The first great asifa to warn about the ills of the Internet will take place on May 20th at Citifield Stadium, home to the New York Mets! There have been several smaller local gatherings but this is the first “great” gathering. If this one works, and I doubt that it will, be prepared we will start seeing them pop up across Israel, the U.S. and the world:

 Revivalist meetings coming to a stadium near you! The Internet is the Satan!

It cost in the vicinity of $1.5 million to rent Citifield stadium but no sum of money will be spared to gather the people to hear from leading Rabbis about the ills of the Internet. It seems that women are not invited but no amount of pressure will be overlooked in getting fathers and their sons to attend this gathering.  School buses will ferry them from their schools and homes to the stadium to hear the speeches vilifying the newest Satan incarnate- – the Internet. For some schools attendance at this event is mandatory. Yes tickets are being sold, at the cost of $10 per person. The day is designed to “be a gathering of unity of all the Jews living in the U.S., a gathering to disseminate information and a prayer rally for the success of Klal-Israel’s war on the Technology which threatens the sanctity of the homes of Israel.”

” War on the technology” sounds like a public relations phrase. More likely this is a war on pornography that is rampant and easily available on the internet. To say that it is a war on technology does not sound as legitimate as saying it is a war on porn but the hesitancy to mention that is understandable within this community. Why not state, however, that the ban on the internet has actually been in existence for some communities since 2006 when it was decreed that only individuals who needed the internet for work and received special dispensation from their rabbis can have access to the internet? Why too is the issue presented in terms of “the technology” – is this an attack on all technology? I think it is!

As of this writing, ticket sales for the asifa are extremely sluggish and that is understandable. Who wants to spend a free afternoon, one of the very few available in the spring season, away from the family to hear about something that is viewed by the “klal” as perhaps not foolish but at the very least outdated and not very meaningful, and to spend money on it to boot? Many communities have Wi-Fi, and if they do not have it now they will in a few years. Most homes have computers and most parents know that their children need to be supervised when they are on the computer. The vast majority of parents know that technology is forever moving and it is important to keep up.

What is most interesting to me is that I have learned in Beit Midrash with some of the mid-level rabbonim who have lent their support to this event. They may not remember me but I remember them as they were in their late teens and early twenties. They read newspapers, played ball even bummed a cigarette on occasion. Now they have become part of the ever expanding creep of things that are Assur, prohibited. For many of them newspapers are now Assur. Even Hamodia may be Assur to some of them.  

What is causing this vast sea change that has made the world so frightening a place that our religious leaders are so insistent that the only way to deal with life is to withdraw from it? Many of these leaders were not raised in this manner. They were taught what was good and what was not. They were shown how to navigate through the potholes of decadence that every now and then pop up in our paths. They were never taught to run and hide but to engage properly in society. I have it on good authority from some insiders that this new restrictive approach to the world is based purely on financial considerations. By having a following that will make no decisions on their own, the ruler sets the tone for the economy of the group and his own greed is nourished. But that is pure cult thinking and I reject that as the primary motivation. I believe that many of these religious leaders honestly, but mistakenly, think that they have the best interest of their followers at heart.

            The real reason for these increasingly authoritarian and repressive restrictions is, I think, due to a lack of a broad, worldly education. The older generations valued education of all sorts. The Rabbis of the Gemara all had jobs in addition to their scholarly disputation work. While Torah related subjects were always more highly valued mathematics, chemistry, philosophy and biology, even vocational and trade pursuits were no less part of the holy components of an education then were Gemara. In the last generation these pursuits have not just been marginalized they are increasingly rejected. Students coming out of many of the high schools that the asifa is targeted toward can barely string together a coherent and grammatically correct sentence.  Many of their parents are frustrated by the limited education their children receive but feel trapped because there are fewer options for them to choose from. Only the more modern leaning yeshivas still educate all secular subjects. Even in those schools though the emphasis is more and more on getting into the best Beit Midrash or seminary program, even before thinking about whether or not college is an option. When you are not educated about a subject you are easily alarmed by it. The internet is not the problem. The lack of education about the world is.

 

 

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