Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Anti-Internet Brochure part 2

Rabbi Yosef Veiner wrote the first article in the brochure. It is entitled "Family Security and Issues of Lifnei Iveir". Even though it begins as completely out of touch with reality (in my opinion) I thought he actually made a valid point (albeit one that has been known to any internet savvy people for about 20 years already).

He first tries to scare his reader into giving up the internet altogether:

Rabbeim, rabbanim and community leaders will tell you that not a week goes by without having to deal with an internet-induced shalom bayis problem, chinuch problem, or with a very fine bachur – or at least what’s left of one – who calls crying and begging to help him extricate himself from the tentacles of the internet.

Perhaps that is true in his community. Nobody in my Shul ever came to me crying about those issues, nor in the years I was teaching baalei teshuva in yeshiva or sem. Perhaps they only go to other people and not me, or perhaps this problem affects baalei teshuva less because they better know how to deal with the realities of the world, or perhaps he is exaggerating (or perhaps all three).

He continues:

Ultimately, the best response to the internet remains, and always will remain, not to have any access to it. If you don’t need it, then don’t have it. Not at home, not at the office, not on your cell phone and not anywhere else. That is the best security policy of all.

He choses rather a trite example of why someone may think they can't live without the internet:

A case in point: some claim they save $30-$40 per month shopping online rather than going to the mall. That claim is debatable. Many husbands who track their expenditures have told me that the built-in shopping mall at home actually costs a lot more than it saves, because shopping becomes so easy that it encourages over-consumption. But even if the savings were significant, it’s difficult to justify the danger of having the internet at home just for the convenience and possible savings of shopping online.

Firstly, is it so easy to tell a kollel family to spend an extra $30-$40 per month rather than have the internet? That is not an insignificant sum of money for people living off welfare and charity. Secondly, what about the amount of bitul torah it saves. The husband can learn for another 2 hours per week (at least) instead of having to go shopping. That is 2 hours x infinite reward - surely a good deal. Thirdly, if the husband goes shopping, how can he ensure that he won't see any women who are dressed inappropriately? There are no filters in supermarkets. It seems to me that shopping online has a lot of advantages apart fromo jsut the money. (Of course you could answer that only women go shopping anyway. The husband's job is just to track the expenses, but not to leave the Beis HaMidrash. A husband like this won't ever be at home to look at the internet anyway, so he doesn't need this brochure).

But more importantly, I doubt that when people say they need the internet they are referring to online shopping. There are many things that can't be done without the internet, from paying bills, to finding educational ideas for children or schools, communicating with out of town family members etc etc etc. This is why people have internet. And it is becoming more and more difficult to get along in the world without internet.

Veiner agrees that we should not waste time, but should be learning Torah, he just thinks that the internet takes away from Torah learning time, rather than adds to it (which he may be right about, or may be wrong - it depends on how the internet is used).

It should be obvious that as frum yidden we must realize that our job in life is to utilize all the precious time given to us for the avodas Hashem that we were created to do.

I agree that parents should try to supervise their chidren. It is also difficult to know where your kids are, and which friends they are spending time with, and what they are doing there. We always try to make sure there are responsible adults around at any home where our friends are visiting. But I find this paragraph very scary - Big Brother is watching. You have a requirement to snoop into everyone else's business, and if you are in doubt you must ban your children from going to their homes. I suppose 'dan le-kaf z-chut' is another casualty of the internet.

The reality today is that part of your job as a parent is to make sure you know which houses are protected from the internet and which are not. It is a very delicate issue, and it can cause bad feelings, but if you are not willing to check into what your child’s friends can expose your child to, you are not doing your job as a parent. If you are in doubt, then it’s better to err on the side of caution. When you consider the grave damage
that can be done to your child in seconds, you will probably agree that it is better to disassociate from those who are willing to take a risk, rather than have your child caught in the “Net.”

Then he accidentally makes a very important point - perhaps the most important point of the whole article. It is important for teenage boys and girls to know that it is normal for them to have hormones, and for their bodies to want to do things that their minds don't want them to do. This is an issue that is ignored by many schools and yeshivot. Kids don't know what is normal and what is abnormal. They feel alone and begin to worry about being insane. If only every Rosh Yeshiva or head of a sem would explain to the teenagers that it is normal, there are nisyonos, and sometimes people fail.

This boy explained that when he started failing in this area, he sank into a deep depression, certain that he was depraved and that no one else was struggling with this desire. Once I explained that it was normal, he felt that he could deal with it.

This next paragraph is just embarrassing. Imagine that! Non-Jews don't want their kids watching porn either! How come they never had an internet Asifa? Since non-Jews haven't banned the internet, they have tried to use it wisely. Which is what most Jews have been doing to. Yet Aguda still proclaims that Chareidi Jews should be a beacon to the world in their stance on internet.

Interestingly, many well-meaning non-Jews realize that the moral fabric of this country is decaying because of the terrible impact of the internet, and they are inventing software to combat the problem. So concerned are they about the problem that they are making their software available for free or for a nominal fee of $10 or $20 a month – a small price to pay when we realize what is at stake.

(Obviously if the non-Jews are filtering the internet for free it makes it much more difficult for Chareidim to make money off their internet filtering system. So there will have to be some invented reason why non-jewish filters are treif and you must get one approved by all the Gedolim. In fairness to Rav Veiner he provides a list of useful sites and filters at the end of his article - none of them Jewish!)

Rav Veiner speaks about the importance of filters. Then he has another suggestion. Tracking software. I have never used this, but it seems to me like a good idea. Especially as filters are not all that brilliant (though they are better than nothing). Knowing that there is someone watching (apart from G-d) is a good thing, and is the meaning of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's blessing to his students "May your fear of Heaven be as great as your fear of other people."

Reporting software can track anything on your computer, down to each keystroke and click of the mouse if you set it up to do so. Its most important function, however, is to track website visits and searches. The software then generates a report and sends it to you and someone else via email. It is imperative that you send the report to someone who you will have difficulty facing if the report is unfavorable – a chavrusa, a Rebbi, or a rav.
I have made the following offer in public, and it stands for anyone reading this essay: if you cannot find someone with whom you are uncomfortable enough to send the reports to, I am
willing to read your reports, as long as you are willing to accept some warm divrei mussar if I find something troublesome on a report.

At first this made me laugh. After all his protesting and forbidding and banning it turns out that Rav Veiner himself uses the internet. If nothing else he checks his e-mails every morning! I thought it was assur according to him!
But then I realised that finally they are doing something right. The organisers of the Asifa asked someone to write an article who actually knows what an internet is! He is writing as someone who knows the many benefits and many difficulties that the internet brings into a home. He is not like some Rabbis who assume it must be treif and assur because Moshe Rabbeinu didn't permit it.
My only real question is - why not admit from the beginning of the article that the internet is a reality of the modern world. Just like all new technology it must be used wisely. It is a pity that Rabbis are still pretending it is automatically assur, and their students are tweeting about their p'sak.

To finish - here is the list of software that Rav Veiner mentions:

Jnet – filter for computer, Blackberry and
other mobile devices
Eblaster – very thorough reporting system:
Accountable2you (free)
WebSense – an enterprise level product if you run a medium size business or larger

For a rundown on these and other filter programs, see internet-filter-review.

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