an addiction. Unfortunately, when the new generation iPhones began to appear, parents and educators didn’t understand the depths of the dangers.
Even today, you can still hear false pedagogic approaches, such as, “Everything Hashem created is for man to use in His service.” This is nonsense. Or, “The Internet isn’t forbidden. It comes as a challenge to strengthen us.” Vanity of vanities! Remember: “Thou shall not place a stumbling block in front of a blind man”!
How can a person break an addiction to his or her smartphone?
Certainly, addiction withdrawal is a difficult challenge, but Hashem has given people great inner strength. If an Internet junkie gives up WhatsApp and Facebook for five or six days running, he or she will discover an incredible joy and newfound freedom in life.
I realize it isn’t easy. Young people especially are under great peer pressure to be like everyone else. If they pull out of the group – what will they miss? What will everyone say?
Many parents believe it’s a losing battle.
There is a fundamental rule in the world: You can’t attain everything you want in a moment. Patience is required. And give and take. Parents have the power to lay down the law, and children have the power to accept and deal with decisions they may not like.
In many areas of education, parents have to draw boundaries for their children. They needn’t feel helpless.
First, as we mentioned, the deeper implications of Internet use have to be explained to young people, as well as to adults. Obviously, parents themselves also have to refrain from their own Internet obsessions in order to set an example. And children can be compensated with others things to soften the loss.
The leading rabbis who banned the use of smartphones were certainly justified in their decision. Every upright Jew – religious or secular – who hasn’t yet reached the exalted level of valor characteristic of those heroes of holiness who never transgress should either use an old-fashioned cellphones with no Internet option or a server without Internet.
Remember: Having a cellphone that isn’t smart is the smartest thing you can do.