Understanding the “Real” War Against the Internet
Strangely, Rosenblum neglects to mention the most important aspect about the Haredi war against the Internet–they fear its self critiquing and self-examination much more than the erotic websites. Banning the Internet promotes the conspiracy of silence it desires. Ynet news uncovered a document where the rabbis denounce the websites – the majority of which are daily news publications unsanctioned by the ultra-Orthodox establishment – on grounds that they “pursue all manners of news and gossip that defame our public” and “spread slander, lies and impurities to thousands.”
Haredi rabbis want to create a hermetic seal that will prevent their people from critically examining its community’s leaders, many of whom have been exploiting their flock in almost every conceivable way for decades.
In the same Ynet issue, Jerusalem “modesty squads” says computers containing “abominations” found in apartments rented by yeshiva students, calls on capital’s residents to “stand guard” and have forbidden the ownership of computers in the yeshivas.
The real animus against the Internet is not so much toward the erotic sites, it is toward the news services that openly criticize Haredi power and undermine their authority. Micromanaging or lobotomizing its Haredi community cannot solve the problem here.
What the rabbis are really trying to prevent is the emergence of self-reflective Haredim who are willing to take a hard and serious look at the level of dysfunction within its community. There was a time when child-molesters in the Haredi community could hide and get away with a cloak of unanimity. The Internet has made it virtually impossible for pedophiles to hide. Nor will the Internet hide the financial shenanigans we see among many of the most prestigious leaders of the Haredi community–they too, are now accountable.
The constant attempt of the Haredi Gedolim in Jerusalem to keep a watchful eye on virtually every aspect of their followers’ lives strikes me as being very Orwellian. In George Orwell’s famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, there is an organization called “The Ministry of Truth,” which monitors its society’s news, entertainment, the fine arts and educational books. Every aspect of societal life is completely subordinated to this ministry’s supervision.
In Orwell’s dystopian novel, the author writes that the deeper reason of this agency is to maintain the illusion that the Party is absolute. The image of the Party must remain pristine, eternally right and strong at all times. What is especially chilling about Orwell’s 1984, is that every person is kept under constant and complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. Wherever a citizen goes, there is always a reminder that “Big Brother is watching you”, which functions as the sole repository of truth.
One of the book’s popular slogans, “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength” succinctly describes the Haredi motivation in their latest “war” against modernity. Let us briefly examine the aphorism:
War is Peace: The Haredi see the modern world as a threatening place that could undermine its values, leadership, and power. Whenever there is a war, its people becomes mobilized as each of its citizens prepares to battle the “enemy,” which happens to be the forces of non-Orthodoxy and secularism. Its leaders, i.e., the Haredi Gedolim (“rabbinic giants”) are the great and heroic protectors of the people’s spiritual purity! Rabbinic government demands from their followers’ a total allegiance and trust. Beyond that, they are prepared to act as the “Thought police,” who will exact punishment upon anyone guilty of a “thought-crime.”
Freedom is Slavery: The frum world has two interesting expressions that are opposites: frum (religious) and frei (pronounced “fry”) meaning someone who is “not religious” and “free” from the yoke of the mitzvot (commandments), i.e., someone who feels “free” to do whatever s/he feels like doing. Of course, “going frei” is considered to be a very bad thing.
The life of Halacha is preferable to a life of unbounded freedom, where the boundaries are fuzzy, and the individual must choose for himself. Haredi psychology believes that the masses are too stupid and foolish to decide anything for themselves–they require the Gedolim to assist them. Sociologist Peter Berg, in his book, “The Heretical Imperative” shows that the word for “heresy” derives from the Greek verb hairesis, “taking action,” “to make a choice.” The Haredi world is determined to see that individual choice is snuffed out as a possibility of being. Hence, freedom is inherently threatening and undesirable.
Ignorance is Strength: It is better to keep its Haredi members in a perpetual state of ignorance. People are unaware of a happier spiritual lifestyle; their leaders are more secure knowing that their followers remain intellectually cut off from the world. In Marxian terms, the ignorance of the Haredi masses gives strength to its religious government. Religion more often than not, becomes “the opiate of the masses,” thus deadening their ability to feel anything that is painful. Marx correctly (I believe) sums up the problem in clear terms:
- Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Beginnings of a Populist Revolt?
On a positive note, Ha’Aretz news reveals that between 2004 and 2007, when the Haredi rabbis tried to ban “unkosher” cellphones because of its Internet access, the Haredi rank and file opted to disregard their rabbi’s edicts. “According to data collected from the 340,000 people representing the potential cellphone market in the Haredi community, only 96,000 bought kosher cellphones. Around 225,000 people were non-kosher, and many cellphone users owned two devices – one for show and the other to actually talk with. The study focuses on communications, but it is of immense importance from the financial standpoint,” Roshi said. ‘Despite the impression the Haredi public does not necessarily obey the will of its leaders blindly and is likely to acquire items of which the rabbis don’t approve.'”
Could this mean that the Haredi rank and file are starting to get fed up with this kind of intrusion in their lives? I suspect so. It is not an issue of “freedom of religion,” that is at the epicenter here, it is the desire to have “freedom from religion” that is at stake here.