By now, you have likely heard about the Internet Asifa, the large gathering of Orthodox Jews at Citi Field a few weeks ago to address the dangers of the Internet. The gathering included some harsh and strict proclamations, such as forbidding Internet in the home, stating that it is only permissible to use the web for work purposes.
Announcements of the Asifa were greeted with great skepticism, cynicism and suspicion by those outside of Charedi, right wing circles. Indeed, the Asifa became the subject of many jokes such as, “the Asifa is the only time Citi Field will sell out this season,” or “did you hear about the Amshinover Chassidim, they got to the Asifa in time for the Mets vs. Padres game,” or “the first 10,000 fans to enter the stadium get a free Gadol Ha’Dor bobble-head doll.”
The Asifa also attracted a great deal of criticism, much of it I believe warranted. The organizers called themselves Ichud Ha’Kehillos and claimed that part of the goal of the event was to promote great achdus, unity, among the Jewish people. They emphasized that this event would reflect the great diversity of Torah Jews, but in fact, it only represented a specific slice of Orthodoxy as some groups of Chassidim didn’t join and certainly Yeshiva University’s Roshei Yeshiva and Poskim were not invited to participate.
Furthermore, some were critical of the fact that the entire gathering was designated for men only. If the Internet truly threatens the sanctity of the home, shouldn’t women, the guardians of the home, be in attendance in an event whose purpose is to strengthen our resistance to the Internet’s dangers?
The Satmar Rebbe and Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, interestingly, shared another concern. The Torah observant community is indeed diverse and reflects different world outlooks, practices, community customs and norms. How could one event possibly speak to or lay down guidelines for a Chasid from Williamsburg, a Yeshiva Bochur from Lakewood, a Businessman from the Upper West Side and a Doctor from Teaneck? Each community needs to adopt it’s own approach to this issue and in the case of the Internet, one size simply does not fit all.
There are many other points of criticism, but I am not writing this column to sling arrows or shoot down the Asifa. Quite the contrary, no matter what you thought of it, there are still so many things to admire and learn from the community that organized and attended it and that is what I would like to share with you.
Firstly, it is simply remarkable how many people attended and that is not disputable. Not only did Citi Field which holds over 40,000 people sell out, the organizers then rented Arthur Ashe Stadium next door which has the capacity for another 22,000 people. I wonder if the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy announced a monumental gathering in NY to rally for Israel, reflect on the dangers of the modern world, or any other purpose, how many people would attend? Would our Modern Orthodox community show up with over 60,000 strong for almost any reason these days?
You may say, it is simple, Chareidim believe in Da’as Torah and the importance of being obedient to the leading Rabbis of the generation. Their Rabbis said to attend and the people responded. The Modern Orthodox community, however, is trained to think for themselves, practice autonomy and be independently minded. While I agree with the explanation, I wonder if perhaps our community would benefit from a little more admiration, respect and deference to the words and advice of our Modern Orthodox community’s greatest leaders and sages.
Secondly, we clearly disagree and reject the Asifa’s conclusion, that the Internet is categorically evil and has no place in our lives unless absolutely necessary for business. I see the Intenet like the telephone or electricity; it has the potential for great harm or for great good. How many divrei Torah have been downloaded, listened to or watched on the web, for example?
Yet, the Asifa is correct in raising the grave dangers an unfiltered and unrestrained use of the Internet presents. There is no doubt that the access to everything and anything that the Internet provides is a great seductive force in the lives of young people and adults alike. We should admire and indeed emulate the Asifa’s goal of encouraging people to struggle with maintaining sanctity in their homes and their lives.
Rejecting the Asifa’s solution should not mean dismissing the undeniable problem the Asifa raises – how to properly adopt technology into our lives in a meaningful, safe and productive way.
I hope that future Asifas will indeed include all segments of Klal Yisroel and will be designed to speak to serious Torah Jews, no matter what community they belong to. In the meantime, we would do a great service to ourselves if rather than cynically reject the Asifa or it’s organizers, we seek to extract that which we can admire from this event and indeed emulate the idea of gathering en masse, to grow and enrich our lives in meaningful ways.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) in Boca Raton, Florida. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Vaad HaKashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah.