Gentiles at the Gates

The Internet Changed Everything in the Hasidic World

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published October 25, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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Once, life in Brooklyn’s Boro Park was simple. There was the inside and the outside and an impenetrable wall in between. Then came the Internet, and everything changed.

In the beginning, we did not fully understand. The computer seemed to be a rather innocuous box: glass screen; dark plastic, flat keyboard, and a cursor that moved with the touch of the strangely named “mouse.” We couldn’t have known that lurking within was the darkness of the entire planet.

At first we did not dwell on it. The World Wide Web was a gentile invention, and as with all gentile inventions, how good could it be for the Jews? So when I began working from home a decade ago and needed Internet access to do so, I knew that I would need a heter, special permission, from a rav.

My rav said no, absolutely not. When I explained how difficult this made work for me, he said maybe, he’d think about it, perhaps and finally okay. But only for six months. After that, he warned, the heter was null and void, and the world and its Web, or whatever it was called, had to go. He also told me to keep a careful watch on my then-husband to make sure that he did not watch impure things.

I did watch my husband. I watched him watch the Internet. It was fascinating, the Internet; less so my husband. When we clicked on the screen, magic happened. When we wrote words in the blank box, things popped up on command. Six months quickly passed. I emailed, researched, browsed, and the outside world, once dark and flat, grew in dimension and color, a faraway mythical villain that I could suddenly see and touch.

I no longer remember if we called the rav back for permission. The Internet stayed.

Once, life in Brooklyn’s Boro Park and Williamsburg, and in Lakewood, N.J., was simple. We knew who our enemies were. Our world was divided neatly into good and bad, and everything stayed where we’d placed it centuries before. We, the good, were here, and the rest of the world was there, on the other side of our impenetrable walls.


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