An upcoming ultra-Orthodox mega-rally in New York about the dangers posed by the Internet has a promotional Twitter account.
The event’s box office has an email address. Speeches will be live streamed. And one of the event’s organizers owns a Web marketing company specializing in search engine optimization.
This isn’t your average anti-Internet demonstration.
After years of oft-flouted rabbinic bans on Internet use, a group of both Hasidic and non-Hasidic rabbis is pushing a new approach that will be unveiled at the Mets’ CitiField on May 20. Organizers project an attendance of some 40,000 Orthodox Jewish men; women were not invited.
Without letting up on their severe condemnation of technology and the Internet, the rabbis behind the CitiField event are accepting the Web’s inevitability while instructing their followers to use Internet-filtering technology.
“No one here is a Luddite who denies the manifold benefits that technology has brought to mankind as a whole,” said Eytan Kobre, spokesman for the event. “But at a certain point, a mature, thinking individual stops and says, ‘I’ve got to make a… cost-benefit analysis… [of] what ways it is enriching my life, [and] in what ways it is undermining it.’”
The event will open with a Kosher Tech Expo featuring Web filtering technology. Despite this new openness, the rabbis involved insist they still oppose the Internet.
“The purpose of the [gathering] is for people to realize how terrible the Internet is and, of course, the best thing for every [good Jew] is not to allow it in his home at all,”[ Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon told the Brooklyn Orthodox daily Hamodia. Salomon, spiritual guide of Beth Medrash Govoha, a large and prominent ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., is one of the lead sponsors of the CitiField rally. Internet without a filter, he told the paper, is “treif gamur,” or completely unkosher.
Ultra-Orthodox bans on Web use date back at least a dozen years. Orthodox religious leaders worry about the easy availability of pornography online, the viewing of which violates communal modesty standards. Some also object to Orthodox-run blogs and news sites that often offer critical perspectives on communal leadership.
The outright bans, however, appear to be failing. Ultra-Orthodox men fiddle with smart phones on New York City subways. Twitter use is not uncommon among young Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Home Internet access is said to be widespread even in upstate New York’s strictly observant Hasidic community Kiryas Joel.
Compounding these challenges to rabbinic Internet bans are the employment opportunities for ultra-Orthodox in high-tech. Technical jobs don’t necessarily require a high school or college degree, which is a plus in Orthodox communities where men often forgo secular studies, according to David M. Pollock, an official with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York who has worked to place Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn in tech jobs.