Zman Magazine was asked to put together a magazine for follow up to the Internet Asifa. The following article by Rabbi Yosef Viener appears in the magazine. Here, too, is a PDF (Rabbi Viener – Family Security) of the article that you can feel free to download and distribute to others. You can read a scaled down version here and listen to a lecture that the article was based upon here.
I have internet in my home and office, and a friend of mine claims that if I do not filter or monitor the content, I could be violating the issur of lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol (“do not put a stumbling block before the blind”). He argues that my allowing unrestricted internet use by my family and employees will no doubt cause them spiritual harm, and the responsibility for the damage will be partially my fault. This concept is new to me. Is it indeed necessary for me to install the proper filtering software, or is it merely a suggestion for those who want to be machmir?
We are going to discuss an issue that might seem like an old topic, because there have been many gatherings to address the issue. Much to my surprise and chagrin, however, the message does not seem to have hit home. The security we will discuss is that of the sanctity of the family, which is currently suffering from the most insidious and dangerous attack ever leveled against it: the internet.
If you are about to turn the page because you feel that you have heard all there is to say on this subject, please bear with me for a few pages. First of all, I doubt that you have heard everything. Second, even if you do not think that the subject pertains to you, you might learn in the course of the essay that it does. In my years serving the frum community, there has never been a burning issue that affects the community at large as profoundly as this one does. If I may borrow a term, the internet is the “silent killer” of the neshamah. It is very silent – it can be used in the privacy of a closed room in the home or office – and it’s very deadly. One can commit spiritual suicide, and those around him will be none the wiser, until it is far too late. No one can know whether this problem affects a neighbor, a tablemate in shul or a chavrusa sitting across from you. As we will see, if it affects someone in your close circle of acquaintances, then it affects you as well.
Yet, people are either oblivious to the danger or are deliberately choosing not to focus on it.
As discussed previously, the Internet Asifa was unprecedented. Individuals of other faiths, and even of no faith, have discussed the problems of the internet, but never has such a large community come together in such a public arena (spending quite a bit of money) just to raise awareness of it. In my opinion, it should have been cheered and heralded in the wider media as the unprecedented event it was.
That was not the case, however.
Given the general media’s long-standing misconceptions about and animosity toward religious Jews, it is not surprising. Nevertheless, one might have thought that the media would have at worst been indifferent. Yet, that too was not the case. It was incredible how often and how much these bastions of free access to information not only failed to convey the content, but used their platforms to air the typical prejudices against the religious Jewish world.
You kind of expect the New York Post to come up with a headline like, “What a Kvetch at Citi!” Sadly, you also expect even the more “high brow” tabloids to freely employ the shameful pejorative “Ultra-Orthodox” (which among other things raises the question: Who are the Orthodox? In fact, I emailed that question to the writer of the New York Times article; so far no response). “Ultra”-Orthodox is a not-so-subtle way of saying “extremist.” It is the equivalent of calling everyone who is not religious “ultra”-secularist.
It was also inevitable that there would be outright distortions, such as an MSN piece that claimed the event was streamed live on the internet, which if taken at face value would be the epitome of hypocrisy. Yet, the report conveniently failed to mention that the live stream authorized by the event organizers was restricted to a small number of locations where women could watch the event as it occurred.
Among the many lasting impressions I came away with from the Internet asifa at Citi Field was the image of non-Jewish policemen and policewomen turning to face the dais in centerfield as Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman delivered one of the most passionate parts of his speech.
Throughout the event, police ringed the field, looking up at the stands as part of the special security measures. There were even snipers on the roof and NYPD helicopters circling above. No beer or alcohol was sold at the event; the police were not looking for unruly, drunken, brawling fans who might charge the field. Rather they focused their gaze up into the stands for possible terror threats – and, baruch Hashem, there were none, thanks in great part to their efforts.
Rabbi Wachsman’s English is flawless and eloquent: “Like the fly who enters the web of the spider,” he explained, “little strands of the spider’s web that don’t even equal a fraction of the weight of the fly [attach themselves], but another strand and another strand and another strand [get attached], and before he knows it he’s caught in the web, in the net….”
At times his voice was so powerful that it rose above even the roar of commercial jets that periodically flew overhead: “The internet is about the moment. It’s about the instantaneous; about the artificial, about the superficial. It’s about if you’re bored you click on something else. It’s about being fleeting and empty. Even secular educators and psychologists have been decrying the children are being turned into click-vegetables!”
As he continued he gradually increased the pitch of his voice: “You can see it in the ebbing of the light in the vacant eyes of the younger generation, of the jittery inattentiveness of our children, in the flippant and callous language and attitude, the cynicism … and the unbelievable breaches of [modesty]….”
Then he reached his crescendo.
Click the link to download (free, with his permission and encouragement) Rabbi Yosef Viener’s shiur on internet addiction (called “Family Security” or “Internet Filters”).
See here for a written adaptation of that shiur, which was originally published in the Pesach edition of HaModia in the special supplement called, “Kids of Hope.”
In HaModia’s Pesach edition there was a special supplement called “Kids of Hope.” I had two articles in there. One was entitled, “Girls At Risk” and the other was “Internet Addiction.” The latter included interviews with Philip Rosenthal, a therapist in the field and an expert on cyberspace crime, and Rabbi Yosef Viener, who offers to have anyone who wants contact him to be their internet policeman, so to speak. Here is an excerpt from the Internet Addiction article, specifically the part involving Rabbi Viener and his offer.
Rabbi Yosef Viener is a Posek, Halachah Columnist for HaModia and Rav of Kehillas Shaar Shamayim in Monsey, New York. As the first address for the community’s questions and concerns, every Rav is privy to things the average person has little or no idea about. Rabbi Viener not only fields shailos and hears peoples’ problems from his immediate community, but from many people all over the world.
Far from an alarmist, it is uncharacteristic for him to state with unusual absoluteness: “There is no single problem facing the individuals and the community at large greater than this. Nothing even comes close.”
He illustrates what he means:
A first-year beis midrash yeshiva bochur I had never met called me up. He had been home for bein hazman and was about to go back to yeshiva. He asked me if he could come over. I said yes. He came into my study, sat in a chair and proceeded to cry for the next twenty-five minutes. I couldn’t even hear what he was saying.