by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Are you ready to be yelled at yet? Told how horrible you are for interacting with the scourge of the generation? Because this is it, right here, right now…
Mishpacha Magazine this week demonstrates why this position not only doesn’t resonate with me, but doesn’t resonate at all. The quote above is from the Internet Asifa ad in the beginning of the magazine. But here’s the back page of the family section…
For anyone unclear, that’s a Torah organization giving away laptops or iPads (your choice) in their fundraising raffle to the religious Jewish community. And for anyone unclear, iPads don’t work (you can’t load content on them) without an Internet connection.
So which is it? “Terrible decree” or a great way to participate in a Torah charity raffle?
Let me give a real life experience…
A couple of years ago I was teaching a class on business management & concept in Kiryat Belz, Jerusalem. Kiryat Belz is the epitome of a charedi neighborhood, such that it doesn’t get any more charedi than that except for perhaps Meah Shearim, Jerusalem.
It was a private class, though it was arranged through the Charedi Institute for Technological Studies. The students were a group of chassidim ranging from 25-35 years of age, who’s parents were ending their support for their ongoing Torah studies (kollel) and preparing them to enter the business world.
I was given a syllabus, but had to prepare my own lessons. I decided to each using PowerPoint, building presentation points and walking them through each topic. They hadn’t been presented to before (though they were also taking computer classes at the same time) and thought it was pretty neat.
In one class we were talking economics. I told them that they had to pay attention to the local economy where they were focusing their business, and (particularly in smaller countries) the international business market and economy as well. As homework I assigned to read a business oriented publication and bring back an article dealing with business issues that could affect them.
I gave them a short list of recommended publications, which, given the audience, I make sure was targeted and available in print form (because I was in Kiryat Belz, I couldn’t expect them to have Internet access!) I recommended either The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times of London, Forbes Magazine, Inc. Magazine, or (if they preferred a Hebrew publication) Globes of Israel.
I told them most of these should be available in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, which was a short distance away from their neighborhood.
They looked at me like I was a bit crazy, and I was worried I had made a cultural faux pax by directing them to a secular publication. They then, as a group, turned around, opened their briefcases, pulled out laptops, connected to the wifi in the home we were holding the class, and asked me “maybe such things can be read on de internet?”
We did discuss Internet access briefly. One told me he would only use filtered Internet, another said he only used the chassidic Internet provider, another whipped out his new iPhone and asked if it could be used to read the business news.
The Internet has many problems, and there’s plenty that should be avoided. BUT that’s not what the Asifa is about. This is (IMHO)…
Mishpacha Magazine article on the Asifa - “A grassroots expression of a desire for change. Rabbanim meet…”
A “grassroots” understanding of what’s going on, the needs of the current generation to use these tools for commerce, information and communal interaction (yes, that’s right, there’s now new forms of communal interaction), is not expressed by a group of elderly rabbonim (in Lakewood, New Jersey, USA). Grassroots is pretty much the opposite of such a meeting.
Further, if the express point of such a meeting is to “neutralize the terrible decree” (from the ad for the Asifa), well that kind of says it all.
The Internet is a tool. A powerful one, a dangerous one, and a wonderful one. We could flood it with Torah, we could upload every single shiur (Torah lesson), yeshiva class and kollel learning directly to YouTube. We could share and preserve every great lesson of every great rabbi, in every language it’s given!
We can given every Jew, wherever he or she may be in the world, access to a full wealth of Torah knowledge. Halacha, TaNach, Gemora, Chassidus, Mussar, Kabbalah, we can share it all! We can share the wisdom of the Torah with every Bnei Noach and all the peoples of the world, directly, easily and cheaply!
We could experiment with new ways of teaching Torah for those the current ways don’t reach. We could create interactive Torah lessons, Skype conference call learning sessions connecting Jews (and non-Jews) around the world with the Torah and He who wrote it.
The full Torah knowledge of the generation, every shiur, every chiddush, every insight, could be preserved and shared directly with the next generation. Every holy sefer could be made available for instant lookup of any Torah topic.
It’s the information age and the people of the book, those who have carried and protected the Holy Information for 3,000 years, are turning away.
The Internet can be a harsh decree or an incredible gift. In truth it’s both. But it’s up to make it that gift.
What are we waiting for?
This, however, is not it…