At Yeshivat Avir Yakov, an all-boys school in the chasidic enclave of New Square in New York’s Rockland County, students spend the vast majority of their long school days studying religious texts in spartan classrooms furnished only with battered wooden benches and desks. Unlike their counterparts in public or private schools outside the chasidic community, the boys at Avir Yakov do not have access to the Internet or computers in their school because chasidic leaders view the Internet as a corrupting force capable of undermining their way of life.
When the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut were announced, Jewish media outlets immediately published articles about the youngest victim Noah Pozner, the 6-year-old who was laid to rest earlier this week in a traditional Jewish funeral.
Ever since the old AmericaOnline, people have used the Internet as a way to learn more about religion and to engage with likeminded co-religionists. The Senior Religion Editor of Huffington Post, Paul Raushenbush, published an interesting article about the search for religion on the Web. He writes that "Religion is one of the hottest areas of the Internet because religion is one of the most intense and contested arenas of human relations and ideas." He's right.
Back in December 2004, I wrote about my technology experience at the Mamshit Camel Ranch, a Bedouin village in Israel. I explained how funny it was to be at a Bedouin village that appeared to be authentically rustic to the Birthright Israel participants I was chaperoning, but behind-the-scenes the place was equipped with the latest technology.
When I first heard that a rally was planned for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews to protest the Internet, I didn’t think it would attract much attention. After all, the Internet has long been under attack in Haredi communities and their rabbinic leaders have forbidden it in the past.
At Citi Field event, signs abounded that the web is deeply ingrained in haredi life.
Ari L. Goldman
Special To The Jewish Week
In Hebrew, English and Yiddish, speaker after speaker inveighed against the evils of the Internet in the most strident of tones before 40,000 haredi men at Citi Field on Sunday night. The Internet was called “a minefield of immorality,” “the opposite of kedusha” [holiness], “shmutz” [filth] and, in the words of Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities.”
The notion of 40,000 haredi and chasidic men coming out on a lovely Sunday evening to Citi Field — a sell-out crowd — not to watch a Mets game but to decry the evils of the Internet makes the attendees of this week’s rally an easy target for ridicule to many people. After all, the Internet is a reality, and prayer and preaching won’t make it go away.
This is why the Internet asifa (the large-scale rally, planned by haredim against the Internet, which took place on Sunday night at Citi Field) is important for K’lal Yisroel: because a wholesome lie is better than any broken truth; because denial must be protected at all costs; because ignorance is sacred in a world whose existence depends on it.
If Al Gore actually did invent the Internet, as he once claimed, he would be the least popular guy in any ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. It is clear that the fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders really despise the Internet and technology because they're willing to spend over $1.5 million in a rally against it next month in Queens, New York.