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Some traced the app’s popularity within the Hasidic community to the 2012 rally at CitiField. Others said use had taken off only in recent months, after usage of the formerly popular BlackBerry Messenger collapsed amid the fading popularity of BlackBerry devices.
But sources agreed that the backlash against WhatsApp started only in recent weeks.
WhatsApp had a low profile at the time of the CitiField rally. Organizers of that 2012 campaign focused their opposition on more prominent sites, like Facebook and YouTube. Now, that’s changing.
“I know that the askanim [local organizers] are very concerned about this,” Oppenheim said.
“It’s not something they can control,” said one member of the Hasidic community who lives in Williamsburg. “Anything they can’t be in control of makes them nervous.”
The Hasidic community member from Boro Park downplayed the seriousness of the Der Blatt article, which condemned WhatsApp for distracting parents from their children and for spreading gossip. The article also suggested that Hasidic people were using the app to distribute explicit photos.
“This [article] is their way of saying WhatsApp is very in,” said this source, who argued that the report should not be taken literally.
Der Blatt is, in fact, known for its exaggerated tone. But Oppenheim said that the article was in earnest. Moreover, he said, the paper is powerful enough within the community to change communal standards by taking a stand against the app.
What’s more, Satmar spiritual leader Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum said in a speech in December that belonging to WhatsApp groups destroys one’s “Jewish spirit,” according to a report in Yeshiva World News.