The Danger on the Desk (and in the Pocket)
By Sarah Pascal
Posted on 11/29/11 | Comments (3)
Agudath Israel of America’s 89th National Convention, in which thousands of Jews participated over the four day period of November 24-27, confronted the unprecedented challenges of modern technology head on, starting with the overcrowded Thursday night plenary session.
Rabbi Elya Brudny, Maggid Shiur, Mirrer Yeshiva, discussed the difficult times that klal Yisroel is currently facing; we are confronted with unprecedented tragedies. While we used to hear a scandalous story once every few years, that is no longer the case. “Our homes have been broken in epidemic proportions,” said Rabbi Brudny. “This can primarily be attributed to technology. The more advanced and specialized technology becomes, the more pronounced the yerida is.”
“We all understand the overwhelming problem,” he continued. “The clock can’t be turned back; the world operates on these technological advances.” He speculated that “maybe, because limud Torah is so strong, and so many are koveia eitim that we can now fill up a stadium for a siyum, the Yetzer Hara has been given a license from Hashem to entice Yiddishe kinder.”
Rabbi Brudny elaborated on some of the dangers of technology. Firstly, technology has created a “global village”. Living within a small “village” with the worst elements of society has a dangerous impact on our lives as we read their commentaries on life, and interact with them on a daily basis.
Additionally, said Rabbi Brudny, technology has taken away Klal Yirsroel’s inherent trait of modesty. Tznius is in our blood. And yet, technology has found a way to bypass this modesty. When one uses technology to sin, there is no embarrassment; it can be done anonymously.
Rabbi Brudny concluded his address by urging the klal to allow their use of technology to be guided by the gedolim.
Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, Rov, Congregation Tiferes Yaakov, was next to address the crowd. He began by stating that the gedolim should not be coming to the klal to talk about this. “It should be the tzibur coming to ask, and say what can we do about this terrible thing? The tzibur should realize how many people are being lost daily because of technology. The tzibur should be crying out ‘help us!’”
“The iPhone and BlackBerry have not only destroyed the kedusha of klal Yisroel,” said Rabbi Schorr, “they have destroyed families, and they have destroyed the Shabbos. How can we be mechanach a bachur who has an iPhone full of movies?” he asked. “And it doesn’t only touch bochurim. There is no age discrimination; the yetzer hara attacks everyone across the board.”
Rabbi Schorr continued by addressing a question that many have been asking. “Some feel that there is no point to begin this milchama, because we can’t win anyway.” He stated that we have an obligation to engage in this battle.
“In Eretz Yisroel,” he said, “under the Gerrer Reba and other gedolim, there is an embarrassment [to have the internet and BlackBerrys]. Benei Torah are embarrassed to walk around with a phone that is not a kosher phone. Why can’t this carry over to America?”
Rabbi Schorr urged the klal to create centers that provide computers with filtered internet for those who need it for work; this way there will no longer be a need for internet in our homes. The greatest proof that we are ready to join the melchama, he added, is when we do something tangible.
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach Ruchani, Beth Medrash Govoha, concluded the plenary session.
“I am very afraid to speak tonight,” began the Mashgiach. “If we don’t speak strongly enough, people won’t accept. If we speak too strongly, it’s unacceptable.”
The Mashgiach quoted a pasuk from the end of Koheles, “Sof davar hakol nishma es Elokim yira… ki ze kol ha’adom.” He stressed that we have to be afraid; we have to have Yiras Shamayim, because we will eventually have to give din v’cheshban.
The Mashgiach stated that everything a person does in the privacy of his home- every view, and every screen- will be publically shown to all. “Are we prepared for that?” he asked. “Nothing is hidden from Hashem, and nothing will be hidden from your friends and family. One wrong press of the button is going to be the greatest shame in your life, a shame that you can’t run away from. This Yirah should be sufficient to keep us away from the internet. Is it worth it?”
There are those who have given up on this battle against technology, said the Mashgiach. “And that is a terrible curse. The worse thing for Klal Yisroel to say is ‘we can’t do anything about it, it is too late.’”
The Mashgiach said that we need to engage in a war against destructive, unfiltered, technology. But, he added, “Fight means self-sacrifice. Fight means that we need the courage and strength to sustain losses in order to win the fight. Yes, it may mean that the standards of comfort in our lives will have to drop a little bit. We’ll have to forgo certain bargains and deals. We have to weigh the benefits against the losses. That is how a yid lives.” The Mashgiach added that we should have a simcha in this misiras nefesh, because we are saving ourselves and the future generations.
“I want to mention something which is going to be considered a bit controversial,” said the Mashgiach. “The Gadul Ha’ dor [Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky] gave out a p’sak: He made a statement that possessing the internet is yeihoreig v’al yavor.” The Mashgiach went on to explain.
“He [Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky] made a comparison: The Chazon Ish said that it is a yeihoreig v’al yavor for girls to join the army, as they are putting themselves into a situation where they will become vulnerable to giluy arayos. A person sitting next to unfiltered internet is vulnerable to all the averos in the world. This wasn’t just a loose comparison. This was a deep insight and revelation.”
The Mashgiach concluded by saying that technology started but as a temptation, but has grown into an addiction because we have waited too long. Now the challenge is for us to cleanse our hearts to be able to appreciate the simcha shel mitzvah so that Hashem can have simcha from us.
Rabbi Avrohom Lefkowitz, the convention co-chairman, expounded upon the frightening effects of the “Frum blogs”. “These blogs,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz, “promote rachilus, lashon hara, machlokes, and the worst: devastating destruction of our gedolim. A Washington insider confided to an Orthodox askan: ‘You don’t know what your blogs are doing to you in Washington. They are destroying the perfect picture of the Jewish community, with the violent responses you write against your leaders.’”
In order to turn the words of the gedolim into practical solutions, Rabbi Yosef Viener, Rov of Congregation Shaar Shomayim in Monsey, and Rabbi Nechemia Gottlieb, director of Technology Awareness Group, addressed a Friday morning session devoted to “Finding Practical Solutions for the Brave New World of Technology”.
“The way to win this battle,” declared Rabbi Viener, “is not only through hisorurus, but through education. And if one doesn’t need the internet he should get rid of it.”
He added that if one feels that he must have the internet for business, a good filter and an accountability program should be in place. Rabbi Viener said that we should create a peer pressure amongst ourselves, that no one should have unfiltered internet in their homes. “We have to take care of each other,” said Rabbi Viener. “If he is your friend, keep him out of Gehenom.”
Rabbi Viener and Rabbi Gottlieb shared heartrending stories of lives and families that were destroyed by technology. “A bochur can see something on the internet that can destroy his learning for the next five years,” said Rabbi Viener.
Aside from the problem of the internet attacking the kedusha of Klal Yisroel, added Rabbi Viener, internet use causes tremendous amounts of wasted time and bitul Torah.
“The key is,” he concluded, “that this is not a chumra. The peer pressure should come to a point that someone with unfiltered internet and phones shouldn’t be able to do a shidduch.”
Rabbi Gottlieb stated the importance of making kabalos that are sustainable. He stressed how important it is to be aware of the devices that our children’s friends have, as this can have an enormous impact on our children. “Children today have too much spending money,” he added, “50 dollars is enough for a child to destroy his life.”
Rabbi Gottlieb elaborated on the dangers of handheld devices, including smart phones, iPads, and video games. He stressed the need to educate ourselves continuously about the capabilities of the devices that our children use. “We are past the point where we can say ‘just put on the filter and get on with life.’”
Rabbi Gottlieb shared the phone number of the TAG (Technology Awareness Group) hotline - (267)295-1954 - which answers questions regarding technology, both practical and chinuch related.
Joining our Gedolim in this war against technology is undoubtedly a tremendous challenge. The attendees recognized this challenge; yet were inspired and equipped to follow the Gedolimin their rallying cry of “mi laHashem Eilai.”
Photo Caption: Rabbi Avrohom Schorr "The iPhone and BlackBerry have destroyed families, and they have destroyed the Shabbos"