Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Agudah, the Internet, and Hypocrisy

More than a few weeks back, for Shevii shel Pesach, a certain Parsha Sheet published in Bnei Brak put out a parsha sheet discussing the importance of listening to Daas Torah. You can read it in Hebrew here. They always have a rather colorful illustration, often amusing, though not always deliberately so. I reproduce the illustration below:

It is of a group of religious Jews listening to Daas Torah, and leaning after the words of the Chachamim, and so tossing their computers (and what appears to be a cell phone) into the river. Certainly there are echoes of Tashlich -- and spot the fellow in the center reading something. There is an additional yellow warning sign, reading "Internet Sartanet", where Sartan is the Hebrew word for Cancer, implying that connecting to the Internet is the cause for cancer.

And on the back page of this parsha sheet were instructions for contacting them, in case you want to subscribe. You could email them; or else you could visit their web site!

Of course, this was only on the English version of their parsha sheet. On the Hebrew version, all of this information was absent. (Still, their website itself is all in Hebrew.) Thus, the frum chareidim of Bnei Brak would not know that they have a website and email address.

This smells a lot of hypocrisy. How could they encourage everyone to listen to "Daas Torah" about the Internet and computers, when they themselves do not abide by it?!

The answer, in large part, is that they are not being hypocrites. The artist is a separate fellow from the ones who put out this parsha sheet, and they seem to contract him for jobs like this. And so he, of his own initiative, must have expanded on the idea of listening to Divrei Chachamim to make an anti-Internet, anti-cell phone, anti-computer cartoon. And they just included it.

But still, for those who don't know this, and even for those who do, this comic juxtaposed with not keeping true to it themselves makes them look rather silly.

I was thinking about this today because of the discussion over at Hirhurim and subsequently at Emes veEmunah about Agudah not having a web presence. Thus, as Rabbi Gil Student writes at Hirhurim:
I may be mistaken but my impression is that the official policy of Agudath Israel of America is not to have any web presence. This is, I believe, in order to avoid the appearance of legitimating usage of the internet or looking hypocritical by telling others not to go on the internet but still maintaining a presence there. This is a principled stand that demonstrates how strong they consider the well-known dangers of the internet...
But, as he writes, is severely restricts their ability to get their message across. As someone he cites cites the Agudah paper, the Jewish Observer, from early on:
"The ability... to master the new media has become the key to success -- or failure -- to win the allegiance of the masses.... Jewish leadership is in the hands of those who can best make use of the new techniques of communication."
And so they make themselves somewhat irrelevant to the ongoing discussion about many important things in the Jewish world. But I don't know that they can simply establish a web presence. Not when one important aspect of their stance is that the Internet is assur.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin