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Let There Be Net

The Council of Torah Sages has banned the Internet.

In their decree, they say, among other things: “The Internet is a danger 1,000 times greater [than television — which they banned thirty years ago], and is liable to bring ruin and destruction upon all of Israel. ‘The Internet threat’ puts future generations of Israel in grave danger in a way that no other threat has since Israel became a nation.”

Zilbershlag  said: “Look through the garbage cans of Meah Shearim. You won’t find one mouse.”(He wasn’t talking about the kind that eats cheese).

The sad thing is, that the world really needs spiritual leaders, now more than ever.  The more we run headlong into a future whose parameters we cannot fathom, made up of technological marvels that give men the ability to overcome vast distances, physical barriers, even time zones, the more we need to understand how to continue to clothe ourselves in the familiar rituals and values that have blessed the lives of our ancestors with meaning.

So, when Torah sages marginalize themselves into irrelevance by issuing sadly ridiculous decrees that the community ignores (they might as well have  banned electricity) I find it heartbreaking.

How did this happen?

There is no doubt that many unsavory things have gotten onto the Internet: pornographic sites, cults, propaganda for evil organizations including skinheads and other violent racists. But to ban the Internet and basically call it the tool of the devil is like saying you can’t walk out of the house because you might pass by sex shops and movie houses showing X-rated films.

The Internet is a world. Everyone who enters it decides what part of that world they want to visit. Dozens of religious websites dot that world. You can find out what time to light candles when you travel to Sydney, Australia and where you can get kosher food in Hong Kong. You can read Torah commentaries by the hundreds, and get kashrut updates from the Rabbinical Council of America.

leadership of the haredi world into such a panic, I can only conclude that it is the following: The freedom that the Internet gives the individual to explore and understand the world. This freedom, which most of the Western world takes for granted, is an insidious threat as far as the haredi world is concerned, whose biggest fear seems to be that the individual might take off his blinders and look around him unfettered and make his or her own decisions.

The ban on the Internet is just another in a long list which includes: Don’t read books. Don’t listen to the radio. Don’t watch television. Don’t read newspapers. Don’t go to the movies. Learn only in carefully monitored programs and impose a very strict and unwavering code of silence concerning all unpleasant realities, including domestic abuse and other criminal activities.

Dear Honorable Rabbis, I beg you to reconsider. Teach our children to be good and decent human beings, but not with educational systems based on fear, and a methodology that attempts to seal their minds off hermetically from all outside influences. Because if you try to keep that up, the battle is already lost. The world will always filter through in a thousand tiny cracks.

Instead of banning the Internet, ask instead what failure in transmitting values makes the Internet a threat. Ask why a yeshiva student or a Beit Yaakov girl would want to visit a pornographic Internet site. Ask the heads of the yeshivot and girls schools how it is that secular children all over the world thirsting for knowledge are using the Internet as a tool to learn the wonders of nature, language skills, the beauty of art and music, and why it is that a haredi child will be poisoned from drinking out of the same well?

Consider, please, whether the problem is the Internet or simply the failure of the haredi educational system to teach children how to navigate possibilities and choose wisely. This failure was not so terrible in the days when it was possible for a father to cover a child’s face in a prayer shawl and carry him up and back from heder. In the modern world, it’s a catastrophe.

Consider, too, what are the true choices. Like electricity, the Internet has changed the world. It isn’t going away. This is a fact. Would it not be better to let our children gain mastery over this powerful tool of worldwide communication?

Besides, isn’t setting up a Website on the Internet the equivalent of Abraham standing at the door to his tent eagerly inviting the world in?

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