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Monday, December 27, 2004

This is an article which all Orthodox magazine or newspapers refused to publish. Your comments on why will be welcome, as well as your input on what we can do.


Call For Action

An Approach to the Internet and its Containment

By C. Aronowitz



In an area which has been rhetorically compared to a life and death issue, and which prominent rabbonim have spoken out on, it is important to inform you, the reader of the writers ‘bona fides’ before entering the body of this discussion.

This article is written under a nom de plume. The writer spent several years of his early work career working for Agudath Israel, intimately involved in carrying out the directives of the Gedolim on a daily basis. He takes pride in this, and of various initiatives he was directed to do at that time under the cover of confidentiality.
Switching to a personal perspective, I feel that if I am 'zoche' to a reward in the hereafter, certain of these projects will be the 'zchus'.
I am prefacing this article with this biographical note to emphasize that my intention here is to accomplish the goals of the gedolim.

I. The Threat
The Internet was invented in the 1970’s. But it was not until the advent of the World Wide Web, and its easy-to-use graphical and communication possibilities that a threat to Yiddishkeit became prevalent. A development which had the potential (and reality), of benefiting Orthodox Jews by providing new editing opportunities for the data entering our brains (ex: not needing an entire newspaper or library to gather a necessary item of information) was to significant extent subverted from its original purpose.
Suddenly, one no longer needed to go to a newsstand or a different part of town and face potential embarrassment in order to see something inappropriate or communicate with someone one would never be seen with in public.
There is no question that the prevalence and accessability of the Internet has caused grave, grave korbonos. And the situation grows more serious all the time, as commerce, communication and information become more dependent on the Internet. Many kolel yungerleit and yerei shomayim depend on the internet for parnosa, either themselves or through their wives.

While filtered ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) under both Orthodox and non- Jewish auspices do exist, they are used by an appallingly small percentage of Orthodox Jews. Sometimes this is due to an employee working for a non-Jewish employer. Other times is it is due to ignorance, laziness, or an exaggerated sense of ‘convenience’ or minor financial savings which blinds a frumer yid to the threat posed by immodesty and immoral solicitation(s) on the opening pages of many popular service providers.
It is worth noting that the businesses who provide filtered access for Orthodox Jews have invested millions of dollars in being mezake our community and deserve our support and gratitude.
However serious the threat is now, it will become more so in the near future. Wireless advances, primarily the ‘Wi-Fi’ wireless broadband connection, which enables a high speed internet connection in any covered area through radio waves will increase both the availability and necessity for Internet in the near future.
This writer has made a few interesting observations during the past summer:
* The gas station serving the most kosher products en route to the mountains now advertises a free wi-fi connection and an in-store internet connection as an additional reason to patronize them.
*While Starbucks cafes have had wi-fi connections for quite some time, a kosher restaurant in the mountains now offers a free wi-fi connection.
* There is now a wi-fi connection in Bryant Park in Manhattan, several blocks from the diamond district.
* Both Yerushalayim and Philadelphia (PA) are installing new, (initially) free municipal wi-fi systems throughout their respective cities.
* A 13th Avenue glatt restaurant is advertising wi-fi.
* Verizon is rolling out a new wireless high speed internet access system which will not have the distance limitations of wi-fi
* Finally, pundits are already predicting the day when the subway, and other mass transit will have wi-fi. This has already been implemented on a trial basis in the western US and Canada.


I recently had a conversation on the Internet with two fellow 'mispalelim' in the Bais Medrash I belong to. I said to one: “ Our response to this issue (internet) will determine whether we will accept technology, or reject it like the Amish.” The other said “I’m Amish”.
While this approach is worthy of respect, it has never been the mainstream approach of normative Judaism. But if you happen to be with the Amish, this article isn’t for you.

II. The Need
Most of us in the business world, and increasingly those in chinuch, are becoming dependent on web based communication, research, and commerce. There are excellent reasons for this. The internet, e-mail, and e-messaging are fast, frequently almost real-time, efficient, reliable, accurate and easy.
Business people and professionals have told me told me the first two hours of their day is dedicated to answering e-mail. If this could be done on their commute rather than in the office, the work day would be shorter and more efficient, yielding additional time from our pressured and stressed schedules for our families and Torah.
Two vignettes: A shomer shabbos accounting firm in Jerusalem which employs a number of kolel wives now requires that all employees have a broad band connection at home as part of their flex-time policy which effectively makes it possible for kolel wives to keep their jobs.
A kolel yunger man who learns two sedarim a day with hasmoda manages a small investment fund at night. He is only able to do this, and remain in kolel with his family obligations, due to a broad band connection, the 24 hour trading day created by the Internet, and the fact that no one he deals with sees his Jewish attire and appearance, which is not very “Wall Street”.
These two individuals are Americans residing in Israel to live a life of Torah. Yet in Israel, there is no Hareidi filtered service at all! Why? (Interestingly, China and Saudi Arabia have national filters. Are they more concerned with the moral standing of their citizenry?)
In America, while we B”H have filtered ISP’s, there no strong filtering or reporting system adaptable to applied to public wireless broadband (Wi Fi) or cable connections.
Can we afford this lack? And, conversely can we afford to prohibit the Internet? And finally, can we afford to both asur (prohibit) it on the posters on our shuls and ads in our periodicals, and permit it in actuality?
How are our children to digest this dissonant message? Is it not reminiscent of the old American Jewish retort of “I keep kosher at home” (but can’t outside)? We all know where that led.
I asked a distinguished and over burdened Rov and Talmid Chacham of my acquaintance, leader and advisor to a major community, how he does the research he needs in fertility and other drug and medical areas. He answered, “I need the internet, so I ask my sister who has it. (his sister lives in a somewhat more ‘liberal’ Orthodox community).” The Rav then continued: “ I would really like to be able to do the research and see the results myself. I like to understand what I’m dealing with. However, I can’t. 'S’ iz shver to sein a yid'. My sister keeps telling me I need Internet.”
As an aside, many respected chareidi mosdos who osir internet find it necessary to have broadband internet connections, and it amazes me how few have filtered systems.
On the way upstate, I stopped to daven in the main Satmar Bais Medrash in Monroe. There was a sign up in the Bais Medrash asking for signatures to persuade a local telephone or cable firm to let in J-Net, a filtered provider, due to the many internet users who need it for parnosa.

III. Solutions

I submit that the internet is not television. It is not 90% entertainment, and it is not leaving our community. Even an 83 year old almona I know uses the internet for purchases and as her primary means of communicating with her children and grand children in New York, the Midwest, and in Yeshivas and Kolelim in Israel!

I propose that our community has been remiss in not addressing the threat head-on. And I further suggest that broad brush prohibitive language (with the exception of limited cases such as children in mosdos where the Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe will be making the decisions), will not work, and will make us look like hypocrites in the eyes of our children. Like most serious problems, (or like sheitlach and copepods) we need a combination of a chinuch and a technical solution.
Chinuch Solution
I am not professional 'mechanech' (though every parent with a large family ka”h is a mechanech), and I do not want to wax verbose in the arena of the professional mechanchim.
What I do feel it is important to emphasize is that the most outstanding success of our community in the post war years is chinuch and our mosdos, and I am sure if the challenge of dealing with the internet reality were met forthrightly, we would see the same level of success we have seen in yidishe levush, in osuring many once acceptable forms of entertainment, in tznius in clothing and behavior (for both boys and girls), and in shmiras haeneyim. However, ignoring reality will not make it disappear.

Technical Solutions
The necessary technical solutions are themselves a combination.
Filtering
I have mentioned filtering several times in this article. I’m well aware of what every computer professional will tell us, that no filter is perfect. This is absolutely true.
I discussed this topic with the mashgiach of a prominent chassidishe yeshiva gedola, an individual who talmidim ask for advice well into their married years. He replied by asking whether filtering is 100% effective. I responded that it is only 90-95% effective and a determined effort can often create a breach. He said “that’s a problem”. I responded : “Reb ____, if you could clean up the 'gass' (street) by even 90% in the summer, would that be a good thing for yiddishkeit? Would you move to do that, and feel it would benefit all Jews, even if 10% slipped through?” The mashgiach agreed that it would be a truly wonderful accomplishment if 90% of the summer tznius issues disappeared from the street. I then asked him “would cleaning the Internet not be an equally important accomplishment?”, and he agreed. We all make cost/benefit analyses in life. No responsible authority recommends home schooling or solitary tefila to prevent seeing immodesty on the street. We must do our utmost to inculcate internal filters after making every reasonable step to avoid temptation. This is no different.
The first reasonable attempt is filtering. But ISP’s run like businesses cannot afford to run after every new debauched web site ( new ones appear daily), and new communication technique that appears. Filtering is a necessity, and the filter must be effective. It is our first line of defense, because we all know that the yetzer hora which is never initiated will never grow.

Reporting
But in essence, I do agree with the mashgiach. We dare not be satisfied with even 95%. Yiddishe neshomos are more precious than that.
We all know that the best preventative to sin is diuknesa d’uviv (Yosef Hatzadik’s escape from enticement with the appearance of his father’s image in his mind’s eye) and ayin roeh (the knowledge that one is being watched).
Regardless of every community’s respective stance on Internet use, a non-judgmental option should be offered. An electronic reporting system should be set up reporting web sites visited by each user and perhaps e-mail addresses for a spot check review by a reliable and close mouthed individual or committee chosen by of the respective Rav of each community. If something inappropriate is found, the Rav can then decide how to approach the issue in a dignified manner. Hopefully the fact that a foolproof reporting system is in place will help to ensure it is never used.
This is no different than hesitating to do something that could be embarrassing on the street because someone might be watching. Peer pressure is used as a deterrent, and rightly so. Privacy issues? Firstly the appointees must be above suspicion, like our rabbonim who are trusted with so many confidential issues. Secondly, we are only proposing spot checking as an adjunct to filtering. Both filtering and surveillance should be insisted upon as conditions of use by every community. The perception of a user of unfiltered, unsurveilled internet should be like the perception of someone sporting a television in the dining room or frequenting a pool without a mechitza.
Of course, ironclad confidentiality must be maintained due to both business and personal considerations. But the facts are, rightly or otherwise, many of us act differently when being watched by the Rav or Rebbe.
Finally, a filters which could actually disable the machine if inappropriate searches are made or sites visited. The password would be available at your local Rav’s.

IV. A Plea for Help
Truthfully, I had hoped that our brethren in the Modern Orthodox community had taken the lead in addressing these issues. The Internet threat is equally or more ubiquitous there, broadband connections are common, and the technical expertise is prevalent. It is self deluding to feel the yetzer hora only affects others, but not the Modern Orthodox community. Moreover, developing acceptable approaches would be an excellent validation of the Modern Orthodox philosophy of accepting the worthwhile while rejecting the worthless in contemporary society.
But since (to my knowledge) it has not been addressed there, we ‘chareidim’ must provide our own life preservers. This is a case of b’mokom sh’ain ish ( where no one is available to do the right thing we all are required to do so). And, G-d willing, we will meet our obligations.

Wireless Solutions
This article began with warnings about the spread of wireless internet and the implication that we have no solutions for an ISP intended for the general community.
What is needed is a program which is computer based but impossible for the user to remove for both filtering and reporting purposes. The basic technology already exists. If such a program were installed on each machine owned by an Orthodox Jew, this would be a big step forward.
At the same time, for those using a non-Jewish employer’s computer, or one in a hotel or a business (gas station?) a web based proxy server option should also be made available. While this by its nature could be circumvented, it would at least provide a kosher option for travelers and workers.
I am sure that IT professionals could better and enhance these ideas, or come up with better ones.
However . . . this will never be a money maker. In my opinion, it is a communal obligation.
Mesorah Publications felt the obligation to produce a Talmud, but knew that it could not cover itself financially in the initial stages. They therefore established the Mesorah Heritage Foundation to fund the significant expenses needed to launch this ambitious undertaking. The benefits to Torah Yiddishkeit are extraordinary!
Several years ago, a group of activists raised money and pressured several airlines flying to Israel to establish ‘Mehadrin’ seating areas with no movies. Here, too there were laudable successes.
The Orthodox community needs a foundation dedicated to pioneering effective, sophisticated and solid solutions to our unique Internet needs. It is a spiritual undertaking to be achieved through technical means. We have the expertise in our community. We need the understanding and will. The alternatives are unacceptable.
Furthermore, we must be ahead of the curve. Until now we have been reacting to developments after the korbonos occurred. This foundations’ technical brain trust would be charged with developing solutions before the korbonos. Instead of dealing with Wi-Fi, and whatever comes after Wi-Fi, after it is installed on MTA, we must have a prepared solution beforehand.
For thousands of years the Jewish people have overcome the challenge of new technical developments. Why now settle for even one neshama lost if we can save it?
And if some of us feel unthreatened by this new development, I would propose that they view it as an insurance policy for their children and grandchildren.
Let us hope that in the coming year we as community can determine to prevent even one more individual lost or weakened in their spiritual resolve as a result of technological developments.

14 Comments:

Blogger Frummer????? said...

We all know why.

Keep up the good work.

Lets have another.

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But 'vus gaet zein der sof'- a 2 tier standard?

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"These two individuals are Americans residing in Israel to live a life of Torah. Yet in Israel, there is no Hareidi filtered service at all! Why?"

Because they banned the internet altogether.

You err *seriously* in thinking that the major threat of the internet is pornography. The major threat of the internet is the free exchange of ideas.

For example, this post would probably play well in any number of Jewish periodicals, in which letters to the editor are monitored. Online, any number of posters starting with myself are liable to point out that your proposal of monitoring by rabbonim and rebbes is taliban-like. Saudi Arabia and China also have "monitoring" and the government gets to see what sites people go to. How is this different? Apparently, because people "trust" rabbonim. However, whether they trust rabbonim or not, people don't trust the functionaries who are charged with "carrying out the directives of the g'dolim".

It is a major mistake to think that you can control the information people recieve today. You can only make sure that you educate people in a way that strengthens them before they encounter other perspectives. Judging from the numbers of quasi heretical blogs, our education system is failing badly.

Finally, I hate to be the one to point this out, but the powers that be succeeded only in banning tv. They ossured movies, but ...everyone and their cousin watches videos and dvds. There are infinitely MORE people who watch movies routinely than there were three decades back when folks in RW circles still asking "do you go to the movies?"

The truth is that the compliance was gotten through social control, not because people were convinced that a unilateral ban on tv/video made sense, except perhaps for children.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

My 'error' is based on the rabbinical horror stories I have heard, which all involve either explicit sites or chat rooms.

The author of the 'Call to Action' article is only submitting that information be controlled voluntarily.
For those who recognized and desire to confront their yetzer hora, some voluntary surveillance is a good thing.
And if there are large numbers of people doing it, and we are a part of choosing who the lists go to, then taliban like restriction will not happen.
Moreover, in a free country there are always other options.
A life preserver for the weak or for 'al taamin b'atzmacha ad yom misa' purposes is still useful.
Are there no options other than government programs (ethically questionable) for parnosa and a 'know nothing' approach to life?
As far as freedom of expression, as I said in my post, I'm with you all the way.
You are 100% on target in your comment about banning the internet.
Thank you for your well thought out opinions.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

PS: The author has submitted to every Orthodox journal he was aware of. One (chareidi) told him 'there's no chiddush here'.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

No chiddush in the article, I mean. (???)

12:31 PM  
Blogger TheProf said...

Since Ive already given the author personal feedback, I'm not sure what more I can add. however, if this post is seen by others, maybe it will be meaningful. It's too bad that the Orthodox "powers that be" media moguls do not have the personal fortitude to behave as true leaders. Maybe it's due to the maamar chazal that in the last days, the pnei hador k'pnei ha'kelev. Horav Chaim Dov Keller Shlita once said in a speech in NYC, pnei hador are the leaders. We see that a dog seems to lead his owner... until the dog reaches a crossroad. Then he looks back, where do I go now? Such are our learders today. Many look back at their followers for direction rather than truly leading. This article on internet usage is not only a dvar chidush, but quite insightful and forward looking in its perspective. You can't just ban something that has bona fide beneficial uses. But our leaders can suggest gedorim, just as chazal placed gedorim when they felt that Klal Yisroel needed them to be protected from the outside world influences. Educational organizations have no problem using "multi-media" presentations (video b'laz) when needed. And they aren't worried that this will be taken as a heter. The internet provides parnoso for many. And the Web can be extensively used for many worthwhile purposes, including educational. If that makes us shabbos goyim, what can I say. "Mr. Aronovitz", chazak ve'amotz. Thank you.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My family is non-Charedi living amongst a totally charedi area
When the cable company tries to convince my parents to get cable they always point out that the rest of the block already has cable (but I guess they don't have tv's because the 'gedolim' assured it, right?). I can't believe someone out there thinks the tv ban has worked...

As for banning the internet, I agree with the previous Anon. the bigger threat is the ideas. The 'gedolim' are worried that people might actually think for themselves, R"L...

The article wasn't published for obvious reasons - it goes against what the 'gedolim' said - how dare you accuse them of making a mistake!

3:28 PM  
Blogger mother in israel said...

How would the rabbis supervising the surfing habits of the community know what was questionable? Presumably they wouldn't be able to tell just from the URL.

4:17 PM  
Blogger josh narins said...

I have two immediate reactions.

You seem to ignore half of the 90-95% solution, assuming its that good. Yes, some bad material will come through, but also some good material will be kept out. There are billions and billions of web pages.

The Saudi, Iranian and Chinese experiments are totalitarian efforts to crush dissent. In all three places the filtering of the internet is concommitant with the execution of dissenters.

Wouldn't it, instead, be in order to believe that your faith, and the faith of your community, can't be destroyed by a web page?

It almost sounds like every other web page is porn, and you have to turn all the pages to see the book.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

Unfortunately, there are a large percentage of internet users who seek explicitly that type of thrill.
It's a statistical fact that a video by one name brand actress a few years ago caused a significant and measurable increase in total internet traffic.
Check out Google's total search type statistics.

So we can't just close our eyes.

While it may not be a threat to our religion as a whole, we can't just ignore individuals completely.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this article a few years ago and was impressed with the author's grasp of the issues, and how to deal
with them. Then I re-read it more closely a few weeks ago and was even more impressed. The idea of both a filter, which would probably cover about 90% or more of the issues - AND
someone to look at the list every month, under rabbomin of jurisdiction, is brilliant and comes from someone who is intimately familiar with the issues. I would address this comment to this writer: PLEASE rewrite your article without mentioning that it was refused by orthodox media previously and without mentioning that gedolim definitely do not agree with you. I am not so sure about that. If your ideas can be presented on their own meriits, perhaps this article would indeed be published by mainstream chareidi media, at least as an editorial or in reader writes areas. Please do this. You are 100% on target.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Leapa said...

Anon: Where does it say in the body that gedolim do not agree?

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you hear broadband providers or your colleagues and friends talking about "wireless" they could actually

be talking about two separate things:Wireless

Networking
, having a wire free computer in the house connected to a broadband connection.
Broadband" href="http://www.broadband.co.uk/">Wireless Broadband
, this is a special kind of broadband package

where you can use it at home, but also in certain places when you are away from home. All you need is your phone

number or pastcode to see if either of these broadband connections are available and you can check it at

title="broadband.co.uk" href="http://www.broadband.co.uk/">broadband.co.uk
.

7:06 AM  

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