Saturday, November 20, 2010

From Koogle to Yideotube, efforts to provide a kosher Internet 

From a drab office in this ultra-Orthodox Jewish stronghold, three devout young women hunch over computers and surf the Internet — looking for pornography, celebrity gossip and a laundry list of other items banned by their rabbis.

It's odd work for this trio, dressed modestly and wearing wigs in keeping with their beliefs. But it's their job at Israel's first ultra-Orthodox Internet provider, Nativ, as it tries to launch a product that could transform the traditionally sheltered community: kosher Internet.

Because racy images of women are the most common offensive content found, the company decided it would be less objectionable to hire women to scour the Internet so ultra-Orthodox customers can surf without worry.

Lea Bernat, 22, a former kindergarten teacher, clicks through hundreds of web pages a day, using specialized software to open links and disable problematic content. "If it's clean, we release it," she said. "If it's really unclean, we tell the customer that the site isn't approved."

But is it kosher?

That's the question facing many ultra-Orthodox as they move online and are greeted by a fast-growing industry seeking to cater to their special needs, even though no one agrees yet exactly what a kosher Internet should look like.

There's Koogle, a Google-inspired searchable directory of kosher businesses offering, say, bargains on "modest" wedding dresses. Many rabbis frown on YouTube, so Yideotube offers a "daily online source of carefully screened videos," ranging from spoofs of anti-war activists to tips for buying a ceremonial kittel robe.

Worried about violating prohibitions against working on the Sabbath? Software vendor SaturdayGuard sells technology that enables websites to block access for Internet users, depending upon their time zone, between Friday and Saturday night.

There's even an online support group, GuardYourEyes.org, specializing in helping Orthodox Jews break "lust addictions" arising from Internet access. In addition to the usual 12-step programs and daily "strengthening" e-mails, the group offers tips for curtailing inappropriate surfing, including using software that automatically sends lists of visited websites to your spouse or rabbi.


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