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Op-Ed: Smash Your Attitude, Not Your iPhone By Rabbi Gil Student

Recent news stories about wedding witnesses disqualified for their smartphones and a rabbi-led iPhone smashing ceremony need not generate feelings of alienation among moderates. We all need to remember a simple message: Even a united global Torah community has sub-communities with different customs and standards. What works for some people may be totally inappropriate for us. However, responsible Internet usage is a universally obligation, even if it takes different forms in different communities.

Over the past few months, Torah leaders have reminded us that filters are not enough for a kosher online experience. While someone with enough time and skill can always bypass a filter, even those with no such desire or ability need more. Filters, at their best, keep out the shmutz and other inappropriate websites. Frum Jews have a higher standard than that. As we rapidly transition to a digital age, we have to remember that people are still people and the Torah is still our guide.

R. Mordechai Kamenetsky tells the story of people paying a shivah call to his grandfather, Reb Yaakov. The large crowd required additional chairs. As individuals went to the basement to bring chairs, Reb Yaakov encouraged them to take a chair for someone else. In that way, he explained, you can turn a simple necessary act into an act of chesed. We, too, can raise our time online from a necessary chore into a mitzvah, an opportunity to help others spiritually.

Internet Is Necessary

Calls for restricting Internet usage to business needs will fail. We increasingly accomplish our household needs online. We not only shop, pay our bills, file our insurance claims and the like on the Internet but we also learn online about medical symptoms, home maintenance, travel destinations and much more. Information has been overwhelmingly transferred to the Internet, which has in turn become the primary information resource for our everyday lives. If you want to know a museum’s hours for a summer Sunday family trip, you check its website. If you need directions to a wedding hall, you use Google Maps. And if you want to know whether New York State vehicular law allows a u-turn from the right lane, you search for it online.

More than that, Torah sails through the cyberwaves in previously unimaginable ways. Some yeshivas place recordings of every single shiur online so alumni and others can learn from their rabbeim. I can access literally hundreds of thousands of hours, perhaps millions, of high-level shiurim on my smartphone. One website provides the entire text of Tanach, Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi and Mishneh Torah. Another contains tens of thousands of sefarim for free download. Ten years ago, I was a frequent visitor of the New York Public Library’s collection of obscure sefarim in Midtown Manhattan. Now I just download them onto my iPad. The process of learning has not changed but the method of accessing texts and classes has, particularly for those who have left yeshiva.

Time Is Precious

We cannot avoid the Internet so we must embrace it with basic guidelines. In addition to the filters and image blockers we install, three Torah principles must stand at the forefront of our minds. The first is bitul zman, wasting time. Everyone needs down time to relax, shmooze, recharge your batteries and allow for random thought association. We are more creative when our minds have some time to expand beyond our normal corridors of thought.

But beware of the Internet time hole. Websites make money by keeping you online for long stretches of time. The easiest way to counter that effort is keeping a log of how much time you spend online each day, outside of work-related activity. Hashem gave you enough common sense to know that spending hours on end each night engaged in leisure activity is simply wrong. It is a waste of your short time in this world. When you keep a log, you gain the power to make informed decisions about how best to spend your time.

Behave Yourself

Second is tznius. While we often speak of tznius in terms of how we dress, we know that it also applies to how we act. Filters and image blockers can remove pictures that fail our standards of modesty but our conscience must guide our interactions with others. Your online interpersonal conduct must follow the same high standards as your offline public interactions. The language you use, the aggressiveness you exhibit and the intimacy of your interactions with others on the Internet must demonstrate your best behavior. Oversharing, flirting or developing close relationships with members of the opposite gender are just as inappropriate online as off.

Kiddush Hashem

Every interaction we have with others, particularly in public, is an opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem. With nearly the entire civilized world active on the Internet, your time online is just such an opportunity. Whenever you are online, regardless of which website you are visiting, try to make a Kiddush Hashem. Act with sterling midos, show respect to others, let the whole world know that you and your community–Hashem’s chosen people–serve as positive role models.

You are smart enough to know that even when you are correct, insulting others will offend. You know that honey attracts more than a sting. When you are online, you are in public and need to be the honey that attracts people to the Torah. You must demonstrate that the Torah refines people into exemplary individuals worthy of emulation.

The three Torah concepts we discussed are only some of the many that should guide your Internet use. Most importantly, you have to realize your obligation to rise above the chaos of the Internet, just like your offline behavior rises above levels exhibited on the city street. We must not only avoid improper online behavior but actively show the beauty of a Torah lifestyle. In doing so, we raise our Internet activities into mitzvah acts, spreading Hashem’s glory across the world.

Rabbi Gil Student blogs at TorahMusings.com and maintains a website dedicated to responsible frum Internet usage, InternetInJewishHome.com.

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Posted by on September 22, 2012. Filed under Jewish News,Slider. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

9 Responses to Op-Ed: Smash Your Attitude, Not Your iPhone By Rabbi Gil Student

  1. Kvod Hatorah

    September 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Well said my friend

  2. New Square Man

    September 22, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Are you some kind of rabbi that has a daas torah? lets see your credentials and see why your opinion should even count

    • Reb Yid

      September 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Your posek is Rav Kanievsky? I doubt it.

  3. Lakewood Working Man

    September 23, 2012 at 12:38 am

    on a personal level i might agree with you, but we Jewish people are thought to follow rabbunim even when it does not make sense to us.

    So i would recommend you do the same

  4. Makes My Skin ARGGHHHHHH

    September 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you so very much. Just for the record , it is not the rabbis speaking, i bet you rabbi Kneivski has no idea what an i phone is, his people control him and sell him all kind of nonsense just because they have too much time on their hands.

    It is a shame whats happening in our circles, truly a shame

  5. fire with fire

    September 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I wonder how you have the guts to go up against our Gedolie Yisroel

    Shame on You

  6. Michael

    September 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Excellent article Rabbi Student!

    The modern invented concept of “Daas Torah” applies to only a fraction of “frum” Jews whose Hashkafa demands such obedience. The rest of us are free to imbibe wise words from wherever we find them and then apply our common sense. I know the concept of “thinking” is blasphemy to some of you, but that’s your problem, not ours.

  7. Reader

    September 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm

  8. ephraim

    October 25, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Why is it so commonly taken for granted that the only needs for Internet access are for “practical” purposes, such as business, shopping, medical needs, or for Torah? (Actually, for Torah, it seems pretty unnecessary to me. How many of us even use a fraction of the sefarim we own?) What about general knowledge and awareness of what is going on in the world?

    I sometimes suspect that the people fighting all Internet use are mainly interested in keeping frum Jews in the dark and “free” of any secular knowledge.