“Internet in the Jewish Home is a discussion of critical information every Orthodox Jew needs to know about the Internet. It provides a comprehensive worldview as well as specific technologies and detailed tips to enable safer Internet usage. Featuring Rabbi Gil Student and organized together with Dovid Teitelbaum, this lecture gives you the ability to take control of your and your children’s Internet experience.”
For the past few weeks, I have been helping and assisting on the creation of this new website, InternetinJewishHome.com, and I’m excited to let my friends know that it is finally ready for launch. This project is going to be a work in progress, and I’m open for suggestions and constructive criticism.
After writing my first article about the Internet and my view on educating rather than filtering as the method of choice, I received such positive feedback. I counted over 30 websites that picked up my article, including one blog that translated every word into Yiddish with his own notes. 95 percent of the comments were positive. I had mechanchim and Roshei Yeshiva call me to tell me what a beautiful article I wrote. I really believed I was on to something and that people were beginning to realize the futility of banning something we all use daily. However, not one asifa has yet to even acknowledge any other solution besides filtering, and not one of my ideas was even discussed in a public forum. They kept repeating the “filters” mantra over and over.
Using an iPhone to say Tehillim at Kever Rachol
I wish I had an explanation for this, but I don’t. Maybe it’s just too easy to use “filters” as a solution, a “magic pill” that eliminates the “huge problem” of the Internet. The idea of people bringing in their cell phones to have others install filters for them shows how little effort we are willing to put in. If someone is incapable of downloading a filter from the Internet himself do you really think he will know how to make sure his home computers are protected? But, who wants to spend time on education when a simple filter will do the trick? And yet, deep down we all know it won’t solve our problems. A filter is no match when it comes to a geshmaka YouTube video. And yet we always seem to look for the easy fix. But the easy answers rarely solve complicated problems. And when they seem like they do, it’s only because they just push off the problem until a later date. And so just like the deficit, we believe somehow we will figure it out later.
My personal view is that the Internet is just another technology that can be used for good and bad. If we are raised with a proper education and with proper role models, we can embrace the Internet and use it for all the good it has to offer. But if we are looking for shmutz we will find it no matter how many filters are installed.
There is no question that the Internet comes with many concerns. It’s a new medium, and it changes faster than you can send a text message. And yet, I believe the issues we face with the Internet are really the same old problems, because life presents itself with the same moral questions over and over. It’s just the medium that changes.
Some people concocted a new idea that, somehow, the Internet has overturned the order of life and now we face a new yetzer hara leading to new problems that never existed before. I don’t buy it. Everything that can be done online can be done in the real world and that is why the Torah is timeless: every generation can learn right from wrong by studying the same Torah. I heard from Rabbi Yitzchok Berkoeitz that Torah SheBalPeh was never supposed to be written down because it takes great men to give over the same traditions and apply it to the new issues of the day. The Torah doesn’t mention the Internet, but its eternal lessons can be applied by our rabbis to this new technology. And so, like everything else we do as frum Yidden, we need proper guidance from our Rabonim.
I have been speaking with many of our Gedolim recently, and while my respect for them is unquestionable, I have carried a huge burden trying to explain to them the positive aspects of the Internet. What is so clear to users of modern technology is difficult for non-users to understand, simply out of lack of familiarity. This is why there is so much confusion out there. Some Rabbonim are trying to allow Internet in the home for personal use and yet the Gedolim on top are still not behind this idea. Honestly, I understand them completely. If all they are told is that the Internet is complete shmutz and all they read are horror stories, as the Chareidi papers have been publishing for the past 10 years, why would they allow such a device in the home? How could they allow such a device? If parents and Rabbeim come telling them everyday, that the Internet is at fault for all their problems and is the cause of their children’s unhappiness with Yiddishkeit, they would be wrong to allow such a device near a Jewish home. But let’s face it, who is going to tell their rabbi that it might just be their own fault the kid is not excited about Yiddishkeit or that the problem is much deeper than a bad webpage. So after hearing this kind of talk for so long, is it a wonder our Rabbonim have taken such a strong stance against the Internet? If they didnt I would question their integrity.
It is for a very good reason that Jewish tradition insists on seeking guidance from the older generation. They have experienced life in all its complexities and can best advise us on the way we live. But what happens when you have a generation in which things change so rapidly? When my 10 year old son fixes my iTunes player for me, or my 8 year old shows me how I can get better wifi connection, or my 6 year old daughter tells me how to change my android wallpaper? The Rabbonim can speak about the dangers of the Internet but they can’t teach how to use it properly if they don’t use it themselves. They can’t explain how to benefit properly from this new technology without mastering it first. Similarly, one can speak about the dangers of driving a car, but if you don’t drive yourself you can’t give a drivers educational course (at least not one I would attend).
So we need to find Rabbonim who go online and are proud of using the Internet for Torah values. Those who know the dangers and can tell us how to use it properly. B”H there are many and I was lucky to have someone in my own neighborhood who is a well known Talmid Chochom (both online and off). He has impeccable Yiras Shomayim and has dedicated himself to the needs of Klal Yisroel with no personal or financial gain. He produces Chidushei Torah daily just because he enjoys it, something the Rambam would have been proud of. And so I was honored when he asked me to help with a project I believed in.
And just as I am helping Rabbi Gil Student with this endeavor, I myself have been helped from more people that I can list on this page. Rebbeim, Mechanchim, laymen, editors, parents, my Facebook friends, and my teenage campers. I hope to publish their names at some point but, in the meantime, I would like to thank my family for allowing me to spend so much time blogging and working on this project, when I should have been helping at home and with our new baby.
What better way to educate the use of proper Internet activity than through this very medium? It is a tool so powerful that even someone as hi-tech as myself is in awe of its potential. (A recent post I wrote about tznius received over 10,000 hits in 24 hours). So making a website to teach proper use of the Internet makes perfect sense. With the Internet you can post comments, share ideas and create discussion forums. The website can be updated as time goes by, so the latest information is available at all times. The latest filters will be discussed and volunteer moderators will be there to help. There are lecture videos, that will guide you through step by step and mp3 audio files to download. It becomes a community effort. When people visit this web page they are making a statement: nobody is forcing me to come here, but I want to protect and guide my family and I want to use the Internet properly. THIS is a true kiddush Hashem.
My hope is that this site will be used to help us deal with the realities of the Internet age. I have invested lots of personal time to take this project on and help it in any way possible, with the hope that we as a klal can respond together — positively — to the challenges of the Internet. The website and all the hard work I have done is dedicated to my father’s memory: Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, Z”L. I hope he is proud.