Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Some rabbis urge faithful to unplug internet

Like so many Americans, Mesh Gelman relies on the Internet for work. But in a move that's likely to complicate his business in international trade, the Lakewood man plans to unplug his home computer from the wired world, shutting out all that's good -- and bad -- about the Web.

Gelman's reasoning is simple: His religious leaders have told him to do so.

The father of four is a member of Lakewood's tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community, whose leaders have declared that Internet access should be removed from homes with school-age children to better protect them from the bounty of sexual images online.

It is more than a suggestion. The community's policy -- formed with the principals of the area's 43 yeshivas, or Jewish private schools, and unveiled in late September -- decrees that any student with home access faces suspension or expulsion on the grounds that even one Internet-corrupted student could sway others.

Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, who has long discussed the dangers of the Web with other Lakewood rabbis, said children are not mature enough to use the Internet and are susceptible to sites sexual in nature, either openly or subtly so.

"Kids can become addicted to the point where it's almost like a drug addiction or an alcoholic addiction," said Weisberg, who runs a social services agency in Lakewood. "Even though there might be some value -- research, schoolwork -- the negatives so far outweigh the positives."

While figures were not available, rabbis said many parents among the Ocean County community's 6,500 Orthodox families have already canceled their Internet subscriptions.

Gelman, who dropped off his 6- and 8-year-old boys at Yeshiva Bais HaTorah yesterday, said he's still trying to figure out how to work at home without the Internet. But, he said, he will, praising the rabbi's policy as "smart."

"The Internet is not a bad thing, but people use it for the wrong reasons," Gelman said. "As a parent, it's hard when kids start asking you things and watching their innocence fall away. You wonder what they can learn on the Web. I know that with one little stroke of the key, you can end up in the wrong place."

While strict, the policy is not absolute. The community's rabbis may make exceptions for parents with e-mail-only access or with home businesses if computers are kept in a locked room or cabinet.

A different section of the policy forbids students from using Palm Pilots, cell phones and/or other hand-held devices with Internet access, though yeshiva principals are not required to expel students if they violate this part.

In a community in which few people have televisions, the rabbis' concerns extend beyond fears about children meeting sexual predators in chat rooms. They also worry about pictures.

"The issue of extramarital sex ... extends to even looking at ladies for pleasure, thinking about other ladies for pleasure," said Rabbi Netanya Gottlieb, principal of Yeshiva Bais HaTorah. "We really ... don't want children to see ladies who are dressed inappropriately ... If that one image goes into a child's head, it can wreak havoc with all the religious instruction."

Elsewhere, attempts to limit Internet use often are criticized as censorship. But Lakewood's Orthodox Jewish leaders said they do not expect any lawsuits.

Indeed, rabbis and people interviewed in Lakewood said there is widespread support for the rules, with little outward opposition save some blogging on the Internet. And they said similar policies in Israel have worked well.

Still, the ban drew some disapproval outside Lakewood.

"I think it's doing a great disservice to the students by prohibiting them from using what is essentially the primary communications medium of our time," said Kevin Bankston of the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Bankston hadn't heard of the policy until contacted by a reporter.

Lakewood's Jews comprise about a third of the township's population, community leaders said. The community began growing in the 1940s with the establishment of Beis Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva that has blossomed into one of the world's most prestigious schools for studying the Talmud.

"This is a self-selected group of people that choose to live in Lakewood," Weisberg said. "Being subject to rabbinic leadership here is completely voluntary ... If you're sending your kid to a private school, you've already made a choice. You want to guide your child in a certain direction."

The rabbis acknowledged that children know more about computers than do adults. When they unveiled the policy Sept. 27 at a large meeting, they had Internet experts on hand to teach parents about Wifi and Bluetooth. About 3,000 people attended.

"This was an education for the vast majority of people there, who had no idea what a (wireless) router was," or that a child could take any computer with wireless capacity around the block and use an unsuspecting neighbor's signals, Weisberg said.

Lakewood's Jewish leaders have been warning the community about perils of the Internet for nearly five years.

"Any practicing rabbi has his handful of cases where really good families, good marriages, have been broken up" because of time spent online, Weisberg said.

If the scene at Lakewood's public library is any indication, the rabbis will not get 100 percent compliance. Last Friday afternoon, six boys in traditional Jewish clothing were surfing the Web.

But the rabbis say 100 percent compliance is not the point; they do not plan midnight raids. Instead, they said they expect community members to use the honor system and sign written pledges that if they do need the Internet at home for work, they will ensure that kids cannot use it.

"I'm definitely concerned about my children, about spiritual development and well-being," said Rachel Rappaport, who just canceled the home Internet access she used for her child-care business. "The community is trying to keep itself a safe place for parents to live with families."


The children in Lakewood will end up like the morons in Skver and Williamsburgh


Whoever left the above comment is a moron and an asshole!


The internet - like most technology - is in itself neutral. The internet has wonderful Yiddishe resources - for example, where else can you find shiurim on the entire Talmud Yerushalmi? Yet is can also be highly addictive - a few minutes logged on for good reason can lead to hours of bitul zman and bitul Torah. It is a parent's responsibility to monitor what their children do on the computer, just as they monitor what he eats, what he wears, what he reads, etc. They can purchase filters that very effectively screen out all ponography.
Perhaps I'm becoming disillusioned in my old age, but I suspect that the problem of adults in Lakewood - yes, even the Kolleleit - visiting such sites is a worse problem than for the children and youngsters.


"Perhaps I'm becoming disillusioned in my old age, but I suspect that the problem of adults in Lakewood - yes, even the Kolleleit - visiting such sites is a worse problem than for the children and youngsters."

I heard a right wing Rav say the same thing.


@ Head Chaptzem...
This blog shoots itself in the foot by allowing unmoderated comments. I am not suggesting you stifle different peoples' opinions, but foul language is just crude, and detracts from a major theme here - that maybe we don't need to be shielded from the net after all. Additionally, I don't know why jnet doesn't block your pages when they have 4-letter filth on them - if their technology gets better, then by allowing this nivel language, you will have shot yourself right in the head (and the rest of us, as I do otherwise enjoy the site).


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