By Josh Robin (NY1)
August 6, 2012
Even as we go online, people everywhere are asking how the Internet is changing our lives. Among highly religious Jews, those questions are especially pressing. Some of its leaders say the Internet is the greatest challenge ever to preserving their age-old traditions. NY1's Josh Robin looks at that struggle, and the repercussions for those who are thought to have crossed the line in a very private community, in part one of NY1's five-part "Tangled Web" series.
From the outside, it was an "only in New York" curiosity. But to the Orthodox Jewish rabbis who organized an anti-Internet gathering that sold out Citi Field on May 20, it was no laughing matter.
In the Internet, these rabbis see a sinister tool that has led to a time some argue is more difficult than even the Holocaust. They say the World Wide Web is pushing religious Jews, and many others, to recklessness, immodesty and godlessness.
"It's about the loss of our humanity, it's about the loss of our privacy, it's about what the Internet does to us when we get on there anonymously, and we go on to comment sections, we go onto blogs and we turn into raving lunatics and we turn into moral ogres," says Eytan Kobre, an organizer of the anti-Internet rally.
Rabbis feel they are left to restore what they see as Internet-induced damage, like cheating spouses who find romance online or children addicted to pornography.
Some see additional motives. As seen in the Twitter revolutions in the Middle East, the Internet allows unprecedented challenges to authority.
"To a certain degree it takes away from rabbinic leadership when you have now other voices out there giving people information that they feel could be hurtful to the community," says radio talk show host Zev Brenner.
Information like disclosing sexual abuse, covered by the blog AdKanEnough.com, whose editor says she has to work anonymously, under the pseudonym "Debbie Teller."
"Until now these people didn't have a voice, and now that we do have a voice, I don't think that the leadership is very happy about that because they're losing their control," says Teller.
Elsewhere, 36 leading rabbinical authorities recently banned a popular news site, Vosizneias.com, calling it satanic. It also covered sexual abuse and political disputes, with a busy comments section.
The site continues, but its editor is also anonymous.
Still others have rabbinic advisory boards which some believe whitewash legitimate criticism.
Supporters acknowledge they fear rabbis are losing power but they do not think that fear is misplaced. It is a battle unlike any the community has ever seen, replete with legal charges and even death threats, which will be discussed in this series over the next four days.