Tuesday, August 04, 2015
The Satmar hasidic sect has set up new, more stringent rules regarding smartphone ownership, with parents at one of the movement's flagship schools in Kiryas Joel, New York being informed that their children's acceptance will be conditioned on their compliance with the guidelines.
According to a copy of the letter sent to parents of pupils at the United Talmudical Academy obtained by Failed Messiah, a blog highly critical of the ultra-orthodox community, the new rules will come into effect in mid-august and obligate "every individual of our community and parents of our holy schools without any exception."
"Since the very use of a smartphone is extremely dangerous, therefore whoever doesn't isn't extremely reliant for business purposes should never use it even with a filter," the letter stated, adding that businessmen who have a compelling need to use a smartphone must use a community approved filter and have a secondary, "Kosher cellphone…in order to avoid the usage of smartphone – even with a filter – in the home or in the synagogue."
Women are strictly forbidden from using a smartphone and may only own a "basic phone," although someone who believes that their case is exceptional may contact the sect's "committee of the filters."
"Remember: we will not provide acceptance-cards if you're not in order with the technological rules," the letter added.
Many ultra-Orthodox schools have strict rules on television and computer ownership as well as Internet access, requiring parents to sign forms attesting that they are not connected to forbidden means of communications, although such rules are becoming less and less seriously enforced in some communities.
Many people in the ultra-Orthodox community have two phones, a "Kosher" one that does not connect to the internet or receive text messages, and a smartphone whose number is not shared with their children's schools.
In 2012, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men attended a mass rally at New York's Citi Field in which leading rabbis offered advice as to how best to use modern technology in a religiously-responsibly manner.
The rally was not a call to ban Internet, but rather to filter it, one activist told the New York Daily News.
"With one click, all of a sudden, you lose control and are whisked away to a world you never intended to see, and it overtakes your life," he said. "As a community, we are asking, is it worth it?"
Satmar's new rules were announced only weeks after the Belz hasidic community in London, under extreme pressure and facing condemnations from moderate Orthodox and government figures, backtracked on a decision not to admit children to their school if their mothers planned on driving them there.
The issue arose after the head of two junior schools – Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, for boys, and Beis Malka, for girls – sent out a note threatening to institute the new policy from the beginning of the new school year in August. The note stated that the edict conformed with the ruling of the leader of the Belz Hassidim, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, that women adherents must not drive.
The increasing use of smartphones in the ultra-Orthodox community has led to the invention of several kosher smartphones that ship with limited feature sets and rabbinic approval and which are only sold to those with notes from their rabbis.
Earlier this year Globes reported the opening of a high tech incubator for the ultra-Orthodox while several educational institutions have opened up classes in app development aimed at the members of this community.
Ironically, B&H, one of the most popular websites for professional grade computer and photographic gear, is run by Satmar hasidim and sells a range of unlocked smartphones.
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