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The Asifa is done: I was fooled

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Guest post By Eliyahu Fink originally posted on his blog 

Let’s make this short and sweet.

The askanim I spoke with assured me that the Asifa would not ban the Internet. I explained that there is plenty of reason for skepticism regarding the opinion of the great rabbis when it comes to Internet. After all, every single public statement on the Internet was that the Internet must be banned. Then they tried to coerce the schools to disallow any child who had Internet in the home to attend any of the yeshivas and Beis Yaakovs. So I said, forgive me for being skeptical.

I was led down a path of fantasy and imagination. I was told that the rabbis won’t be banning the Internet at this event. After all, the slogan was “We can’t live with it, we can’t live without it”! There are going to be vendors teaching people about Internet filters at the event! So I believed in this myth. I believed that the new approach was going to be different. I believed they were going to advocate responsible Internet use. I believed that the standards would be subjective. I bought a bridge.

Three out of context quotes are all you need to know about the event.

 

R’ Wachsman said that since all of Klal Yisrael is gathering together for an event, notwithstanding the fact that only a small sliver of the Jewish population was present at the Asifa, whatever edicts were initiated at the event would be binding on all Jews and if someone was not present at the Asifa, they were bound as well. Anyone who would not listen to the edicts was to be considered a defector and would lose their portion in the next world.

R’ Wosner said that the Internet is only permissible at one’s place of business and with a filter. It was not to be used in the home with or without a filter under any circumstances. Further, no school should accept any student who had Internet access, even with a filter, in their home.

R’ Segal said that people think they need it for work, but it’s really just the evil inclination convincing them that they need it because they really don’t need it and they should not have it at all.

Sure, there were plenty of inspirational moments. R’ Wachsman tried to walk back from these more extreme statements. He also made some intelligent remarks about the harms of too much Internet usage (and some erroneous ones as well). R’ Matisyahu Salamon avoided objective rulings in his brief talk. But the damage was done.

The askanim were fooled, or foolish. And so was I.

I apologize for my [tepid] support of the event. It did not make the Internet somewhat kosher for those who want to listen to the rabbis. Nothing positive about the Internet was discussed. Websites with Torah and the ability to communicate with friends and family was ignored. In short, this event set the clock back to zero. I was wrong. Things are more bleak than I presumed.

The current status:

If someone wishes to listen to the “Gedolim” who spoke on the issue, they are forced to leave the Internet behind, for all purposes other than what is absolutely necessary for work. That means no buying things on Amazon, no using the incredible resources of hebrewbooks.org, no emailing family members, no divrei Torah via email or website. Nothing. Over.

The majority of people will take some nice lessons and inspiration from the event but will ignore the edicts and risk losing their portion in the world to come if R’ Wachsman is to be trusted on these matters.

The smart people will continue to educate their children with wisdom and prudence. They didn’t need any Asifa to begin with.

We can mourn or celebrate the end of rabbinic proclamations on the Internet as there is no one who will take them seriously anymore.

The one glimmer of hope is that people will stop relying on rabbis and edicts to make all their decisions and do their thinking for them. It would be great if people started to realize that they need to take responsibility for themselves and their children. They can’t expect to get bailed out of all cognition by rabbis thinking on their behalf. It just doesn’t work. But more importantly, I don’t believe it is what God wants from us.

  • MCr

    A main sponsor of the Asifa was Mr. Schrieber, the owner of B&H Photo (a large photo/electronics retailer in NYC, for all of you out-of-towners). Given all the tablets, smart phones and computers B&H sells, I wonder if he knew what the G’dolim (especially R’ Wachsman) were going to say, and how it could-but probably won’t-affect his business.

    Having posted this, I guess I won’t inherit a share in the next world, or at least in the next virtual world…

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSoFla Mark

      A main sponsor of the Asifa was Mr. Schrieber, the owner of B&H Photo (a large photo/electronics retailer in NYC, for all of you out-of-towners).

      Sucker! No Internet means no filters or other equipment to be sold.

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSoFla Mark

      And this reminds me, when will cameras be made assur? After all, you might take a picture of non-tzniusdik woman with one!

    • http://ha-mayvinyavin.blogspot.com/2012/02/you-dont-have-tv-and-none-of-your.html Alter Cocker

      do you have a source for this? I wonder why he would waste all that money on something so destructive to him.

  • This is Crap

    “Rabbi” Fink clearly a narcissist.

    • Robin

      ??? Please explain yourself, “This is Crap.” Nasty namecalling is antithetical to civilized dialogue which this blog is intended to generate. I think Rabbi Fink makes an important point. These extreme edicts are not helpful– no one is going to follow them, so they only create doubt and secrecy. One is forced to live dishonestly. Technology aint going away and HaShem is the One who revealed it to us at this particular moment in history. Actually, I think computer technology might mirror the next world more than we realize. Certainly, it is the methodology by which Moshiach will be revealed to the entire world all at once!

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

        “…HaShem is the One who revealed it to us at this particular moment in history.”

        What do you mean by this?

        • Robin

          I believe that everything comes from HaShem, that He allows information/discoveries/wisdom to be revealed to us at a particular time and that it is for the good. Consequently, to deny the potential good technology affords is really rejecting a Divine gift. Of course, we have to use it responsibly and wisely. We have to teach children to discern what is appropriate and protect them from what is dangerous. For me, the most supicious and uncomfortable part of this Asifa was the outright decision to exclude Chabad. That action alone cancels the blessing that such an event could have had and raises a big red flag.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

            …and that it is for the good.”

            But what do you mean by this, now? Because you quickly change it to “…the potential good technology affords…

            It seems that you don’t really mean to say that the internet “is for the good” but that it can be used for good, just like nearly every other tool in the universe that can be used for multiple purposes, including those that you deem “good” and those that you would deem “bad.”

            Although you initially sounded as though you subscribed to the idea that “God reveals everything to us in a proper time for the better,” as one continues to read your statement, it appears as though you have changed to now suggest that “God simply reveals things” and that this may not be for the better, suggesting that to deny it might be a fulfillment of his will.

            My point is that every thing has potentially positive uses — even those things usually associated with perhaps the less than pleasant, such as abortion technology and gunpowder — and I don’t think anyone does or ought to disagree. But that’s not the issue, is it? The issue is whether the negative outweighs the positive to such an extent that it’s worth it to give up on the positive in order to utterly avoid the negative.

            When conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats argue about things like gun control and stem cell research, the issues at hand is really the same — does the good outweigh the bad or some ‘potential’ derivation of that. Who’s right? Well, it depends on one measures the (potential) magnitude of the positive against that of the negative, which is the same calculation Judaism must make regarding the internet.

            Many Jews pay no attention to the purported negatives of the internet because, in their minds, such things are either not negative or are at least no more negative than other things they deem permitted. I remember when I was in MTA and Schindler’s List came out and the rabbis were speaking out against watching it because of the nudity. One camp of boys laughed and said, “nudity!? Rabbi, if you want nudity, I’ll show you nudity! These naked ladies are unsightly and meant to depict a historical event as a drama — do you think I’m going to be turned on by them? I’m not watching it for the nudity but for the landmark cinematic experience” and they mocked the rabbis.

            While it’s not exactly the same as this situation, there are people who have no qualms about watching Undersiege, in which the stripper jumps out of the birthday cake topless — it’s just entertainment with a little bit of oomph to spice it up. Others will watch the movie and look away when they anticipate the stripper’s appearance and still others will not watch the entire movie because it’s rated R for nudity. Still others might wait until the film is shown as a WPIX Sunday matinee, in which the rated R scene is excised. And then there’s the group who will not watch any movies because some movies (and perhaps in 2012 this might include most movies) will contain inappropriate sexual material according to how their rebbe would rule, even though the Motion Picture Association of America says that it’s fine as long as you’re over the age of 13.

            And because Orthodox Judaism tends to ossify around positions rather than take more fluid approaches toward things, certain groups within Orthodoxy decided years ago that the result of a risk/benefit analysis reveals way too much risk for any amount of potential or actual benefit, while others have not, and still others are somewhere in the middle and still others recognize that there are mechanisms that may be put into place to reduce the risk below the tipping point or eliminate it all together.

            I think it’s quite laughable to refer to anything these rabbis proclaimed as “extreme edicts” relative to the manner in which many ultra-Orthodox Jews already live, with restricted access to higher education, career options and then independent financial stability. If these people choose to live as though they exist in a different century, or certainly in a different decade — wearing fur hats and long coats when they visit the zoo and the pizza shop and speaking what amounts to a foreign language as their primary language even when they might be 2nd or even 3rd generation Americans and growing their facial and sidelock hair to a degree that might be perceived by American culture to be wild and unwieldy, is it really a wonder that they might want to ban the internet? And I say all this with true sincerity. It’s their lives and they can do what they please. The Amish also refrain from internet use — does that make them backwards? Only insofar as you consider their entire lifestyle backwards. But if you look at Hasidic culture as normative, a ban on the internet actually seems very much in line with how they ought to exist in America.

            The problem is that people mistakenly thought that all Jews who profess at least some moderate semblance of observance could or would agree to a single position on this matter. And so it becomes a joke after the fact, when really it was a joke before it even happened — for those people who knew what was going to happen.

      • This is Crap

        LMAO!!! You think this site generates civilized dialogue??? What a hoot! This site bashes anything that Author doesnt do or finds odd and calls it “humor”. I called “Rabbi” Fink a narcissist bec clearly he thinks he is the only Rabbi who can tell people what to do. The point of getting smicha to become a Rabbi is to lead people. Maybe he is the only “Rabbi” out there who is worthy of his “smicha” and the patrons of his little beach hut may listen to the advice he doles out but he completely lost my respect (not that it matters to His ego at all) on this posting and one or two others….

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know about you guys, but because of the asifa, now I watch MORE porn. I stopped watching porn a few months ago because it grossed me out to think that chassidim were watching the same thing and jerking off at the same time I was. Now because of the asifa I figure all the chassidim can no longer watch porn (I figure they have to be naughty the old fashioned way – with each other in the mikvah, or going to strip clubs with a yankees cap on) so I can now watch porn without worry. Works for me, now I am a huge fan of the asifa. If only they can have an asifa to keep chassidim out of atlantic city, strip clubs, and bars.

  • PaniniBread613

    THANK YOU ….. for the Internet. Know I can go and find my Asian Spa on the net and have one hour of Fortune in my COOOKIE… and my wife thinks I am at the Young Israel of Great Neck for Maariv. :)

    • http://ha-mayvinyavin.blogspot.com/2012/02/you-dont-have-tv-and-none-of-your.html Alter Cocker

      you are one strange cookie

  • Telz Angel

    Best part of the Asifa videos was finding one showing the misnagdim holding their own break-away maariv minyan. Talk about achdus!

  • Shoshana

    The reason why only some feel that you need the internet for work is because only some feel that you need to work at all!

    See, if not working is the proper state, then having the internet, which makes working easier, is clearly a tool of the yetzer ha-rah.

  • com

    This is bullsh!t (a loose translation of the term gedolim). I do so much cr@p as a frum jew just to please God, and some rabbi tells me that now I get no share in the world to come. Because I use the internet (filtered, and sans porn).

    I want out. I have no reason to be frum. Don’t anyone give me al mnas shelo likabel schar. I believe in God and e/t but if I’m going to hell anyway then let me do what I want with this life. If I have the same eternal reward as the worst jewish villians then nothing matters.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      I don’t think you go to Hell because a rabbi declares that you go to Hell. And entry to Hell might not be binary, so even considering that you are headed there is not grounds for compounding your actions.

      • A. Nuran

        Remember, even god must obey the commands of a “Great One”. What they decree is Toyreh no matter what adonai says.

      • A. Nuran

        We’re not talking “Great Ones” as in saints.
        What we have are “Great Old Ones” as in Cthulhu

    • Alter Cocker

      you just have to tune out the lunatics at the “asifa”.

      To me, all you need to know is that one rabbi/”gadol” proclaimed that all of klal yisrael had gathered and what they said would be binding.

      No one nowadays has that ability, with the way Judaism is splintered and divided. No one can get up and declare their made up new rules are binding, no matter how many people you bus in and no matter how many millions of dollars you waste. Talk about deluded.

  • Ari L.

    Mr. Fink, it really comes down to whether you want your children watching pornography or not. No one says that you need to suddenly give up on education and prudence. But kids are curious. The internet is interesting. I would expect that someone who genuinely cares about what their kids are watching on the internet will at least take some of the suggestions of the asifa into account. Even the best kids screw up sometimes. We only need to think back to when we were their age.

  • AnonymousX

    Filters are so easily bypassed, that they are useless. ALL OF THEM!

  • Single and Counting

    I wish you were right in the last paragraph, but I see the people in power (mashgichim, mefakchim) very quickly recognizing the potential in this asifa to remove dissenters from their communities. the remnant of klal yisroel will be split into shards, and there’s no going back.