The Citi Field Asifa regarding the Internet was held last night, so we though it would be appropriate to repost this article that was originally published on May 30, 2006.
As everyone on this blog is aware, many, if not the majority, of gedolim are speaking out against the Internet. On Sunday, May 14 – Mother’s Day in the secular world – I attended what was advertised as an “historic asifa” on this very subject. My sons’ yeshiva sent home notes about it a month in advance, exhorting the parents about the importance of attending. They followed up with a personal phone call on the day of the asifa, and just in case the community hadn’t gotten the message, a car equipped with a loudspeaker drove around broadcasting: “Save our children! Attend the historic asifa!” Under such pressure, I attended.
I must admit, I was reluctant. In fact, when my ride there was delayed, I was happy to be late. But ultimately, I made it there and was persuaded to do something I never dreamed I had the strength to do: I disabled my browser.
The two speakers at the event were Rabbi Norman Lowenthal, a social worker with expertise in young people and Internet addiction, and Ha Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha. Both were extremely scary. Rabbi Lowenthal spoke about the predators on the Internet, who, with their smooth words, lure teens into the most exploitative of relationships. And even without those horrific stories, he described the easy access to porn, and obsessive behaviors like checking email and blog post responses up to twenty times a day. This last is probably the most benign of the things he described, but it fit me to a T, and that frightened me.
HaRav Solomon got me from a different tack. He quoted a man he’d met whose son had gone off the derech.
“I lost my father to Stalin, my brother to Hitler, and my son to the Internet,” said the man. “And the bitterest loss is that of my son because I know that after 120, I will see my father and brother in Olam Habo, but my son, I fear I will never see again.”
As a sigh of pain passed through the audience, Rav Solomon thundered, “Who told that man he would merit Olam Habah? He allowed the Internet into his home! If he saw it was adversely affecting his son and did not stop it, he deserves at least as harsh a punishment, if not a worse one!”
And that, in short, is why I got rid of my browser. I have many, many problems in chinuch. Part of that is a BT thing – it’s hard to pass down Torah ideals to children when you learned them in adulthood – but a big part of it is my own personal weaknesses. Either way, I’ll blame myself if my kids go off the derech, and if I remove this one major stumbling block from their reach, then that is one thing I will not have to reproach myself for later.
But it was not easy. As a matter of fact, I shed tears over it. After all, doing this meant saying goodbye to friends.
At this point, I should describe my Internet use. In the late 90’s, my husband created a kiruv website, beingjewish.com, and in 1998, I joined in with “Kressel’s Korner,” which has gradually grown to include 14 of my original articles, most of which are about Jewish women’s issues. I’ve met quite a few interesting people over the years as a result of the site, and I’ve received many more complimentary letters. Each one of them was a thrill. For an unknown writer like myself, the instant audience available on the Internet is a dream come true.
In 2005, I discovered blogging, which far surpasses the website in dearness to my heart. My personal blog has 74 “subscribing” readers, most of whom are Jewish women of varying levels of observance. We read about each other’s lives, celebrate each other’s simchas, and support each other through the tough times. Baby pictures, daily gripes, Shabbos menus, divrei Torah – we talk about it all. I think of it as my “virtual veiber shul.” I love my Internet friends. And now I was being asked to give them up.
After the asifa, I called my Rav to help me finalize my decision. Even with Rav Solomon’s words ringing in my ears, the matter was not so clear-cut. I use the Internet to do mitzvos, so it seemed like a case of “calculating the cost of a mitzvah against its reward, and the reward of a sin against its cost.”
My Rov is an absolute tzaddik. He gave me at least an hour of his time, probably more. It was in the course of that conversation that the tears began to flow. All the while, he gave me brachos that I should be rewarded for making this great personal sacrifice. He said it was mutar (permitted) for me to keep my email, use the Web in the public library, and compose one final post from my house that night so I could explain my choice to my friends.
It is over two weeks since then, and my Internet friends were almost unilaterally supportive. Three offered to come over for a Shabbos to cheer me up and many others wrote me letters about how much they feel they’ve gained from my writing. Perhaps best of all were the new and almost-there BTs who seemed to say that I’d just given them the best lesson they’d had about living a Torah life: sometimes you have to give up something you like for the sake of kedushah.
I look forward to reading your responses at the public library!