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Quit Stomping on Moderation
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
This article orignally appeared in The Jewish Press

  Rated by 22 users   |   Viewed 13131 times since 3/11/10   |   24 Comments
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3/11/10

Digital images of the profoundly disturbing computer-smashing ceremony conducted by Rabbi Aaron Feinhandler have been viewed by countless thousands of Jews worldwide over the past few weeks.

Rabbi Feinhandler, who serves as the head of Yeshiva Machne Yisrael in Jerusalem, gathered a group of his students and delivered a short lecture about the evils of the Internet. He then proceeded to raise a laptop computer above his head, dash it to the ground, and he and his students took turns stomping on the laptop until it was totally destroyed.

The following day, Ezra Reichmann, a correspondent for the popular blog Vos Iz Neias, interviewed Rabbi Feinhandler to hear why he decided to publicize the computer-pulverizing event.

Rabbi Feinhandler said that he views the Internet as an existential threat to frum life and that “seventy percent of all youths who leave Yiddishkeit, do so because of the Internet or cell phones,” a figure he attributed to people who work with the at-risk youth population in Eretz Yisroel.

When asked if he has a computer in his yeshiva's office, he responded, “We have no computer in our yeshiva's office. How do we print letters? We send a handwritten letter to an office service by fax, and they return it printed, instead of by email. We pay them for the service. And we have plenty of office work; we have 75 bochurim in our yeshiva and 40 girls in our girls' division.”

He suggested that people reject jobs that require Internet use and said, “They need to work on the Internet for their parnossa? It's better to clean streets and dirty your body than to work on the Internet and dirty your soul.”

I see no need to comment on the ceremony itself other than to condemn it and the extremist and violent message it sends impressionable young people in the strongest of terms. We are not well served conducting ceremonies – especially in venues that will be spread worldwide in a matter of moments – that invoke images of book burnings and the like.

I would, however, like to address two core components of Rabbi Feinhandler’s message – that the Internet is the primary cause of our young people leaving Yiddishkeit, and its corollary, that sheltered folks unprepared for the overwhelming majority of decent jobs are more likely to remain frum.

Allow me to state the obvious; the Internet poses an enormous challenge for frum families looking to raise their sons and daughters in a Torah lifestyle. As such, parents have a sacred obligation to shield their children from the horribly destructive components of the Internet and postpone to the greatest extent possible their children’s are exposure to the Internet’s negative content.

Having said that, over the past fifteen years, I have dealt with thousands of teens (and adults) at-risk and I do not consider the very real dangers of the Internet to be one of the leading reasons people abandon Yiddishkeit.

Suggesting the Internet is the overriding cause of kids going off the derech is simplistic at best. It ignores the fact that a far greater percentage of frum people abandoned Yiddishkeit in the Lower East Side in the first part of the 20th Century and generations earlier in post-Haskala Europe – long before the Internet was ever imagined.

Moreover, it gives parents a false sense of security to think their children are shielded by the ever-growing insularity many members of our community are embarking on, while ignoring the real dangers to the Yiddishkeit of their children.

This single essay is not the forum for a sorely needed, broad-based and rational discussion of the real causes of kids leaving Yiddishkeit and what practical steps parents of young children ought to take to keep them on track.

Nonetheless, if I were asked al regel achas (“on one foot”) to list the Top Five causes of kids going off the derech, they would be, in order:

1. Child abuse/molestation/neglect

2. Lack of simchas ha’chayim/shalom bayis at home

3. Poor parenting or overbearing parents

4. Undiagnosed or unaddressed learning disabilities.

5. Extremism (lack of flexibility in raising children and forcing them into the same mold)

With that in mind, I suggest that following Rabbi Feinhandler’s dangerous advice of a) rejecting jobs for adults that require Internet use (read: almost any job that earns north of $30,000 annually) and b) allowing one’s children to be raised uneducated to the extent that they become “street cleaners,” will directly trigger at least 4 out of the 5 risk factors.

In my experience, poverty is by far the leading reason for the lack of simchas ha’chayim/shalom bayis at home. Furthermore, the extremism his approach engenders virtually guarantees that the misguided young men in his school will be overbearing, poor parents who will not be flexible in charting life-paths for their children. Finally, with approximately 20% of children having learning disabilities of one form or another; it takes real money to help a child with disabilities thrive and become a happy adult. Street cleaning may be an honest way to make a living, but is not a recipe for having the funds to pay for a tutor or special-ed program. And having the 75 bachurim and 40 young ladies in his school fax handwritten letters, is about as productive for their careers as it would be to teach them the craft of producing typewriter ribbons.

There are few things that erode one’s ability to parent children more than frustration and a lack of fulfillment in life. The searing shame so many bright and even brilliant adults in our community feel when they leave yeshiva, and their job opportunities are severely limited, due to the poor education they received in their formative years, does not lend itself to the serenity needed to parent children in these challenging times.

Our gedolim have issued clear and moderate guidelines for Internet use – balancing the need to safeguard ourselves and our children with the need to educate them to earn a livelihood. One need not look further than to follow their sage guidance.

The radical views like those espoused by Rabbi Feinhandler and illustrated by his actions are stomping on far more than a single laptop. They threaten to trample the future – and Yiddishkeit – of the families who follow them.

RECOMMENDED READING

Walmart is Coming

If and When

Rambam or Ra'avid

Egy, Kettö, Három -- Analyzing the Wisdom of Overly Sheltering Our Children

Educated Consumers

© 2010 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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1. Once again great article     3/11/10 - 3:36 PM
Effy - EFFYZAZ@AOL.COM

Thanks once again rabbi. Could not possibly agree with you any more.


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2. Quit Stomping     3/11/10 - 3:52 PM
yehuda - la - yehuda.email@gmail.com

I heard about this incident in Yerushalayim and read your article with interest. However, as a self-professed moderate Yid who follows the unequivocal lead of his Rebbeim and of Daas Torah, I'm taken aback a bit by your strong condemnation.

Yes, his reaction was a bit harsh. However, Chazal have taught us Yesh Shivim Panim L'Torah. For some, such an approach will work. For others, yes it will be disastrous. Yet in the ideal world, a job that didn't require internet use would be the ideal.

I think it's extremely important for kids to be taught to respect fellow Yidden of all walks of life even those who may seem extreme. For example, my neighbor goes wild checking for bugs in food yet has the internet in their home. I, at the instruction of my Rav, have no internet and don't go crazy checking for bugs. Do I look down at my neighbor, no. Do they look down at me, I don't know ask them :)

R' Feinhandler's actions were extreme. It could possibly give off bad vibes to today's kids. But remember, in Israel kiruv and chinuch - for better or worse - are of an entirely different dimension. Here, using one's voice to prove a point is the norm. Education here is a bit more forceful.

R' Amnon Yitzchak is known to cut the hair off of not yet Baalei Teshuva. In other words, someone needs to set a higher standard - while at the same time ensuring that everyone finds their own derech.

As the old saying goes, Reach for the stars...at least you won't get your hands stuck in the mud.

And yes, the internet is the most dangerous thing out there. Abuse, marital discord, simchas hachayim can all be detected, weeded out, and prevented. However, nobody will ever know if a teenager is online and what they can possibly be viewing.

You can pull out all the tricks i.e. keep the computer in the kitchen, lock it up, use a filter, etc; they just don't work. Ever heard of a library? ipod touch? cell phone? I know you know all this, but the parents out there don't! That's the issue and that's what R' Feinhandler's actions were about.

In conclusion; to him I say Kol Hakavod! To you, thank you for your great service to the Klal and thank you for reading!

Yehuda

PS feel free to contact me at yehuda.email@gmail.com


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3. Ignoring the obvious     3/11/10 - 4:02 PM
Anonymous

It is Rabbonim like Rabbi Feinhandler who do not address the real issues and look to blame everything on the internet and goyish outside influences instead of looking at the problems in our own community that allows our problems to continue and fester.

I wish everyone would stop blaming the internet! Should we presume then that the Rabbinic molesters in todays yeshiva became molesters because of the internet? Are those Rabbonim and mechanchim who should never stand in front of the classroom the way they are because of the internet?

It is so easy to pick and choose something from the REAL world to blame our problems on instead of addressing the real issues and doing something productive to fix them.

As far as not having computers in the Yeshiva why have fax machines? They can bring in as much shmootz as a matter of fact they did in the past before the internet was invented. Many junk mail came through faxes so why have that? It is a foolish and unrealistic attitude not to have the use of computers and not to teach it to youngsters when it is here to stay and in the REAL world whether it be the working world, banking world, knowledge and/or research.

Maybe no one told this to him, but you can use a computer without hooking it up to the internet, so it is a foolish waste of resources to run his office the way he does. Maybe he should take a step into REALITY and take his head out of the sand.


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4. Thank you Rabbi Horowitz     3/11/10 - 4:14 PM
Ari - Silver Spring - rabbik@terptorah.com

Thank you Rabbi Horowitz!!

Although my children are young, so I can't fully speak from experience, I have long stated that I would rather "own the issue" of technology, vices, etc. than allow some random strangers or playground friends to set the agenda on their thinking about these matters.

The internet ain't goin' away. It's only becoming more integrated into society and more integral in our lives. Any person who wants to participate on any level in a modern society - which includes buying a home, paying bills, pursuing a career with or without a college degree, and myriad other daily tasks - simply must be familiar with this and other technologies.

I would much prefer to be the one to introduce my children to these things, and in so doing inoculate them with my own hashkafos and guidelines from the earliest stages of their interactions. I know many who disagree, but I am becoming more and more convinced that this must be the approach.

There MAY be an elite inner circle for whom the straight exclusionary approach can work (and even that seems risky), but certainly as a matter of public policy and standardized education we must emphasize appropriate use of modern tools, and we must model for our children how to interface with these tools while maintaining (and enhancing) yiras Shomayim, gidrei tznius, and all else we as Shomrei Torah hold dear.


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5. And Let's Not Forget that From a Purely Torah Point of View Internet is Good     3/11/10 - 4:25 PM
Meir

As Rav Yair Hoffman pointed out, we must remember that all technological advances are for the primary purposes of aiding us in learning Torah.

Which the Internet absolutely does.


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6. Great article     3/11/10 - 4:25 PM
Ronny Biderman - Brooklyn, NY

Rav Yaakov, Once again you have put in to such eloquent words what the silent majority felt when they saw such abnormal behavior.


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7. Thank you!     3/11/10 - 4:30 PM
BK

Thank you for being the voice of reason! Please keep up your good work!


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8. The joys of oversimplification     3/11/10 - 5:20 PM
Dovid

There's something very soothing and comforting about being able to point to "x" as the source of all evil, and thereby point to "eliminating x" as the simple, cure-all solution to Klal Yisrael's problems. People feel empowered when they have the single key to unlock the doors to spiritual success.

Unfortunately, as Rav Horowitz accurately points out, this diverts our attention away from the truth, the far more complex sources of our problems that demand patience, time, hard work and creative thinking to solve.


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9.     3/11/10 - 7:00 PM
Benzion Twerski

There two main options for the Yetzer Horoh to approach us to do aveiros. The first is the direct frontal attack. This is of limited value, since he would be hard pressed to get most of us to eat chometz on Pesach, hold up and rob a bank, or commit murder. The second option, which is far more popular is the subterfuge. The Yetzer Horoh dresses itself in the garb of mitzvos and coaxes the best of us into following that path, which swerves into the oncoming traffic of sin. This concept is addressed throughout Shas and Medrash, and is expounded upon by the Baalei Mussar and Chassidus. One of the ways in which we can view this in action is in the exercise of extremism.

None of us advocate chilul Shabbos, and we are all repulsed by it. When the message converts to violence and chilul Hashem, we have watched the righteous cause taken to the extreme in which worse chilul Shabbos happens, creating a chilul Hashem.

We are probably unanimous about recognition of the dangers of the internet. We have probably had personal exposure to unwanted images and ads, and we have mostly had the experiences where we hit one wrong button on the keyboard and ended up in the wrong place. Is this a reason to break computer equipment violently? By not breaking it, are we sanctioning the unlimited, unrestricted, and unsupervised use of internet? I dare say that the failure to be extreme about this is not a tacit approval of the horrific negatives. But the Yetzer Horoh would have us believing just that. Kano’us is not for everybody.

The gemora relates that the Chachomim prayed to abolish the Yetzer Horoh for intimate relations because it was being seriously misused. Family life in both human and animal came to a halt. Even chickens did not lay eggs. The extreme was proven to fail. They were compelled to daven for this to be reversed. Yet, they left intact the tefillos about abolishing the Yetzer Horoh for avodah zarah. This extreme was deemed appropriate. And there were real Chachomim who were capable of judging that. There was little for which they chose the all-or-nothing route. The baalei mussar pointed out that every midah (character trait) has its proper place, including vengefulness, anger, jealousy, etc, though we tend to recognize these as negatives. The only one for which we are guided to be completely distanced is ga’avah (boastfulness). There are specific explanations for this. But the general rule is that extremes are not the way of Torah. “Derocheho darchei noam”.

We are witness to various forms of kano’us being advised by gedolim of recent generations. While this is my personal opinion, I believe that I am not alone. The Satmar Rov Reb Yoel ZT”L was quite anti-Zionist. Though I tend to disagree with his derech on this, I humble myself before him. He was clear about his derech, and the passion was derived from his firm conviction. He was not caught up in a mission in which passion was the driving force. That kano’us today is far less tolerable for those who do not follow that derech. Why? I offer that we see the passion without the same conviction. I won’t repeat it here, but it is reminiscent of the story of the “Five Little Monkeys”. I’m sorry, but that does not fly with me. That may be why it does not have the result of producing Kiddush Hashem but the tragic opposite.

With rare exception, extremism is not the derech of Torah.


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10. As usual, Rabbi Horowitz is on the mark     3/11/10 - 8:51 PM
Dr. Zacharowicz - NY - drzach007@aol.com

While it is hard to pin down a 'chicken and the egg' question re: what causes what, it seems clear that Rabbi Hoffman's observations--as usual--are not far off the mark, with regard to drop-out teens.

As my friend and colleague Phil Rosenthal points out, it is absolutely essential to have a good filter on all of one's computers.

That said, there are troubled kids who will be drawn to dangerous stuff on the internet, just like in the 60s, 70s, and 80s some were drawn to drug use, etc.

For some, the internet cannot be allowed, but for others, an extreme approach may backfire.

Perhaps using the safety suggestions of Phil Rosenthal (keeping computer screens in view, etc) along with good parenting may be more protective than a sledgehammer approach to the internet, which is here to stay. We figured out how to deal with printing press (there were rabbis who opposed this technology) and TV and movies. Let's figure out how to deal with the internet. And let's start by strengthening family relationships, the surest protection against the dangers that lurk outside.


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11. Extremism     3/12/10 - 8:45 AM
Elliot Pasik - Long Beach, NY - efpasik@aol.com

In defiance of Pennsylvania law, some Amish refuse to affix reflecters to their horse-drawn carriages - and there are accidents. Native Americans in Florida smoke peyote, an illegal drug, as part of a religious rite, and the case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. Some Mormons out West marry multiple underage girls. Moslem extremists hijack planes and fly them into buildings. And just yesterday, a Christian zealot in Oregon was sentenced for the manslaughter murder of his ill teenage son who had a curable urinary tract infection - they used faith healing, instead of medicine.

There are other examples. We are not alone. Sick, weird extremists exist in every religion. Pesach is coming. In the past, there have been those who refused to take their blood thinner medication, because they thought it was chomezdik - and then, a clot forms, and they die. The threat of extremism in our own circles is being recognized, when it comes to Pesach, sex abuse, Purim, Shabbos, and other areas of Jewish life. Rabbis like Rabbi Horowitz and others need to continue to speak out against this dangerous trend. A poet once said, speaking of the Germans, Those who burn books will come to burn people.


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12. Constructive Citicism     3/12/10 - 10:42 AM
Anonymous

As usual, Rav Horowitz's essay is excellent. However:

* The headline (appearing here and in the Jewish Press) is not appropriate. As Rav Horowitz -- here and elsewhere -- wisely and eloquently advocates moderation, the headline (perhaps written by others) should reflect that and be respectful. We may disagree, but let us not be disagreeable.

* The link to You Tube (in the first line of the essay) should be removed. As a parent -- who is carefully supervising Internet use in my family and will only permit Kosher Web sites like this one -- I am very disappointed by the easy access from here to that Treifa Web site.


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13. great     3/12/10 - 12:19 PM
Anonymous

Great column!


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14. burying one's head in the sand     3/14/10 - 6:49 AM
Moshe - Raanana

First of all allow me to congratulate you on a well formulated and written article - an article that none of us would likely have had access to if not for the internet; a medium which allows people to share information and draw people's attention to things they might not otherwise have been made aware of - had a friend not linked to you on facebook I wouldn't have red this.

You spoke of major problems in the frum world that drive people away from yiddishkeit. In my mind in that top 5 one can't possibly leave out the lack of engagement with the next generation. All too many people are talking AT or TO today's youth - but how many are paying attention to what THEY'RE thinking? It is in nature to rebel and nothing makes it easier than a superior attitude taken by one's elders.

The issue of internet is just one more example. As someone here already wrote it is available to us in so many places in so many ways - which is exactly the reason why attempting to simply close kids off from it is pointless. They're going to hear about it, wonder about it and even hear about its positive sides and then they're going to encounter it. The only question we must ask is whether we want them to encounter it under our preparation and guidance or in rebellion to our seeming hard handedness.

A few years back there was a real case in the IDF about a soldier who was released because of his inability to drink regular water. It came to light that his entire life his (health conscious) parents had boiled and purified in other ways the drinking water in their home and basically the boy had never drunk regular tap water (while which perhaps not overly delicious is by no means dangerous). In the army his body simply couldn't take it and he got consistently sick.

This boy (though secular as far as I know)is no different from many children in the extreme orthodox world. Sheltered completely from the real world, his soul simply is going to be destroyed by the most basic everyday things, and when life for one reason or another puts him in contact with them (and rare is the person who can avoid it altogether) he never stands a chance.

This doesn't mean that kids need to be exposed to the worst of everything available online or on TV. On the other hand when they reach a certain age they need to be spoken to honestly about these issues and have them addressed instead of just told majestically "you can't handle this so don't touch" as though they were little children. Ideally it might be nice - realistically it doesn't work and for 90%+ of those who it seems to be working for in public, they're going to become obsessed privately with finding out.


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15. Avrohom? Pinchas?     3/15/10 - 1:38 PM
bikores.blogspot.com

Imagine the articles that were written after Avrohom destroyed all the idols in his father Terach's shop. Denunciations of extremism, how a sicko took a hammer and wreaked havoc.

What did people think about the zealot Pinchas who murdered a Nasi? How many of them wanted to lock him away or execute him?

What did we think, long ago, when we heard that a yeshiva or dayschool child, hearing his teacher speak to the class about the evils of television, went home and broke the TV? How should a principal have handled the situation if the parents complained? Would the principal say: The teacher did not tell the children to break their TV's. The teacher conveyed our values and that of gedolim that TV brings murder, immorality and idol worship into the home. That your child took the lesson seriously and emulated Avrohom Avinu is something to be proud of.

Or would the child be reprimanded for ruining the parent's property, thus contradicting the teacher's lesson?

As with other incidents in Israel that Rabbi Horowitz has denounced, it seems he feels it's important to condemn those actions of frum Jews that he thinks create a chilul Hashem as a form of damage control. I don't like it. If Israeli rabbis think that what he did had negative ramifications, I have yet to hear it.

Rabbi Feinhandler's approach is not mine, and I agree with Yehuda of comment #2. I don't know anything about Rabbi Feinhandler. Knowing more about him would make a difference in how I view what happened. If he's a nut, then I would view it one way. If he is an excellent mechanech producing wonderful talmidim and talmidos, I would view it another way.

Odd, isn't it, that the way we know about this is because someone stood there and videotaped it and then put it on the Internet ... ;)


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16. Different Times, Different Reasons     3/15/10 - 2:14 PM
bikores.blogspot.com

I don't understand what frum people abandoning Yiddishkeit on the Lower East Side in the early 1900's or the days of Haskala in Europe have to do with this discussion. If I remember correctly, Rabbi Horowitz, you have written that you think sexual abuse of children and teenagers is the main reason children go off, which is why you listed it as number 1 on your list. Surely you don't think that people went off the derech in the early 1900's and earlier because of sexual molestation!

Different times, different reasons. Back in Europe, various philosophies swept young people up and they were sincerely idealistic about movements espousing haskala secular Zionism, communism, socialism, etc. At a later point, around the turn of the century in Europe and in America, poverty and persecution were major reasons for defection. And how different would Jewish life have been if Jews had been given Saturdays off? How many people abandoned Shabbos not on principle but in fear of starving?

Apparently, Rabbi Feinhandler considers having the Internet religiously equivalent to working on Shabbos, and just as he would say it's assur to work on Shabbos to make a living, he is saying do not take a job that requires Internet usage. You think it's ridiculous to ask people to eschew jobs that require the Internet even if it means taking a menial job. What would you have said to those who worked on Shabbos back in the early 1900's?


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17. Blogspot off the mark     3/16/10 - 2:49 PM
Anonymous

You are so off the mark to the point of ridiculous. You can't compare Jewish refugees from the camps fearing for their lives and parnasah in this NEW WORLD, with a fanatic Rosh Yeshiva who takes a laptop computer and smashes it on the floor. If he is such a tzadik and so right why are YOU still on your computer voicing your opinion on the internet?

There has been treif food since we got the Torah and Jews all over the world practicing Kashrus know how to turn away from it and avoid the tastes and seduction of what is Asser!!!! It has nothing to do with progress or technology. If yiddin were taught the beauty of Yiddishkeit and the purpose of Yiras Shamayim and following the Torah instead of being pushed and prodded to the point of retreat, we would not be having this conversation now.

If the Rabbi does not wish to participate in modern technology that is his business and his opinion. If he wishes to abolish the use of the internet in his Yeshiva and among his bochurim he should speak to them with respect and concern. But to say that Computers are evil and we must destroy them like psalim is ridiculous and fanatical. Maybe he should say that ALL treif establishments should be closed in E"Y so no children will be tempted to try McDonalds.


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18. to #17     3/18/10 - 9:54 PM
bikores.blogspot.com

Apparently you didn't carefully read what I wrote. 1) I said nothing about refugees from camps fearing for their lives. 2) I wrote that R' Feinhandler's approach is not mine.


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19. Re: #12 (Constructive Citicism)     4/11/10 - 12:30 AM
Anonymous

YouTube is no different from the rest of the internet. There is good and there is bad. Calling it "treife" is doing yourself a disservice.


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20. bPetach Chatat Rovetz     4/12/10 - 7:16 AM
Stan - Israel

The danger is not only to be found in the glaringly obvious places. It can be found anywhere there is an opening. If we make everything equally forbidden, including things that are almost impossible to avoid, we run the risk that when (not if) the kids start to use computers etc. they will start to see things that really are forbidden as mutar (cf rashi on chava touching the tree).

If you think the world uses computers and internet today - this is nothing compared with what is already in the pipeline for tomorrow. Rather spend time on how to deal with the issues, than let the kids think that Yiddishkeit cannot deal with them, or is not valid in the modern world, Chas Veshalom.


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21. And what about you?     4/12/10 - 7:28 AM
Shlomo - Bet Shemesh

Brilliant article! A word to us parents: 1) don't under-estimate the dangers of the internet and don't assume you understand them all - the kids are ahead of you.You need to find out how to protect them properly. 2) Don't kid yourself that YOU are immune!! install filters and protection etc etc. for YOURSELF too on your own laptop etc. (and It's also important to show the kids that you trust them as much as you trust yourself.) one program I recommend - its 100% free and it works: http://www.k9webprotection.com/ I suggest you keep the key where its not immediately in reach "vlo taturu acharei levavchem ..."


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22.     4/12/10 - 8:51 PM
Anonymous

this article is a cheap shot.


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23. re Stan (20)     4/12/10 - 9:17 PM
anonymousfornow

One of the best comments I've seen. I have to remember this.


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24.     4/2/15 - 11:21 AM
bob

the rabbi's theatrical circus with the computer is the wrong answer to a potential problem. The computer (which BTW doesn't have to be connected to the internet) and the internet are tools that can be used for good and bad. I think the internet's real danger is that people waste an enormous amount of time on it. Teens and adults alike. Otherwise for all the bad stuff that there is out there, you can use filters, and people should be raised and taught to make the right choices, Ubecharta baChaim. Same is true for all the mitzvos, keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, Lashon Hara, etc. Additionally, it's hard to be computer literate if you never had a computer.

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