I’ve known my good friend and former neighbor on the Lower East Side of New York Baruch Herzfeld for many years. I’ve learned to respect his perception of what’s in and what’s out, and so this morning when I went to mine the web and found his comment on Facebook on the upcoming “Antinet” – the mass gathering of Orthodox Jews at Citi Field for the purpose of banning the Internet – I decided to a.) take it seriously, and, b.) share it with you.
Here’s the gospel according to my friend Baruch regarding the Citi Field ‘Antinet’ gathering:
“I’m no expert on the Jews, but May 20th, 2012 might be the most Jewish event in the history of Judaism. Let me explain: some hardcore fundie Jews are renting out Citifield to protest the Internet (all male of course), however some ex-fundie Jews are protesting the protestors, creating a perfect storm loop of protesting Jews protesting protesting Jews. I would go, but I don’t know which side I’m on.”
On the money. It’s not a simple issue, and years of harbored attitudes are starting to explode here, with so many preconceived notions swinging about, it’s getting hard to breathe.
I’ll give you an example: my colleague Jacob Edelist published one of the first reports in English on the May 20th event. It wasn’t his story, though, as he plainly stated, he was merely translating an original story in the Haredi press, plus the text of one ad, a “Kol Koreh,” a call to action, if you will, by several Haredi rabbis.
Some of the reactions we received accused Jacob of using a flippant tone in reporting the story, and of intentionally making Haredi Jews look bad. It was stunning, how some folks project their own attitudes on what was, essentially, a completely newsy, attitude-free story.
The reason for the brouhaha, as my friend Baruch describes it so well, is that the topic at hand, the scourge of Technology or of the Internet, is just too broad to be dealt with on a yes/no (pass/fail?) basis. It’s like attacking the printing press because of some really terrible books printed over the years, or attacking the telephone as a concept because of telemarketing. Like those two, and like radio and television, the Internet will always reflect our own values in the choices we make while surfing it.
The impulse to prohibit a medium rather than deal with its dangers is a recipe for the squashing of creativity and communication, for the sake of some unclear notion of purity. I’m not sure that our Jewish tradition will smile on that impulse.
Over the years I had the privilege of working for the Lubavitch News Service and experienced first hand how a Haredi person may go about taking from the Internet the good that it has to offer, while rejecting, without much fanfare, the ugly stuff. It’s never perfect, folks fail now and then, which is why we have built-in systems of repair in our tradition.
A long time ago, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, one of the leaders of today’s Lubavitch movement, told me that even when you pick up the phone, you take a chance. By answering the call, you are letting a stranger into your home. Who knows what might come next?
One of the common responses to that dilemma is to hang up, if the stranger on the phone misbehaves. Today we also have Caller ID, which helps determine in advance whether we want to deal with this individual. We all operate our phones every day, quite expertly, and I’m yet to hear an outcry to ban the telephone.
Still, on the subject of the dangers of Technology, no one can beat the great Reb Naftali of Rupshitz, in whose time the Russian government began a project of cutting down forests to make room for well paved highways (the railroad was yet to be invented). The Rupshitzer complained that now the wagons would be rolling safely without incident on the new roads, which was a terrible thing. Because when the roads were lousy, wagon wheels would often break or just come off their axle; the passengers were forced to disembark and wait for hours until the wagon driver fixed the wheel – and a Jew could sit down by a tree, say Tehilim and learn a blat gemorah. With the improvements in the roads, all that would be gone.
Now, that was one fundie Jew!