Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Charedi 'War' on Computers?

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From HaAretz:

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish group declares war on computers

Every Gerrer Hasid with a computer can expect a house call in the near future, meant to persuade him to get rid of the treyf device. Those with an Internet connection - the height of spiritual contamination, which only a few members of the community have rabbinical permission to use, and that for work purposes only - will receive special attention.

The purpose of the campaign is not to threaten computer users with sanctions, but rather to explain the "spiritual dangers" to which they and members of their household are exposed. If the Gerrer rebbe so wished, members of the community say, he would have ordered the computers removed from his followers' homes. But the Rebbe is not doing so, perhaps because he, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, knows how difficult it is to round up the horses once the stable door has been left open. And so, the campaign's purpose is informative: Every shtibl [small synagogue] is to appoint two people to go from house to house with the message that it is preferable not to have a computer at home.

HaAretz is one of those periodicals that allows for comments from readers. I’ll post just a couple of those here so you get some idea of how polarized people are on the issue and how stupid they can get when the subject comes to Charedim. I know that may of you might assume that I, being the vocal apikores, agree with such harsh critiques of the Chasidishe Veldt, but that is not so at all. I do not agree entirely with the Gerrer Rebbe’s initiative, but I see a great deal of wisdom in it.

The title of the article is no doubt misleading and provocative. Most of the redundant controversy and rhetoric stems from readers getting caught up in the sensationalism rather than the content of the article, which in no way suggests the Gerrer Rebbe intends to wage a ‘war’, but rather an outreach program.

A woman from Rechovot writes (I tidied up her spelling and grammar):

They are violating human rights by shutting their children and wives away from the world. It`s imprisonment against one`s will. Say what you want, but if you`re questioning that, then you must be thinking that also the 12 year old girl kidnapped and made into n-the wife of a Mormon somewhere in the U.S. was so-to-say acting out of her "free will"! Do these rabbis think they`re G-d to order people around like that?! I`d say it`s time for them to review their own behavior!

I don’t know how you read this comment, but frankly, I think she has some serious issues unrelated to computer abuse in the Charedi community. To go from banning the internet to Mormons is quite a leap. I agree that there are some controlling aspects to Charedi lifestyle and that parents and community leaders exercise an inordinate amount of control, in the eyes of many, over their followers. But guess what? There are some communities, especially in urban America, where people are crying out for such active and effective leadership! I grew up in that world and I call it “being responsible for your family and community.” We may argue as to what extent that control should or should not apply, but for a community to police its own is not a bad thing. I do not believe the Gerrer Rebbe is over-reacting.

Shmuel, also from Rechovot, speaks wise words when saying:

The responses are sadder than the article. Everyone is so upset that the Gerrer Chasidim shut off their children from the internet, as though they are now abandoned to the Middle Ages. I (although not Charedi), choose to have no internet connection in my house, and I live a rather modern life without it. To me, it is more sad to see how the general secular public ignores the risks and and danger that the internet poses to our children, and rather just blames the Charedim for their response to the danger (even if you don`t agree with it). Filth and the destruction of the education of our children does not equal modernity!

I have to agree with much of what Shmuel is saying. You don’t need the internet to become smarter, worldly, or educated. Arguably, past generations that created the technology we have today did so without the aid of computers or the internet. The internet is simply a venue for communication, but certainly not the only or even the most effective means to do so in terms of educational value. We utilize the computers in schools, not as matter of necessity, but for convenience. Nothing replaces the face to face interaction of a real teacher in a classroom or real people in a real, three-dimensional social setting. When the virtual world becomes ‘real’, we find many social and individual problems growing from the associated behaviors. I would venture to guess that internet junkies and ‘gamers’ are far more likely to become shut off from the real world than are the children of those Gerrer Chasidim who have chosen to unplug their PCs from the World Wide Web.

Kol Tuv

3 comments:

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