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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These actions might be difficult to understand. For those ignorant of our ways, this incident might be unsettling, even disturbing, but to us it’s justifiable because it is part of a larger, more sinister danger, one that threatens our very existence.

You see, for thousands of years, the pious Jewish mind had been communal property. Our leaders, our laws and our traditions decided what was put in and what stayed out. Then came the Internet, and the earth shrank. Our universe, once unfathomably large, was transformed into a planet shockingly small, forcing us out of our corner and into shared space. Now, the Hasid and Torah scholar, the growing teenager, crowding the same virtual room as the rest of mankind could absorb information from millions of sources, uncensored, unsorted, uncontrolled. Our ancient mindset, carefully cultivated generation after generation, was, in an instant, exposed for all the world to touch, stain and sully. Yet it was not the immoralities found online that posed a fatal threat. Rather, it was everything else: the reams of available information that hypnotized the unprepared mind, the once inaccessible books now easily accessed, forbidden questions swiftly answered; the unexpected encounters with the other kind.

Many are leaving the community because of this. They walk away when they discover, not porn, but that their minds are theirs to control. This foreign concept is plaguing the community and devastating it from within. For it is not those who have left whom our leaders are most afraid of, but those who remain, with hearts stripped of faith.

Before the Internet, there were few dissenters. If they existed, they lived in silence, alone and isolated in their heads. Then the gentiles came crashing through our gates with their inventions, and suddenly the religious Jew could speak. He could write his thoughts on a thing called a blog. The blog revealed his opinion, while safely concealing his face.

In recent years, blogs have proliferated. Thousands flock to them, to listen, share and connect in the only sliver of democracy that exists in their lives. On blogs there is open dissent, discussions of communal abuses, an underground community forming a dangerous network of dissenters — those still mingling among the pious. They are the religious skeptics, the bearded nonbelievers, questioning voices in the cyber underground with families of six to 12.

The pure strain of thought and faith diligently passed on to my generation has been contaminated by an inconspicuous wired box and the knowledge it holds. Thousands of children, both boys and girls, students at Bais Yaakov and local yeshivas, are being raised by parents who are skeptics. For the first time in our history, any man, woman or child can see the darkness of an entire society, our own.

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