Haredi Rabbis “declare war” on the Internet (Part 1)

JONATHAN ROSENBLUM is a fine and articulate Haredi columnist for the Jerusalem Post. In one of his most recent articles, Rosenblum writes about the Haredi rabbinic decision to “declare war” on the Internet. “Declare war” you say? Ah, them’s fightin’ words!

On the surface, the Haredi Guardyoureyes looks like an organization that has some positive potential. After going to the website, the webmasters state its purpose in unambiguous terms:

Welcome to GuardYourEyes, a vibrant network and fellowship of religious Jews of all affiliations, struggling to purify themselves and break free from inappropriate behaviors stemming from Lust addiction. With the advance of technology and the ease of availability and privacy that the internet provides, it has become a daily struggle for many religious Jews to remain erlich (morally and ethically upright) even in their own homes. Jewish Leaders, Rabbis and Experts worldwide, are beginning to speak out about this serious problem more and more. Our network is comprised of a website: www.guardureyes.com, a dynamic blog-site at …

Rosenblum supports the goals of the organization and thinks that this type of self-policing is a good thing for members of the Haredi community. Many Americans in this country are also concerned about the problems and challenges posed by the Internet for their families–especially considering that the average adolescent spends more time on the Internet than watching traditional television.

In addition, Rosenblum also complains about the “various chat rooms, or erotica Web sites, or instant communications devices that make it easy to establish illicit relationships.” I know many Christian believing families in this country who would concur.

So, what’s so bad about this type of organization? Actually, the Guardureyes.com does not bother me  in the least. I think the issues of pornography addiction are a serious problem for the repressed world of the ultra-Orthodox, which has yet to teach its people how to relate to women as people and not as sex objects. For whatever the reason, the yeshiva world has done a poor job in instilling proper impulse control in their students–as evidenced by their students frequenting the erotic websites. In this respect, religious adolescents will behave like adolescents do in the secular world. This  particular website at least tries to help its followers get a better grip on their behavior. The fact that Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, M.D  is a part of this organization, speaks very well of its goals. Rav Twerski is one outstanding Haredi.

Kudos deservedly go to Guardyoureyes.

Haredi education could benefit from many of the insights of modern psychologists like Jean Piaget, American philosopher and educator John Dewey, James Mark Baldwin, and psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. For now, we will look at some of  Kohlberg’s theories in particular, partly because he provides an interesting model that Haredi educators may want to consider integrating within their school systems.

Kohlberg argues that there are three basic levels of moral development. The lowest level is “pre-conventional morality,” where a child observes rules of behavior because they are determined by authoritarian figures which s/he must unconditionally obey, lest one suffer the consequences of disobedience. Thus, a child will refrain from stealing, not because it is anti-social, but because he is afraid what might happen to him if he gets caught in the act. Unfortunately, when nobody is looking, children who function with this low grade morality will get away with anything–if they can.

The second level is what he terms as “conventional morality,” and involves a more sophisticated kind of moral reasoning. With conventional morality, people try to fit and live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in “good” ways as determined by society’s moral expectations. Appropriately acceptable behavior means having good motives and interpersonal feelings that promote love, empathy, trust, and a mutual concern for other people’s welfare.

The third level is what Kolhberg calls, “post-conventional morality,” where the individual displays ethical reasoning at the highest level. Unlike conventional morality, which may be determined by an a totalitarian type of society, post-conventional morality aims to get people thinking about the ultimate questions: “What are the ingredients for the just and good society?” With this degree of moral awareness, the individual will follow personal principles of morality that may not necessarily accord with the conventional standards of societal morality. Individuals who follow their inner principles concerning right and wrong-principles that typically involve a social contract, which demands that the basic human rights such as life, liberty, and justice be upheld–regardless whether society may have reason to circumvent these common rights.

The Haredi system of moral values unfortunately keeps its followers at the lowest stage of pre-conventional moral development. Like small children who are constantly testing the attentive boundaries of their parents, sooner or later the children will act out. Haredi educators must learn to instill a higher morality that goes beyond the stick and the carrot. Autocratic religion keeps these young people in a state of permanent prepubescence.  As a result, the children never learn how to respect the  Otherness of the opposite sex, nor do they ever develop a more heightened moral sensitivity.

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