Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
What is Wrong with the Internet?

The American gedolim warned of its dangers some two years ago. Now the rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel, a broad spectrum including Roshei Yeshiva -- both Ashkenazic and Sephardic -- Admorim and rabbonim, have warned that one should not use the Internet privately, nor watch CD-Roms or videos on the computer. They also write that computer games should not be played, and in general the computer should not be used for entertainment.

They also founded a special beis din to deal with the issues of tsnius and chinuch that the computer raises.

Surely many are asking: why the tremendous fuss? There are many ways, unfortunately, that children -- and adults -- can be and are corrupted by the ills of modern society. What is it specifically about the Internet that makes it "a terrible danger, chas vesholom, to kedushas Yisroel and to generational continuity"?

After all, the Internet is modern technology and we are not opposed to modern technology. We are quick to embrace any innovation that can help us in our efforts to serve Hashem. And the Internet is big and growing explosively. Can we afford -- is it even possible -- to turn our backs to it?

The Internet is changing and developing. New uses and applications are found and proposed all the time. Certainly if our shul's refrigerator can eventually order the drinks for seuda shelishis using the Internet, no one will object.

But whatever happens in the future will be dealt with in the future.

The dangers are in the Internet here and now. They are very serious and they are very real.

Many people mistakenly believe that the main danger is from seeing prohibited sights or reading prohibited material. They think that they can avoid the problems by turning off the graphics and only visiting respectable sites such as those of government agencies, news organizations or financial companies. To be sure this must be done by anyone who must use the Internet, however, although this minimizes the problem, it does not completely shut out the worst threat.

Some technology is neutral; some of it has a built-in bias. It makes little difference how you light your home: whether with incandescent bulbs, with fluorescent lights or with halogen lamps. A screwdriver is normally used to drive screws in or out, but it can be used to stab someone. A gun may be used to drive nails, but it is normally used to kill.

The Internet is not a neutral technology. It carries with it a message and a temptation. According to the New York Times (of January 9, 2000, which we downloaded from the Internet under the guidelines of the beis din), "Like much of America's influence on the world, the Internet lies in the arena of what Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government terms `soft power.' It's like rock 'n' roll or American movies, which earn lots of money, to be sure, but mainly influence other nations by offering an irresistible alternative culture."

The Internet today, with its glitz and frenetic change, carries with it, promotes and insinuates values such as unbridled consumption, quick gratification of every desire, disrespect for authority, rootlessness, and probably many more such destructive principles that are all the more dangerous because most people are not aware of them and do not set up defenses against them.

Even those who are aware of them, cannot completely avoid the dangers. The continual pressure that the Internet exerts is on the most sensitive and precious possession that we own: the Jewish heart.

The purity of the Jewish heart -- our own, our children's and our community's -- has an importance that cannot be overstressed. Any assault on it is truly "a terrible danger, chas vesholom, to kedushas Yisroel and to generational continuity."

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