Yesterday, May 20th, Citi Field in New York was the site for a rally “against the internet.” It was a sellout. Every seat in the stadium was filled with the most traditional of all Orthodox Jewish men, (haredi-singular; haredim-plural). The demand for tickets for the rally was so great that the organizers had to also rent out nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium. Out of deference to cultural norms that carry the weight of religious law in the Orthodox world, women were not permitted at at the rally to insure that the fully enfranchised members of the community, the men, were not visually distracted and had no physical contact, benign or otherwise, with any women not their own wives.
Like the very provincial, isolated world of the Amish, haredi Jews would like to isolate their culture and way of life from the outside world. But unlike the Amish, the haredim choose to live in cities and suburbs that include other people; they eagerly conduct commerce with the outside world and while they may shun television and the movies they most definitely utilize modern technology for both commerce and personal convenience. And oh yes, one more thing, they have no problem engaging in local and national politics. They will readily voice their opinions on issues of the day and utilize their not insignificant power as a voting block to influence elected officials.
At first glance, one might understand why the rabbis in the haredi world feel inclined to discourage their minions from exploring the internet. Between pop-culture and pornography, the net is anything but a puritan cultural experience. That said, why was it necessary for the haredi world to conduct a public rally against the internet? Couldn’t the rabbis communicate their message of internet avoidance in local schools, synagogues and publications?
In the days preceding the rally, one couldn’t help but wonder about the rally against the internet’s ultimate utility and objective while reading the numerous articles published by the mainstream media that treated the event like some fascinating museum exhibition about another world that the rest of us can only view as outsiders.
As is to be expected, the very thorough reporting of the New York Times revealed an interesting fact about the rally and why it was organized:
The rally in Citi Field on Sunday was sponsored by a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, that is linked to a software company that sells Internet filtering software to Orthodox Jews. Those in attendance were handed fliers that advertised services like a “kosher GPS App” for iPhone and Android phones, which helps users locate synagogues and kosher restaurants.