Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
American history boasts that the telephone was invented in Boston by Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) in 1876. Other countries have different claims. After first demonstrating his invention in 1875, Bell was issued a patent by the United States Patent Office in 1876. In 1878, the first telephone switchboard for commercial service was placed in operation in New Haven, with 27 subscribers. Prior to the switchboard, telephone service was only between two telephones. With the introduction of the switchboard, a subscriber had a choice of different people to speak to. Switchboard operators became quite popular. Shortly thereafter, when the number of subscribers reached 100, a list was published giving a subscriber an organized selection of whom to call.
The name and concept of “yellow pages” came about in 1883, when a printer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, working on a regular telephone directory page, ran out of white paper and used available yellow paper instead. In 1886 Reuben H. Donnelley created the first official Yellow Pages business directory, and thereby invented the industry. Printed directories, today representing the largest source of recycled paper, have with the popularity of the Internet become obsolescent.
Telephone usage grew in the United States as well as in the rest of the world. Transatlantic telephone service was opened in 1927 through cooperation between AT&T and the British Post Office. By 1936, regular telephone service existed between 68 countries internationally.
In the early 20th century, telephone usage grew in Eastern Europe, though somewhat more slowly than in the United States. Increasingly, businesses subscribed. However, private homes were much slower to subscribe because of cost and lack of need. Nevertheless, well-to-do homes were more likely to have telephone service.
Interestingly, revered chassidish rebbes were known to proclaim that private homes that had telephones were open to the street, because anyone could call them, thus bringing the outside, impure street into the home. The holiness of the Jewish home was susceptible to the negative influences of the outside street through that contaminated phone. Phones were the Satan’s instruments of lashon ha’ra and bitul Torah. Eminent chassidish rebbes refused to set foot into homes that had a telephone.
That perception of telephone services has changed over time. Today, telephone service is a must. Every shul must have a working telephone prominently displayed so that it would be immediately accessible in case of emergency, Heaven forbid. Hatzalah’s phone number should be easily visible. Shutting off telephone service for Shabbos or Yom Kippur is inconceivable. Directing a Hatzalah member to leave his cellular telephone or transmitter at home for Shabbos would be objectionable.
The Citi Field
As we are about to mark the first anniversary of the huge (attendance of 64,000 men) anti-technology rally in Citi Field stadium in Flushing, Queens, several neighborhood rallies have been organized. For the greater Boro Park/Flatbush area, a rally has been arranged to take place in the 18th Avenue Park at 55th Street on Thursday, erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, May 9. Full-page ads have been placed in all Yiddish papers and proclamation billboards have been posted throughout the neighborhoods. The posters call upon Klal Yisrael to gather in order to withstand the spiritual challenges of technology. Interestingly, other than the date, no time is specified for the rally.
Of course, the rally will focus on and attempt to continue dealing with the negative aspects of technological advancements, primarily the Internet. Hardly a day goes by and yet another technological breakthrough is announced. One day it is the development of smaller “quantum computers” that are computers whose components are subatomic particles that have been individually manipulated to store data. Such small computers make it possible to create devices as small as one billionth of an inch in size. The next day, new smart phones, tablets, Androids, and other such advanced devices are introduced and available for purchase, each one further advancing technological applications.
Though it may seem to outsiders that 64,000 intelligent, observant men gathered last year in Queens, together with leading chassidish rebbes, rosh yeshivas, and rabbis to figuratively push water uphill and achieve the impossible, nevertheless, as we approach the Torah holiday of Shavuos, a restatement of the obvious is a periodically needed reinforcement: that observant Jews are special and that strenuous efforts have to be exerted to maintain that distinct status.
Controlling The Internet
The Internet has had a tremendous impact on culture and commerce, including the rise of near-instant communication by e-mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), two-way interactive video calls, Skype, the World Wide Web, and online shopping sites. Every facet of the Internet serves and has an impact upon the observant community. The Internet continues to grow, driven by ever-greater amounts of online information, knowledge, and commerce. Since 2007, more than 97% of the world’s telecommunicated information has been carried over the Internet. The remaining 3%, most likely, is being carried by loudspeakers, drums, pigeons, shouting, and flag-waving.
Some governments, such as that of Iran, North Korea, Burma, China, and Saudi Arabia, restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet, especially political and religious content. This is accomplished through sophisticated software that filters domains and their content.
In Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, Internet service providers have voluntarily restricted access to socially unacceptable sites listed by authorities. Many countries, including the United States, have enacted laws against the possession and/or distribution of certain material over the Internet, especially that of child abuse. However, software filtering is not mandated. There are many free and commercially available software programs with which a user can voluntarily choose to block offensive websites on individual computers.
The darker side of all of the new technological advances are recognized by all of better society. Legislation has been enacted to deal with practical problems such as hand-held cell phone usage during driving, texting while driving, privacy issues, etc. Monumental challenges continue to threaten civilized conduct as addiction to frivolous computer and Internet usage and, of course, the realm of depravity that looms darkest. National political leaders, here and abroad, have been disgraced and destroyed by exposure of their degenerate computer lives. The evils of the Internet are plain to all.
As of 2011, more than 2.2 billion people regularly used the Internet. Torah study has been immeasurably advanced by computers and the Internet. Heaven surely created the Internet for hebrewbooks.org, the website that has more than 51,000 sefarim instantly available, printable, and downloadable for free. That means that if you have Internet access, you automatically have, 24/6, a Torah library of more than 51,000 sefarim, regardless of how much shelf space you have or how small your home is. Many of the sefarim are rare and cannot be found anywhere else. Hebrewbooks.org, invaluable and unique, is but one Torah website.
Innumerable other websites have unlimited divrei Torah. The Torah websites are in English, Hebrew, etc. Some chassidish rebbes have websites to disseminate their teachings as well as to serve as successful vehicles of outreach.
The positive aspects of the Internet for the observant community can be extolled without end. However, sadly, the depraved, dark side infiltrates the observant community as well. The “Rally Against Technology” hopes to expand controlled handling of the Internet so that depravity does not breach the protective walls of our holy communities. Presumably, the rally will reinforce filtering of the Internet combined with a continued ban on cell phone Internet usage, especially for children.
Satmar Internet Usage
Internet today is a reality, literally a necessity, and will not go away. That realization is accepted by all segments of the observant community. The international Satmar community led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe based in Kiryas Yoel and in Williamsburg, has laid down the law on Internet usage for its chassidim. Satmar is one of the largest and leading chassidish communities is the world. What happens in Satmar is closely followed by the entire chassidish world. Though exceptions abound, absolutely no Satmar home is permitted to have Internet access. Children of any home with Internet access are not accepted into any Satmar school. Business Internet usage, outside of the home, must be filtered. Computer kiosks have been established where individuals can go to conduct their private Internet usage needs, 24/6, at minimal cost. Of course, the kiosks are filtered and computer screens are fully viewable and monitored at all times by appointed chassidish managers of such kiosks. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.