What Are the Parameters of Responsible Internet Usage?

Many were disappointing that the last Asifa did not describe the parameters of responsible Internet usage.

Should a responsible Internet usage standard be defined?

If so, what elements should it include?

1) All Internet access should be filtered, preferably using whitelists, but minimally with filtered categories and blacklists

2) The use of Internet accountability software where a spouse, parent, or friend monitors your Internet activity

3) Attempts to minimize “time-wasting” on the Internet

4) Other

31 comments on “What Are the Parameters of Responsible Internet Usage?

  1. A hammer can be used to kill someone, or it can be used to construct a building. Tools can be used or misused.

    The Lubavitcher Chasidim have done amazing things with Chabad in Cyberspace. They were among the first groups to harness the power of the Internet for good.

    I’m not discounting the very real narratives of people who have become addicted. Nor am I overlooking the fact that even “G-rated” sites contain innuendo and immodest scenes. Not to mention that the pop-up and sidebar ads frequently are unpleasant and/or offensive.

    I don’t agree with widespread interdictions or bans that are going to end up being violated by people who need to use the Internet for kosher purposes. If any particular yeshiva requires parents to use a particular filter, that’s the concern of that school and its parent body.

    If the Admor or Rosh Yeshiva or recognized leader of any group within frumkeit wants to set down a ban for his own followers, as they say, gesunte hait.

    Certainly the good thing about the Asifa was that it got a discussion going about the dangers of unrestricted Internet use, and brought into the open what many rabbonim are being called about nowadays: wrecked marriages, addicted individuals, unhealthy choices. The bad thing about the Asifa was its exclusion of some notable groups within Orthodoxy.

    I mean, the Rabbonim are banning the Internet and TV, but why stop there? Why not ban men hitting their wives? Why not ban demanding money to give a Get? Why not ban excessive use of alcoholic beverages, or giving alcoholic drinks to minors? Why not ban all tobacco products? There’s so much improper behavior out there to address. Where do the Rabbonim start? More importantly, where do the Rabbonim end?

  2. Scott, I didn’t post R. Sacks video to oppose guidelines. Judaism provides guidelines for many things in life. Why should this be different?

    What I was pointing out is that “Rabbanim” are NOT monolithic in their approach to the internet. Some see it is as the greatest evil of our generation, to be avoided at all costs. Others see it as a necessary evil. And yet others see it as an amazing, God given, opportunity to learn, grow, and connect.

    It’s not a one-size-fits-all religion. We choose our Hashkafa and our Rabbis and our “vision” and “direction” can all be positive within our own chosen framework.

  3. Perhaps Menachem, but many people who think they can trust themselves to use it only in good ways get drawn in. The rabbanim see this many times each day with horrific results, and the reality is that just like it says in Perchai Avos, we can’t be so confident in ourselves. It is a monstrous, merciless stumbling block, and while everyone can chose, the rabbanim of our generation have a right to speak out and protect our generation. It all depends on your vision and what direction you want to go. Do what the say make any sense? Does it fit anywhere in your life view? There are many, many people who desperately wish they could get just rid of it…but they just can’t. A lot of hearts are drawn after their words.

  4. Shmuel is right about the “normal” kind of psak, but lately we have many instances of psak (or attempted psak) delivered in public or through Jewish media to entire communities.

  5. I am totally unfamiliar with the psak process mentioned by Bob Miller. I ask my shai’alos to my Rav, he tells me what he thinks, and I do it. I don’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the psak someone else got, or to what I read on the internet or heard from someone in shul fifth-hand what a Rav in a different place said (other than for Talmud Torah purposes, which is of course significant, but I don’t get my psak from anyone other than the person I ask personally). However, I think this may reinforce Bob’s broader point –anyone who takes an approach such as mine will naturally not feel bound to follow statements made at a public event he didn’t attend and the statements weren’t from his Rav.

  6. Maybe this is one of those things one can be tested on. Like giving maaser, or spending extra money for Shabbos. Try giving these, and see you get the money back plus some.

    Try giving up internet…or at least the social networks, for a week. See how much extra bracha will come during that week.

  7. In our galut, halachic decision-making is typically by consensus or edict within one or more well-defined communities. Communities frequently don’t buy into decisions made within other communities. If some sectors pack a hall or stadium to hear one or more of their poskim speak, this can’t obligate other sectors to follow the resulting psak.

  8. I see sheitelmachers and other businesses which cater to “our” community saying in their advertiesments: “Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.”

    On the other hand, I find it disturbing that even the average everyday “wallpaper” of the Internet (such as the ubiquitous pop-up ads) contains mildly salacious stuff. But that’s impossible to escape even without the Internet (for example, Long Island Rail Road “car card” ads).

  9. hmmm, ok. thanks for your reply.

    I think that separate and apart from this internet issue, it is a new layer in Jewish communal interactions when an admittedly accomplished leader says, “this item is objectively binding on all Jews, based on my opinion on this, which is that this is not at all my own opinion, but rather is objectively binding, based on my opinion on this, which is that…” etc etc etc.

  10. Menachem, actually it’s not binding. that number doesn’t make it binding, does it? what is that based upon?

  11. There is a concept that a certain size gathering constitutes “all of Clal Yisrael”, but, of course Bob, virtually nobody took him seriously. Which just to added to the many issues people had with this event.

  12. Since there were far more non-attendees than attendees, the event didn’t empower anyone to make such claims.

  13. Bob, that was explicitly stated at the Citifield “Asifa”. Not only that, but it was claimed by the Rabbi who said it that because of the size of the event his edict was binding on all Jews.

  14. I’ve noticed that some authorities (by no means all) have sent a warning shot to the effect that noncompliance with their instructions about the Internet will exclude one from the community. If someone answers to such an authority or lives among those who do, his options are very limited.

  15. the problem is not people who choose to not use facebook at all. the problem is someone who says that is the correct response, or the only response etc.

    what happens if there is a sincere frum Jew who does wish to use facebook for whatever reason? by saying they shouldn’t do that, are we going from expressing an opinion on this, to making it possible that someone who chooses to do so may be treated in a some form of a negative manner?

    it’s easy to say that no one should do so. if you are saying that people are in your own community who observe halacha and are shomer mitzvos, are doing so, then all we can do is discuss this with them. if their opinion on this is different than yours, then we have to pursue in some manner which is peaceful, helpful and constructive. thanks.

  16. If I am a gibor like Yitzchak avinu, then why can’t I just do kibbush yetzer (conquering the inclination)? This is Ben Zoma’s definition of gibor in Avot 4:1. And if I really can’t control my naughty thoughts, then a filter wouldn’t be able to ameliorate the situation, but perhaps visiting with a psychiatrist might. There are ways to bypass filters (e.g., Internet cafés), but the only way to filter out wicked thoughts is to purify one’s heart and soul. The misuse of technology might seem like it is a major problem, but in my humble opinion, it is only a minor symptom of something much greater.

  17. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this. There are too many variables. Some examples are: General hashkafa, ages of children, location of computer, type of work, etc.

    Even choice “3”, as innocuous as it sounds, depends on one’s definition of “wasting time”. For example some people allow for “entertainment” in their lives, while to others any entertainment would be “bitul Torah”.

    Forget illicit sites for a moment. Some people are very sensitive to the type of information their kids are exposed to. While one parent might freak if their kids even saw a picture of a dinosaur, another might encourage their kids to explore sites on evolution.

    There are probably some very general limitations that most “frum”, and even many not, could agree on. But beyond that there is really no set of rules that will work for everyone.

    I know many people are very down on facebook. As someone who made Aliyah at an older age and left many close friends and family behind it has been an incredible tool for me and my family to stay connected, in real time, with those people.

    One advantage that most of us have over the rest of the world is that we have a hard stop on all of this for 25 hours a week. No matter how much one may appreciate the internet and technology (like me) that down time is fantastic.

  18. Some internet filters block access to kosher web sites.

    For example ENATIV blocks access to ALL Yahoo Groups, even if they are kosher.

    Even worse, they refuse to add any Yahoo Group to their white list of permitted web sites.

    I know this because my Torah web site is a Yahoo Group (click on my name to go there).

    Baruch HaShem, my Torah web site has almost 1,000 members, including: around 25 Orthodox Rabbis, around half a dozen morahs who teach seminary girls in Israel, Jewish web site moderators, MDs, lawyers, people who joined because of recommendations from their husbands or parents, and graduates of the most prestigious colleges :-)

  19. I agree with Micha.

    Recently I heard to great mp3 shiurim in which two different rabbis (one moderately Chassidshe and one fairly Lithuanian trained) both had interesting and insightful things to say about web use and the use of filters. Both mp3 are currently free of charge.

    Rav Moshe Weinberger (Woodmere, NY) spoke on the Friday after the Asifa and you can his is specific remarks about filters starting at the 12 minute mark here:

    Rav Reuven Leuchter (Bayit VeGan, Jerusalem) spoke on a February of this year. His comments start at the 26 minute mark here:

    Both have different approaches regarding filters, but each feel that the filter only address the problem and not the cause of the actual problem.

    I have blogged elsewhere about what Rav Weinberger said and I strongly suggest that anyone reading this take a few minutes at some point and listen to each of their comments. It is well worth it.

  20. what is the meaning of: • To totally avoid internet use for entertainment purposes or social interaction

    • To cease from participation in Facebook, Twitter, and all social networking sites

    what if someone in their communities does go on facebook? what is the result of that?

  21. In some ways, the negatives of the internet are no different from the negatives of other aspects of life (I acknowledge that there are differences too). On the route to where I used to work in NYC are several establishments where the entertainment offered is immoral to say the least from our point of view. I never had the slightest inclination to enter one of them. Someone who has a greater ta’ava in this area might need to take greater safeguards such as walking the long way around or maybe even getting a job in a different place. I have no problem going to a work event where alcohol is being served and ordering a diet soda. Some others might be more tempted and have to take some safeguard so as not to drink to excess. It of course works both ways as everyone is unique and there are certainly things I need to have greater safeguards about than others as well.

    With regard to the internet too, a person needs to know himself and what his weaknesses are and act accordingly. Doing so with a mentor as suggested by Micha is a good way to avoid the possible pitfall of lying to oneself about what those weaknesses are and how significant they are.

  22. I think that:

    1- There can’t be one standard for everyone. People need to sit down with their mentors and assess where the pro vs con weighs for them. Given their own will power when it comes to wasting time, wallowing in cynicism with “those blogs”, pruste (or worse) pictures, etc… as well as their own knowledge of how to get positive things done, the answer will differ for different people.

    2- Any standard which cuts off constructive uses of the ‘net, like checking this blog, is probably off for most people’s balance.

  23. There is a spectrum of filtering alternatives. At one end is filtration to block immoral content. At the other end is total censorship to block all views that the filter vendor or his advisor disagrees with.

  24. can I also ask whether anyone would be allowed to watch music, sports, movies or tv under this? or to read novels, magazines or books? thanks.

  25. Adults should know by now what measures are needed to keep themselves and their own kids out of trouble. This varies by person and by family. Some people may be willing and able to defeat any form of filtration or limitation.

  26. responsible Internet usage

    —- maybe they delineated parameters that were appropriate for say Skverrer chassidim; but are the parameters equally applicable to groups with different hashkafic outlooks?

    it should be undeniable that the MO communities and their leadership were not involved in this endeavor, would not accept bans from leadership of branches of judaism that lend no credence to them or their leaderhsip….

  27. I’ve never been one facewook or twitter in my life. I have no desire to do so, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.
    However, Torah Umesorah had a contest to see which school can most creatively come up with fund raising techniques, and the winner, which received a grant, is currently using an idea which involves the social networks like facebook, etc. I guess this might be a necessary ‘compromise’ between the 1st and 2nd guidelines above…or maybe not? I don’t know.

  28. the flatbush asifa had clear parameters (below)…


    To change our behavior pattern, so that internet use is limited to uses of practical necessity

    • To totally avoid internet use for entertainment purposes or social interaction

    • To cease from participation in Facebook, Twitter, and all social networking sites

    • To filter all internet access and to protect the filters

    • To filter all smartphones and to be sure that the person using the smartphone does not have the password

    • In general, to change our attitude regarding internet use in conformity with the advice of Gedolei Yisroel


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