Ultra-Orthodox Rally To Decry Dangers Of Internet
May 21, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox Rally To Decry Dangers Of Internet

The home of the Mets, Citi Field, was sold out Sunday evening, but there was no ball game going on. Instead, more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews packed the stadium to hear about the dangers of the internet and how to better use it in a religiously responsible way, reports Sharon Otterman of the New York Times.

Eytan Kobre, a lawyer who is the spokesman for the event´s organizers, spoke before the event by saying, “It´s going to be inspiration and education about using technology responsibly in accordance with Jewish values.”

Kobre said the rally´s purpose is not to ban the internet but to learn how to harness it. “There is a very significant downside to the internet,” he said. “It does pose a challenge to us in various aspects of our lives.” Kobre cited online pornography and gambling as well as the risk of social media undermining “our ability to pray uninterruptedly, to focus and to concentrate.”

Females were not permitted at the rally following strict rules governing gender separation, but the speakers were broadcast live to audiences of women in schools and event halls in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and live hookups were available elsewhere in the US and internationally.

Organizers of the event are leaders of ultra-Orthodox sects that reject many aspects of modern life. The women of these sects dress modestly and wear wigs after marriage, while men wear black hats and long beards. Children are educated in Jewish schools, and Yiddish is the first language for many.

Television is banned or discouraged, but Kobre said many ultra-Orthodox Jews use the internet either on computers or smartphones. “There´s a spectrum of usage and there´s a spectrum of how people are dealing with it,” he explained.

The rally was organized by a rabbinical group named Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, which means Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. Two prominent rabbis are backing the event: Israel Portugal, the Skulener rebbe of Borough Park, and Matisyahu Salomon, the spiritual leader of Beth Medrash Govoha, the main yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey.

In Lakewood, home to the largest yeshiva in the country, residents have taken an aggressive approach to the internet. In 2005, the town´s Orthodox schools and institutions issued a proclamation forbidding children and high school students from using internet-linked computers.

The proclamation also prohibited adults from going online at home, except for work-related business – and then only with rabbinical authorization, reports Karen Matthews for the Associated Press (AP).

Rabbi Salomon recently told a gathering of thousands of people in Lakewood that by coming together they would be asking for God´s help in fighting evil inclinations, according to Hamodia.

Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written widely about ultra-Orthodox Jews, said community leaders are worried about “seepage of the outside world into their enclaves. The problem of course is that they can´t keep it out because the internet has become ubiquitous and also important for them,” he said.

Heilman said many ultra-Orthodox Jews use the internet for online trading or to run businesses from their homes. But the “seemingly innocuous device of a telephone or a computer” provides an opening to the outside world that the ultra-Orthodox have long shunned, Heilman concluded.

“They think that the world is so seductive and so dangerous and so base, that that´s the greatest danger.”