WhatsApp Spreads Fast Among Ultra-Orthodox — and Rabbis Cry Foul

Is Popular Free Messaging Service Kosher?

Kosher Message? Ultra-Orthodox rabbis pack Shea Stadium to condemn the internet in June 2012. With Hasidim flocking to WhatsApp, will the free messaging service be their next target?
josh nathan-kazis
Kosher Message? Ultra-Orthodox rabbis pack Shea Stadium to condemn the internet in June 2012. With Hasidim flocking to WhatsApp, will the free messaging service be their next target?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 06, 2014, issue of February 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are targeting a new threat to their community: the smartphone messaging service WhatsApp.

Orthodox Jews have swarmed this service ever since a 2012 anti-Internet campaign tightened communal restrictions against social networking sites like Facebook. Now, some leaders are launching a new crusade against WhatsApp, an SMS-like tool that allows users to share digital media.

“The rabbis overseeing divorces say WhatsApp is the No. 1 cause of destruction of Jewish homes and business,” read the headline of a January article in Der Blatt, the Yiddish-language newspaper published by members of the Satmar Hasidic group.

Programmers at Meshimer Filter, a Satmar-linked Web filtering firm, are seeking to block filtered phones from sharing video, photos and audio through WhatsApp, according to a member of the Satmar community who uses the filter and who spoke with employees. The firm did not respond to a request for comment from the Forward.

“It’s not under the radar anymore,” the Satmar community member said.

At a massive June 2012 rally at CitiField in Queens, ultra-Orthodox rabbis set down a firm position against unfettered Internet use. The leaders called for the use of Web filters on all computers used by Orthodox Jews, and discouraged the use of social networking and video sharing sites.

Satmar Hasidic schools now ban children whose parents have Internet access in their homes, and require that parents use Web filters on their smartphones.

Ever since the bans, followers have sought to skirt these rules, and WhatsApp has emerged as a popular dodge.

Sources were generally unwilling to be quoted by name for this story, citing both general communal aversions to appearing in the press and specific concerns about being embroiled in the coming internal debate over WhatsApp.

Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn told the Forward that the app acts as a closed social network that provides quick communication among community members with little information let in from outside. “It’s self-created media, it’s not the outside media,” said one member of the Hasidic community in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. “[It’s] an inside ghetto media, not outside.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.