Monday, October 10, 2005

Ban, ban, thank you, ma'am

One of the interesting points about the now-infamous and ever-expanding Lakewood internet ban is that people are being told that they can only have internet in their homes if they need it for work-related purposes -- and then, they need to get a signed heter from a list of pre-approved rabbis, which will be filed with their childrens' schools.
All this feeds into a trend in the haredi world (and increasingly, in the mo world as well) to treat rabbis as chassidic rebbes who know what's best for a person on an individual basis, way beyond halachic issues. They want to ban the internet in general -- meileh. But what makes your average haredi rabbi (who is probably totally unfamiliar with the modern work place, has no experience of the internet themselves, and who defers to the people who have the kind of scientific knowledge which led them to ban R. Slifkin) capable of making an informed decision as to whether someone needs the internet for their livelihood or not? What I want to see is what happens when one of the rabbis decides that one Lakewood resident -- who needs the internet in a way that isn't immediately obvious -- will not receive a heter. Does anyone think they are going to sacrifice or compromise their livelihood in deference to a decision taken by a rabbi who doesn't really understand the needs of their business? I doubt it.
In general, this is unenforceable, and there's no point locking the barn door after the horse has bolted; everyone knows that the use of the internet in the haredi world is widespread, and the irony, of course, is that more and more, haredim are making their living in computer-related professions. What will happen is that most people will conform in Lakewood -- and take every possible opportunity to look at the worst of the web when they think no one is looking. All the rabbis are doing, in short, is making liars out of an entire community.

(Incidentally, I don't think anyone has noted yet that a similar ban was announced in Israel in early 2000, although it didn't include the kicking-out-of-school clause, and there was also [I believe] initially going to be a group of rabbis issuing similar heterim to have the internet at home -- which I assume came to nothing.)

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