YWN is reporting that teachers/administrators in Israel are being called to meetings to learn how to deal with students who come from homes where the Internet is available. The report states:
According to the latest HaMevaser report on the Internet concerns among Gedolei Yisrael Shlita, the organization of the nation’s seminaries are planning a kinos this coming Sunday to address the pressing matter. Principals of Chinuch Atzmai affiliated mosdos are also expected to convene in the near future to address the Internet problem.
Rabbonim have indicated they will not permit talmidim in mosdos if they come from homes with Internet connectivity. The same holds true for children of people who own, operate, or maintain an affiliation with chareidi websites, which have already been ordered shut, resulting in partial compliance.
I think that there is a frighteningly large potential for this type of ban to backfire that I wonder if the gedolim are truly analyzing the potential risks/rewards of their ban.
For a community that is experiencing massive parnassah problems (more so than the world at large), the decision to order the closure of websites that employ chareidim only exacerbates the problem. Now, people who were previously employed must go out and find other jobs -- probably in environments that are not as understanding of their social and religious needs as the chareidi websites were.
A person who cannot access the Internet will probably find it harder to find a job. I don't know what the situation in Israel is like, but when I need to find a job, the Internet is the first place I go to. I would be highly surprised to find that there weren't Israeli equivilents (or branches of) Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder and the like. Again, in a community where there is a large degree of poverty, we should be making it *easier* for those who are looking for jobs to find them, not harder.
By closing chareidi websites, people who used to get their news from "clean" sources will now have to go sources that are more likely to present the news in ways that the gedolim wouldn't approve of. Just to give an example... imagine that the gedolim ordered (and had the power to enforce) the closure of YWN, VIN and Matzav. What would happen? People would turn to FailedMessiah and OUJ and other sources for their news. Regardless of whether what those sites publish is true or false, I'm sure the gedolim wouldn't want people to go there for their news. The same applies to the chareidi websites -- by closing the "good" ones, they're only pushing people to ones where more salacious news will be reported. I believe this is the exact opposite of what the gedolim intended.
I also find it hard to believe that the ban is going to change the behavior of very many people. Those who were already listening to the gedolim long ago abandoned their Internet connections. Those that were already disregarding the gedolim in this regard will continue to do so. All that's going to change is that those who were accessing the Internet openly will now do so clandestinely. I think the last thing we need to be doing is setting up a situation where parents will be showing their kids that dishonesty is acceptable.* The gedolim certainly don't want to set up situations where kids will learn that it's okay to pay lip service to the words of the gedolim while secretly disobeying them behind their backs.
Then there is the issue of what will happen when a parent is caught with an internet connection. I have long been a proponent of the idea that you don't punish kids for their parents' sins. I said it with regard to Neturei Karta and I am willing to repeat it here -- unless the sin of the parent causes the kid to become a threat to the school or other students, you deal solely with the parent and not the kid. Yes, some might make the argument that the kid might see something on the Internet and repeat it to his/her classmates, etc. Hogwash. Firstly, the school can easily make a rule that *students* are not allowed to access the Internet and punish them for breaking it. Secondly, if you're going to punish the kid because he might pick up something, you can say the same thing about relatives/friends of the kids. Will you ban a kid from school because he has friends in his neighborhood with an Internet connection? Perhaps he might see something at his friend's house. What if his cousin has a TV? Maybe we should kick him out because his cousin might tell him a joke he heard on a Dick Van Dyke rerun that might make it back to the school? In other words, if you're going to kick a kid out of school because he might have secondhand access to material that you consider objectionable, then you have to extend the ban (and penalty of expulsion) quite a bit further than a parent with Internet access.
The worst part of all this is that the gedolim don't seem to realize that the battle is already lost. I can only believe that there are a significant number of chareidim in 2010 that still have Internet connectivity in their homes -- if it were a small minority, then there wouldn't be a need for such a strong public measure. If there are still a significant number of chareidim who are not willing to abandon the Internet after several years of decrees by the gedolim, then I am forced to conclude that the Internet is here to stay -- even among the chareidim.
Imagine living in a society where some people keep fierce guard dogs. The dogs are there partly as pets, but also partly for the utilitarian purpose of protecting the home from theives and other dangers. Of course, not every family has, or needs a dog. Some families may not have anything worth stealing -- and so they don't need a guard dog. Sadly, every so often, a guard dog may attack and injure a family member -- but yet a significant number of the community decide that the rewards of having the dogs around outweigh the risks. The mayor of the town, who is usually well-respected, starts speaking to people about the dangers of having the dogs around. Surely, he tells the people, you can get by without the dogs. So, some people get rid of the dogs while a significant number of them retain the dogs. Some start looking for ways to hide the dogs. Meanwhile, the families that had dogs but got rid of them begin suffering as thieves begin targeting their houses.
As time goes on, the mayor's opposition to the dogs grows. Anytime a child is taken to the hospital because of a dog bite, he takes the opportunity to hold a press conference about how badly the dogs need to go and how big a menace they are to the community. And yet, while some people heed his advice, others find the dogs too valuable to the functioning of their households to give them up. Finally, the mayor issues a law banning the dogs outright. Yet, despite that, there are still dogs in the community. Those that were inclined to heed the mayor already got rid of their dogs. Those that didn't, didn't. And so, even though the dogs are hidden, some people still managed to get attacked by dogs. Usually, it's in the dog-owning families, but occasionally, someone from a non-dog family might be attacked as well. And, of course, the thieves continue to strike because there are fewer guard dogs.
What's the next course of action to take?
The ideal course of action would be to understand that the dogs are necessary to the functioning of the neighborhood. Some people need the dogs to fend off the burglars and will not give them up. But by allowing people to have the dogs, you then have the opporutnity to encourage (and perhaps even mandate) training in dog-handling. You can teach people in the community how to react when a dog comes running down the street barking fiercely. You can teach the members of the community when and how to avoid the dogs, how to properly treat the dogs and how to properly use them. IMHO, education about the proper usage of dogs or the internet or anything else that is going to be encountered in life is the safest way to go. Will someone in this community still suffer the occasional dog attack? Certainly - but that's a far cry better than the situation they're in now.
* Note that this does not excuse parents from their actions -- but we shouldn't be intentionally setting up situations where this will happen on a large scale.