Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Internet asifa in Monsey discusses blogs and other dangers

Apparently there was an asifa (gathering) in Monsey last night about the internet. Speakers included R. Ephraim Wachsman and R. Mattisyahu Solomon.

One who attended sent me the following review:
Highlights from the Asifa

First Speaker was Rabbi Waxman: He gave a long mussar schmuess on the dangers of the Internet. In a bit of hyperbole he compared the Internet to the 90 million Egyptians who chased Klal Yisroel into the Yam Suf. He said the Egyptians hired soldiers from other countries, and also magicians and sorcerers who used all their power and might to pursue them "at the speed of lightning [sic]" . This collection of evil, he said, is equal to theInternet.

Rabbi Waxman may have mentioned Internet predators in passing but he was most concerned with pornography and similar. His anecdotes included the story of the wonderful yeshiva boy who made a date with forty year non-Jew via the Internet. He seemed not to understand that such a boy was going to get into trouble even if there was no Internet.

He was also very concerned with loshon hara and mentioned a Rabbi in Flatbush who made a speech someone didn't like, so it got put on the Internet where it attracted 300 posts! He doesn't seem to appreciate that these kind of posts keep Rabbis honest. If they know there words have the possibility of being put into writing where millions can see it they will be more careful. And also why don't the Rabbi get their own blogs to make rebuttals? That seems to me to be the best way to find out the truth. Shine the light on it, and so on.

Rabbi Waxman closed by defending the idea of Internet bans, by insisting that telling people they were forbidden to have the Internet in their homes was not a real ban because its still allowed at work and he blamed the media for that mischarecterization. He also warned against leytzones saying that even a few jokes could destroy all the good accomplished at the Asifa. He referred specifically to the "leytzones had or" but I don't think he meant the blogger known as Godol Hador.

In a bit of humor, Rabbi Waxman had to stop speaking every few minutes because a latecomer would show up for his seat on the dais and everyone in the audience (about 500) would stand up to show respect. Sometimes the timing was terrible. Once he was really building up steam and yelling, when he had to break stride because of a latecomer.

The next speaker was a man from Baltimore who was introduced as an expert on the Internet. He did a power point presentation on the different things kids can do online that get them into trouble. He also shared some survey data from polls he said he had taken in other schools. I don't remember the details of all of them except that he found that Yeshiva kids are much more likely to talk to strangers on the Internet than Jewish day schools kids. He didn't explain why that was, and I don't know how valid his survey was.

His discussion was about things like Instant Message and WIFI and how all these things work. Really it was all stuff you would know if you weren't living underground for the last five years. To his credit, he spoke a lot about Internet predators. He explained how they operate and also the signs of knowing your kid might be in some trouble. He did not mention blogs.

The last speaker was the mashgiach Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon of Lakewood. His theme was that we need to be frightened, very frightened of the horrors of the Internet. He quoted the "Vsen Pachdicha" at length. Like Rabbi Waxman he was much more worried about porn and blogs than he was about predators. He spoke for a long time about the dangers of bad pictures and it was solid. When he spoke about blogs his voice dropped so I don't know exactly what he said. He did mention, though, that you can find a lot of bad science on the Internet. Again, he mentioned the danger of science and of blogs, but not of the predators. He closed by encouraging all of us to trust the Gedolim and to submit to their authority. He said that it's the rule that a mosad can't possibly accept a kid who has in his house the Internet because of the danger it might contaminate others. He also made it seem like the only solution was to ban it because if we didn't Judaism would be destroyed.

Afterwards we davend Maariv, but it was nusach ashkenaz which is very rare for a hasidic town like Monsey. You could see many confused faces in the crowd when the Chazan started with vhu rachum and not shir hammalos. (I would say the crowd was 50 percent Chasidim, and 90 percent hats and jackets/ beckeshas) Outside a guy was collecting money to defray the cost of the Asifa. He claimed it was $20,000 which seems high to rent a hall (there was no food or anything)

My own reaction? I have to think about it more. It's interesting that this issue has been taken head on, and in such a frank and public manner.

Update: NCO Chassid comments and gives another view of the asifah:
This account is a more accurate one than the account that appears on Yeshiva World, but it still leaves much to be desired. The powerful word picture of the forces of tumah in pursuit of Klal Yisrael at the Yam Suf has been bastardized into something unrecognizable. The central point of the parallel between the end of Galus Mitzraim and the end of out galus has been dropped.

The point of the post regarding the Rabbi that garnered 300 posts, was that those were posts of bizui, spewed anonymously, and archived forever. That is maasim bichol yom to you fellas, but an intolerable state of affairs to those who have not yet been "zocheh" to discover blogs.

The words "Rabbi Waxman closed by defending the idea of Internet bans," are almost the diametric opposite of what he actually said. He said that there was no ban in Lakewood. People were not told simply to uproot [their web connections.] The reason some people [not "the media"] described it as such is that it makes it easier to then portray the rabbonim as ayatollas.

The description of Norman Lowenthal's presentation does not mention that he described how his surveys were done and that he will make the questionnaire available for anyone interested. He was the model of straightfowardness.

I don't remember R' Mattisyahu speaking about science in the slightest. Maybe I missed half a sentence as I was trying to write down other points, but it could not have been a major topic at all.

R' Mattisyahu did speak about blogs and their correspondents. I was close to the front and heard him clearly.

[clears throat]

You know, a lot of the discussions that transpire on these blogs come down to credence in content providers: Whose content do you trust?

I love S. and Gil because they provide trustworthy content regularly. No one can be 100% and still post frequently, but they are consistent. I have a certain respect for GH because he is true to his feelings or his thoughts of the moment.

In this particular discussion, there are two topics I know personally and well: The nature of blog comments and the asifa last night. And we have two sides providing content:

R' Mattisyahu described blogs [and their comments] as a moshav leitzim. That is substantially correct all the time and dead-on much of the time.

The reporter and the commenters on this post [up to 2:11 pm when I began this] described last night's asifa as an extremefest. I know that's false.

That is characteristic of many false or falsified statements made on blogs.

There is another way. There is life beyond cyberspace. You can hang around people who try to live and study the truth.

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