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.