Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Sivan 5764 - June 2, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Put Up the Phoneblocks!

by R. Tzippori

Never get yourself into a situation you can't get yourself out of. This is excellent practical advice for our day and age in which we are surrounded by minefields with no warnings posted.

In recent months, major efforts have been quietly made to put a halt to those who have not yet taken the message to heart and continue to step into places that they cannot get themselves out of. A new, highly-motivated organization called Vaad Shomrei HaTorah aims to stand at the gates and sound the warning.

Guiding the way is a worldwide organization called Vaad Hachinuch Haolami. For over ten years, it has shown itself very capable of arming itself against the threats to our generation, which stalk the innocent and claim their victims, particularly among the young. Some of the people behind the new, nationwide organization are established members of Vaad Hachinuch, which has succeeded in buttressing the defenses, protecting the sacred in Eretz Yisroel and around the world.

After six years of activity under its auspices it was decided to set up an entity to focus on the typical problems encountered in Eretz Yisroel. "Israel is considered a lab rabbit for the international testing laboratory," Vaad Shomrei HaTorah workers say enthusiastically. "The penetrating sales of a range of technologies is first assessed in the smaller and safer dimensions of the State of Israel, which make the investors' gamble a surer bet. At first, they sniff out a narrow territory and if it works, they extend to countries overseas. Surprisingly, the US lags several years behind us in terms of technological crazes. For example the uncensored SMS's flooding our mobile phones and which became a blow to the entire nation have only recently arrived there, so the most important focal point for halting the flood is here."

Blocking Committee

It takes a considerable amount of daring, resolve and optimism to become the official "blocking committee" for the increasing number of spiritual breaches. The three new flag- bearers who joined forces--a ram (HaRav Refoel Chakuk of Yeshivas Bircas Yisroel in Jerusalem), a mashgiach (a Jerusalemite who remains behind the scenes) and an energetic askan--are all graced with an uncompromising fighting spirit and enviable optimism that insists that any undesirable growth, no matter how rooted, can be weeded out and the ground patched up. It's all a matter of patient persistence and conviction.

This threesome, which serves as the organization's executive branch, backed by equally enthusiastic volunteer fieldworkers, intend to effect spiritual change and a dramatic transformation in the way we think and act on overlooked issues to which we may have become desensitized.

The Vaad's first official convention was held on Rosh Chodesh Nisan at Aperion Hall in Jerusalem in the presence of gedolei Yisroel, It addressed the primary breaches today--computers, cell phones and mehadrin bus lines. These issues did not leap to the forefront of the current agenda but they were brought to parents' attention in a manner characteristic of the organizers' approach: gradual, quiet and certain.

But the thin silence will soon be broken when the public learns of the results of the battle that has been waged continuously over the past six months. At that point, the Vaad will rise to prominence when the dimensions of the nationwide change generated through the sophisticated, grinding work become known; extraordinary efforts that stirred the Knesset from its slumber and succeeded in unsettling even the extremely anti-religious, unwittingly transforming them into partners in the fight.

A Dangerous Weapon Disguised as a Cell Phone

Before Vaad Shomrei HaTorah came into the world, its founders had already begun their first holy mission: the war against the unpleasant side effects the cellular companies provide us. Setting aside for a moment the obsessive addiction to the cell phone, which has become our constant companion wherever we go, the cell phone service package includes all kinds of mar'in bishin (bad occurrences) that nobody ever dreamed would be foisted on shomrei Torah.

Unfettered democracy has allowed sordid commercial entities, for whom the word "morality" is not a part of their personal or business lexicon, to impose upon us every dubious auditory program they can think of, via both cell phone and Internet, which can also be used to access these same mar'in bishin. The spine-chilling stories in circulation prove that the danger preys on everyone and sometimes years of chinuch go down the drain in the course of a single conversation.

Those who are not lured by these foreign invaders are urged to take part, through periodic SMS notices the company is "kind" enough to send so that the cellular subscriber can reconsider the offer. Thus tools of spiritual destruction lie hidden inside the seemingly innocent cell phone. Today, this industry offers at least 1,200 phone numbers and generates tremendous income.

Vaad Shomrei HaTorah is trying to put a stop to it. Some cell phone users are sinking into debt because of these vanities lying in wait in their pockets just a phone call away, as their exorbitant phone bills can attest.

And of course the financial losses are dwarfed by the spiritual losses. "We knew that if we go in the front door and openly declare war on today's free-for-all system we would encounter staunch resistance because of who we are and what we represent," says HaRav Chakuk.

In one incident, for example, Shinui torpedoed a certain initiative after realizing, just five minutes before the vote, that the chareidim were involved. "Therefore we tried to move things behind the scenes, not identifying where we're coming from." It wasn't easy.

For six months they waged an exhausting campaign to persuade politicians, prominent figures in the scientific community and individuals who shape public thinking. Everything is done by remote control without having to meet with the figures involved in these matters face-to-face, in order to encourage as many of them as possible to join ranks.

To further the cause, secular professors and lecturers have been recruited to provide scientific evidence and studies on the detrimental effects on children and youths from every segment of society. Dr. Danon, head of the Department of Mental Health in Rechovot, shocked the Knesset by claiming that the effects of this kind of addiction are even worse than the effects of drug addiction. Eventually the Knesset members, including those from Labor, Meretz and Shinui, agreed this is an absurd situation that cannot be allowed to continue, as it poses a threat to children from every class and segment of society. Even extreme proponents of freedom of expression acknowledged the inherent danger. MK Ilan Shalgi (Shinui) claimed there is a limit to the demagogic use of freedom of expression, particularly when it can have a devastating effect on our children.

Striking while the iron was still hot, the Vaad pointed out methods the US, Europe and Japan employ to block phone access to harmful numbers. It was widely agreed to heap as many obstacles as possible in front of those who insist on reaching them, a consensus that led Ehud Olmert to sign an unprecedented initiative that places a sweeping block on SMS numbers and a change in the operating license of all of the communications operators in Israel. Starting July 1st all phones will be blocked from accessing these numbers, which is one of the reasons for the recent change in all cell phone prefixes.

Those who insist on bypassing this impediment will have to go through an embarrassing procedure: going to the cell phone company in person, giving their name and age, presenting their ID card and paying for the calls by credit card alone. Payment cannot be made through the phone bill, to prevent users from giving other people's codes and to thwart minors, who do not have credit.

Chareidi-Only Cell Phones

"It is imperative to build fences and protect against today's difficult breaches," holds HaRav Chakuk.

"Today more than ever," his colleague on the Vaad adds, "because all of the signs indicate this is the age of chevlei Moshiach. Due to the difficult trials, we must cope with a terrible blurring that did not even exist in the Enlightenment generation. The unbearable ease of the stumbling-blocks readily available in our hands require that all of us enlist for this holy war with all of our energies. The well-known advice to draw the yetzer hora . . . into the beis medrash in order to overcome it [Succah 52b] is no longer enough, for today it comes with us into the holy places and we must battle it even inside the beis medrash, beis knesses or yeshiva and look for other tricks to win the war. This is the main reason why resources are being channeled to stop the yearning for cell phones which, unlike computers, follow us wherever we go, and even kosher channels are liable to turn into spiritual disasters through one incidental flashing message or another."

Full Supervision

Vaad Shomrei HaTorah plans to set up special subscription plans for the chareidi public and even specially-labeled cell phones. The clever idea, enthusiastically received by roshei yeshivos, belongs to HaRav Chakuk.

He maintains that the desired change and full control will take place only when exclusive, kosher models bearing a clear identifying label are in our hands. Show me your cell phone and I'll tell you what you're made of. Whether a young man is from our ranks or whether he is connected to the Internet will be apparent from a distance.

Negotiations are currently underway with the various cellular companies over the setup of a special infrastructure under chareidi supervision, and two companies have already agreed in principle. The supervision would include control over contents, which can be extremely licentious. Most companies do not control the contents the user sends or receives. Supervision of the chareidi plan would include not just phone messages but also the information services that today connect users to every news site via computer. The new service will be screened and controlled, based on clear criteria. The user will be able to receive updates on foreign news, financial news and politics, but with full censorship. It will also totally block Internet access.

The Vaad also took the seemingly small details into account and has serious plans to set up chareidi customer-service centers that will meet the requirements of the yirei'im by providing an appropriate atmosphere in terms of tznius, not exposing customers who come for repair services to dozens of undesirable written, darting, flashing and live images while waiting.

Reining in Cell Phone Use

In waging the campaign to restore our use of the cell phone to the proper proportions, the Vaad intends to make use of all tactics and every available means of transmitting information. According to Vaad Shomrei HaTorah the matter is just as serious as other aveiros, and borders on chilul Hashem. "We've gone beyond the limits," says HaRav Chakuk in alarm. "This ringing nuisance that makes us jump from our seats has taken control over our lives.

"In the US there are entire areas located underground or in tall buildings where phone reception is blocked, allowing people there a respite from the cellular yoke. Yet here we get no rest, not even in the middle of Shacharis. I am still flabbergasted every time I lay eyes on someone concealing a cell phone under his tallis respond to the sudden ring in the middle of fervent shuckling as if nobody were watching. He might even step out in the middle, requesting a pause from the King of Kings to make himself available to the ever-so-important speaker on the line. Apparently, these people fail to realize this is a halachic problem bordering on grave prohibitions such as umikdoshi tiro'u and leading others to sin by disrupting their concentration to the point where they cannot complete their tefilloh with kavonoh."

HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein always tells the story of the man in the courtroom who answered his cell phone to silence it and got fined NIS 500 for being out of order. "If we were to lose a sum of NIS 50--or even just NIS 10--every time we spoke during tefilloh, for which Hashem created His world (i.e. to gather in botei knesses and give thanks to His Name, says the Ramban in Parshas Bo), wouldn't our conduct change dramatically? This indicates that to us, speaking in a beis mikdosh me'at is not distressing in the least."

He lost all tolerance for cell phones when he witnessed a father and son learning together avidly in Avos Ubonim until the moment the inevitable ring interrupted the chavrusa. Upon seeing the father gesture to his son to stop and wait while he sank into an involved conversation, HaRav Zilberstein felt he would explode.

What will the child think upon seeing his father unhesitatingly choose to engage in sichoh beteiloh rather than limud Torah? How can this unfortunate impression be rectified?

At that very moment, HaRav Zilberstein came to the conclusion that a stop must be put to this disgraceful trend by severing ourselves from this addictive dependency, particularly when it comes at the expense of holy endeavors. The Vaad welcomes any ideas for how to make us realize how serious a prohibition this is and how much damage we cause to ourselves and those around us.

For instance, the Vaad may involve the rabbonim of botei knesses, asking them to distribute notices to their congregants on the gravity of cell phone use in shul. (For assistance and advice call HaRav Tachover of Vaad Shomrei HaTorah at 02-5377957.) In a word, to make us talk less, particularly at inappropriate times and places and in loud tones.

The Vaad plans to reach out to the public on both the intellectual and emotional planes. "We believe in light, gentle drops over a prolonged period and that patience pays off," says HaRav Chakuk. "That always works. Aggressive poster- size notices do not necessarily serve their purpose as well as intelligent, calm explanation."

Besides cellular phones, the Vaad will also focus on other areas of technology, pledges HaRav Chakuk. "We will continue to work on all fronts, to stand on the front line and battle to stop the various breaches that wreak havoc with our souls, including computers of course. With concentrated and consistent efforts, we can prove that nothing can defeat us and any evil wind that tries to reach us will not succeed in bending us, and certainly not in breaking our spirit."

Extending the Bounds of Holiness

During its 13 years of intensive work in erecting spiritual walls for Jews in Eretz Yisroel and around the world, Vaad Hachinuch Haolami has enjoyed unprecedented successes in burning issues that threatened our camp.

HaRav Direnfeld, head of Vaad Hachinuch of America, set up the organization at the behest of leading rabbonim in the US. There, most activity focuses on countering Internet use, whereas in Eretz Yisroel the cell phone is at the forefront of the battle. Representatives of the Israeli division maintain constant contact and even meet with them every 4-6 weeks to clarify the challenges on the Israeli scene and to formulate uniform modes of operation. The successful campaigns that led to dramatic changes in Israel through cooperative efforts by US and Israeli representatives have been primarily in the area of computers.

The slogan, "Mechashev lo mischak yeladim" ("A computer is not child's play") provides a glimpse at the sophisticated techniques employed to alter norms and attitudes toward the computer, which has become our national baby- sitter. The goal was to press home the message to busy parents that the always- available, low-price baby-sitter has a detrimental effect on children in every respect, including learning, social development and even mental development, not to mention the damage to spiritual values, which nobody disputes.

The organization released a 170-page report citing over 30 professors from the US who attested to the devastating effect computers have on children's minds. The highly convincing report cited quantifiable data on diminished scholastic achievement, delayed mental development and distortions in cognitive thinking.

Computers typically say as little as possible to teach the child as much as possible when, from a pedagogical standpoint, children need exactly the opposite. Hundreds of responses by parents and family members who identify with the problem (between 800 and 900 phone calls per month) encouraged Vaad workers, demonstrating the pertinence and efficacy of their work. Many parents became more aware and began to realize how what starts as a child's game turns into a harmful addiction, particularly in the case of computer games that foster violence. Some games are available in upgraded editions designed to train soldiers in the US Army not to cringe at the sight of blood, games that can have in irreversible effect on children.

The Vaad representatives in Eretz Yisroel also succeeded in launching mehadrin bus lines in Jerusalem. These efforts were bolstered following the bloody attack on a bus coming from the Kosel last Av, and today there are already four mehadrin lines in operation: Line 40 from Ramot, Line 1 from the Kosel Maarovi, Line 56 from Ramot Shlomo to Geula and Line 54 from Neve Yaakov to Geula. Soon Line 3 will also offer mehadrin operations as well and, b'ezras Hashem, further progress will be achieved in extending the bounds of kedushoh.

Keeping Your Phone Clean

Blocking reception is no longer a new idea. Today a small device is found in hundreds of homes in Israel. Hidden deep inside the plug, it helps parents guard the daled amos of the home and guarantees spiritual serenity--at least in one respect. The device contains a listing of all undesirable phone numbers and if someone in the house attempts to dial one of them it releases a deafening noise that makes it impossible to carry on conversation. The most important feature of the device is the manufacturers' ability to continue controlling the purity of the phone line by updating the list of blocked phone numbers as necessary.

Eliyohu Rosental, a melamed who suffered personally because of undesirable phone numbers, now works at the company, because of the great importance he sees in disseminating the idea and to make it a standard feature in every home.

Previously, as part of his involvement in educational projects, many students from wrecked homes would come in and out of his home on a regular basis, occasionally making calls from his phone. Wondering why his phone bills were so inflated, once he tried calling one of the phone numbers listed and to his great dismay discovered highly objectionable phone numbers had been dialed from his own phone. As part of his efforts to filter outgoing calls he went to Aerotel, the company that manufactures the device, and every since then he has been a part of the campaign to block phones.

The service, begun one year ago, now numbers 1,000 customers from all sectors of the population. Interest in the service is growing, as horror stories about those who got scalded impel families and groups to take preventative measures. "It may sound far-fetched and all of us are sure this couldn't happen in our home," says one of the company's directors, "but unfortunately it strikes within a wider range than one would imagine. It's no wonder there are rabbonim who say this is the minimal hishtadlus that must be done in every Jewish home, for if we take action down here we are helped from Above.

"Anyone who fears for his soul and the souls of his household members will not hesitate to install it," reads a letter of recommendation signed by gedolei Yisroel, including Maran HaRav Eliashiv.

"It is a great mitzvah to join this for the sake of our children's souls," says a second letter, from HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner.


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