Monday, December 21, 2009

Haredi Kulturkampf

The postmodern world is really causing havoc in the haredi community. That you all know and appreciate: but rarely can we see a manifestation of this so obvious, so crystal clear. On December 7th 2009 posters (pashkevels) went up all over haredi Jerusalem asking for information on any yeshiva students that may be connected to the Internet for fear of a “toeva”. The posters are signed by the “Committee for Preserving Our Camps Purity”, (a division of the “modesty squad”, who last year was responsible for beating to a pulp someone who didn’t adhere to their modesty standards). Many of the leading “gedolim” in the mainstream haredi community are also against the use of the Internet because of the uncensored information coming through the information highway. Just recently the Belzer Rebbe and Rav Ovadiah Yoseph in separate announcements prohibited the use of the Internet.

What makes this uniquely intriguing is a Vaad Harabbanim advertisement currently running (December 2009) on the Internet that reads:

“World renown Rabbis, including Maran Harav Hagaon Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita…. and Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita…all donate their time to Vaad Harabanim assuring that Israel’s most desperate are taken care of….”

The Ad then goes on to invite those interested to call a toll free number or to visit them at or to email them at Obviously it’s ok for them to use the Internet.

What is particularly striking is the temerity of these “gedolim” on the one hand to publicly acknowledge their use of the Internet as it suits them while at the same time suppressing the use of the same technology by their adherents. But wait! The audacity doesn’t stop here! On erev Chanukah (December 11) a kol korei appeared in the newspapers backed by the gedolei hador exhorting their followers not to use even the haredi Internet sites because its content is inappropriate, being filled with “lies and abominations”. This past December 17, 2009, Hamevasser reported that there has been continued reaction to the kol korei, citing the additional kol korei of HaRav Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss warning of the perils of the Internet. As a result on December 18, 2009, a few “kosher” sites shut down with the negative impact on employees as YWN confirmed:

“This was a terrible thing that happened - I respect the rabbis and their wisdom, but there should have been some warning...On Thursday, I and 30 some co-workers at "Etrog" lost our jobs. Overnight, we have no means of income, and will join the ranks of the "poor chareidim". I am sure employees of other sites are facing the same reality.

We had a vision of providing a kosher site for anyone who happened to be online anyway - that is all over now.

I wonder what will happen to all the yeshivos, chessed organizations, and even chareidi publications that have websites. This decision is meant to protect our souls, but is seriously harming our livelihood. The Internet helped unify and unite the worldwide Jewish community - now we will once again be left to fend for ourselves, in our own locales. Cut off from the rest of the world, cut off from each other. And in my case, at the mercy of the chessed organization in my community, that will now have to help us put food on the table until I find another job.


Again, I am not criticizing the gedolei hador. I am just trying to understand what alternative they have in mind for us. Chareidi people everywhere are learning professionals that require Internet use. Will that be banned too? Where will the cut-off be?

I am glad this site (YWN) is still here, so I can share my thoughts.”

What we have here is a mini kulturkampf prompted perhaps by the weekly Shabbat demonstrations, the latest which was against Intel. They’re loosing the fight and their frustration is projected through the pashkevels, and kol koreis that are nothing more than face saving maneuvers. Beyond that, however, is the mixed message of the haredi leadership who still, in spite of the kol koreis insist on using the Internet when it serves their purpose.

Their use of the Internet suggests, however, an acknowledgement that it is really impossible, whether we like it or not to conduct business or educational programs without the use of this technology; while at the same time revealing arrogance that sorely weakens their case against use of the Internet.