Ultra-Orthodox Jews to Gather at Citi Field for Event on Evils of Internet

By Emily Wax (Washington Post)
May 18, 2012

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Baltimore to Brooklyn are planning to hold a mass demonstration against what they describe as the evils of the Internet this Sunday (May 20) at Citi Field, formerly the site known as Shea Stadium, in Queens, New York.

A coalition of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and school principals are organizing the prayer rally, which The Jewish Daily News, reported would cost around $1.5 million to fund and organize. Tickets are $10 and are reportedly sold out. (Extra tickets are being sold, perhaps ironically, on eBay.)

The Asifa, a Hebrew word for large-scale gathering, is scheduled on the eve of the first day of the Hebrew calendar month Sivan, and is a day when it is considered auspicious to focus on children's education. The goal of the anti-Internet campaign, organizers told the Jewish media, is to save the next generation from the social ills, including pornography and exposure to secular society, that they argue the technology brings.

Women are not allowed to participate, due to the strict segregation of the sexes that exists among some ultra-Orthodox groups.

Organizers referred Washington Post requests for comment to a statement about the rally published in ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers, which includes leaders predicting that the mass rally would be larger than any others seen in the history of ultra-Orthodox Jewry in the U.S. The statement, which is signed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis from across the East Coast, calls technology a "scourge," and says that, "It is well known that in recent times through the Internet many serious family-related problems have been created, and it all happens because of it, and something must be done so they won't be hurt."

Ultra-Orthodox adhere to a strict interpretation of the Torah, tend to shun many aspects of modern life and live in insular communities as a way to protect their religious beliefs. Some argue that they have to--many cite the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as proof that Judaism is under siege, especially when Jews assimilate.

Since the Internet became a part of everyday life in the 1990s, ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups both in the U.S. and in Israel have in some cases attempted to ban or filter the Internet. The community seeks to protect traditions and rules that they feel are threatened by modernity.

The rally comes at a time when the Web has taken off as a powerful venue for ultra-Orthodox activists to voice dissent on everything from kosher rulings to the cover up of child sexual abuse.

A counter protest called "The Internet is NOT the Problem," wants to highlight what its organizers feel are more pressing problems in the community, including "the dismissive attitude towards sexual and physical violence against children, inadequate educational systems," said Ari Mandel, an organizer of the counter-rally. "The Internet is an unstoppable force. Every religious man has an iPhone or Blackberry they use for business anyway. It feels like they are just trying to shut down anything that allows people to question ideas."

The counter protest is being organized by members of Footsteps, an organization that provides educational and vocational supports to people grappling with the consequences of leaving the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in which they were raised.

"Why hasn't there ever been a gathering to discuss the issue of sexual abuse in the community?" said Chanie Friedman, 34, a mother who is no longer religious and is one of the organizers of the counter-protest. "Plus, they're excluding women who are home with their kids and monitor the Internet far more than the fathers. I am just imagining the good this money could do if we actually used it to address bigger problem then the Internet."