Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jews and the Internet

Must read article in today's Times. They scramble the details a bit, but it's nice to know someone is watching.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, the Orthodox schools and institutions of Lakewood, N.J., a community of 6,500 families in Ocean County, issued a proclamation forbidding children and high school students from using Internet-linked computers.

"Many children (and adults) have fallen prey to the immoral lures that are present on the Internet, and their lives have been destroyed," the seven-page proclamation began.

It barred even adults from going online at home except for the needs of a livelihood - and then only with rabbinical authorization.

Other faiths have also grappled with the Internet, though outright bans are rare. In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a "user beware" policy that warned parents to exercise some common-sense precautions like filters to ward off pornography.

More liberal Orthodox believers see the Internet as "an unbelievable tool" that must be used with sensible precautions, said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future, a division of Yeshiva University.

"Judaism does not believe in a Robinson Crusoe type of lifestyle," he said. "Our responsibility as Jews is to bring light into a larger society, and you don't do that by retreating."


So many haredim depend on the Internet for their livelihoods that the irony was not lost on them that the Lakewood ban displayed a keen sophistication about the Web.


Hasidim and other haredim have never been Luddites opposed to technology. But in building what they call a fence to safeguard Torah observance, they discourage enrollment in college, and social contacts between men and women. Some yeshivas will expel a child if they learn the family has a television.

"If television wasn't banned, we wouldn't have kids studying and learning Torah 16 to 18 hours a day," said Rabbi Shalom Storch, principal of Yeshiva Nesivos Ohr, a day school in Lakewood.

Hat Tip: Bloghead