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Rally Against the Internet: An Enterprising Response to the Demands of Orthodox Rabbis

May 21, 2012

40,000 Orthodox Jewish men filled Citi Field stadium on Sunday for what was billed as a rally against the internet. (photo by James Estrin/NY Times)

Yesterday, May 20th, Citi Field in New York was the site for a rally “against the internet.”  It was a sellout.  Every seat in the stadium was filled with the most traditional of all Orthodox Jewish men, (haredi-singular; haredim-plural).  The demand for tickets for the rally was so great that the organizers had to also rent out nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium.  Out of deference to cultural norms that carry the weight of religious law in the Orthodox world, women were not permitted at at the rally to insure that the fully enfranchised members of the community, the men, were not visually distracted and had no physical contact, benign or otherwise, with any women not their own wives.

Like the very provincial, isolated world of the Amish, haredi Jews would like to isolate their culture and way of life from the outside world.  But unlike the Amish, the haredim choose to live in cities and suburbs that include other people; they eagerly conduct commerce with the outside world and while they may shun television and the movies they most definitely utilize modern technology for both commerce and personal convenience.  And oh yes, one more thing, they have no problem engaging in local and national politics.  They will readily voice their opinions on issues of the day and utilize their not insignificant power as a voting block to influence elected officials.

At first glance, one might understand why the rabbis in the haredi world feel inclined to discourage their minions from exploring the internet.  Between pop-culture and pornography, the net is anything but a puritan cultural experience.  That said, why was it necessary for the haredi world to conduct a public rally against the internet?  Couldn’t the rabbis communicate their message of internet avoidance in local schools, synagogues and publications?

In the days preceding the rally, one couldn’t help but wonder about the rally against the internet’s  ultimate utility and objective while reading the numerous articles  published by the mainstream media that treated the event like some fascinating museum exhibition about another world that the rest of us can only view as outsiders.

As is to be expected, the very thorough reporting of the New York Times revealed an interesting fact about the rally and why it was organized:

The rally in Citi Field on Sunday was sponsored by a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, that is linked to a software company that sells Internet filtering software to Orthodox Jews. Those in attendance were handed fliers that advertised services like a “kosher GPS App” for iPhone and Android phones, which helps users locate synagogues and kosher restaurants.

How’s that? A software manufacturer that sells internet filters organized a prestigious group of rabbis to front a rally at which they could hawk their wares?

Here’s one more important difference between the Amish and the haredim, the Amish genuinely want quiet, reserved lives that revolve around faith, family and community.  The haredim are first class entrepreneurial capitalists.  They’ll apparently even allow financial gain to influence the religious pronouncements of their rabbis who always insist upon total obedience.  What a great scam!  Create a product that addresses a cultural peculiarity and send your clergy out to hawk it to their obedient followers!

Counter rally against child molestation in the haredi community.

By the way, outside Citi Field, a number of Orthodox Jews held a counter rally to protest how their community handles child molestation.  In recent years it has come to light that like the mainstream world, the haredi world includes pedophiles who take advantage of their positions as rabbis and school teachers to sexually molest innocent children entrusted to their care.  Like the Catholic Church, the powers that be in the community have at best, responded to such reports with skepticism.  At worst, the perpetrators have been shielded from civil prosecution.  Haredi rabbis have time and again instructed their communities to first report such incidents to them and not the police.  Such instructions are by the way, a violation of both American civil law and Jewish law that requires Jews to be law-abiding citizens of their country of residence.

In another revealing article, the New York Times reported recently on an instance in which a member of the haredi community was censured by his grand-rabbi, the Satmur Rebbe, and ostracized by his community for reporting on the repeated molestation of his cognitively disabled son.

Why is a community that has such highfalutin standards about exposure to pop-culture and pornography so morally deficient in responding to the sexual violations of their own children?  Because they don’t want to believe it? Because they want to protect perpetrators that they need to believe are cherished emissaries of the faith?  Maybe someone in the haredi world needs to come up with a way to make money from this internal tragedy to insure that the problem gets the attention it deserves.

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