Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Compuphobia

I'm sure by now, many of you have seen (or at least heard of) the Rosh Yeshiva in Israel who is so against computers that he and members of his yeshiva engaged in a "computer smashing ceremony."

Now, I'll grant you that this Rosh Yeshiva seems to be very extreme in his beliefs and they don't reflect the beliefs about computers in the Orthodox world or even in the chareidi/yeshivish world. But nonetheless, we have to keep in mind that there are extremists out there who are always ready to shout "chadash assur min HaTorah" (that which is new* is forbidden by the Torah) about anything new innovation that might impact how Jews live their religious lives. Another example of this that comes to mind is a post from Hirhurim back in 2006. A new book was brought to R. Student's attention which had the following haskama (approbation):

However, the novelty is intensified in that you have completed this entire endeavor without the counterfeit aid (siyu'a she-ein bo mamash) of machines that are being innovated constantly (ha-mitchadeshim la-bekarim), like the invention of the "computer" and the like. For anyone who touches one of them is touching the apple of the eye of the Torah! For the Torah cannot being acquired through the pressing of the finger on a button, rather through strenuous labor that literally brings one close to death! And I declare that the difference between the such labor and the workings of the computer is like the difference between machine matzah and hand-made matzah, and those who understand will comprehend (veha-meiven yavin).

I wonder what the rav would have to say about the printing press or modern typographical innovations. I find it highly interesting that the rav who gave this hashkama objects to a person compiling a sefer by using a computer, but would (probably) have no objections to having sefarim printed rather than hand-written, or learning by the light of a nice electric bulb rather than by the light of a flickering candle as our ancestors did for thousands of years. And, of course, I would imagine that if he had to go somewhere outside of walking distance for a mitzvah, he would probably take a car or bus and not go through the "strenuous labor" of going via horse, mule or some other ancient method. (Side question: If you use a modern lighter to light your oven for matzah baking rather than using flint-and-steel, is that the equivilant of eating machine matzah?)

That aside, I find one other aspect of the computer-smashing ceremony highly instructive. According to the person who uploaded the video to YouTube, the computer was used for the purpose of earning a living. In other words, the guy who owned it was a "working" person who decided to stop. A yeshiva, geared towards ba'alei teshuva, is presumably encouraging those ba'alei teshuva to stop working and learn full time. I'm not saying that a ba'al teshiva should be prevented from learning full time if he can afford to and is willing/able to become a future leader (i.e. the same criteria I would use for the "FFB" crowd), but there is something important to consider. Such people (especially in Israel) are very valuable -- people who are frum, educated (secularly) and with marketable job skills (which he presumably has since he had a job). With an ever increasing chunk of Israeli frum society being made up of chareidim who, by and large (although exceptions certainly exist), are NOT educated secularly and do NOT have marketable job skills, I would think that unless a ba'al teshuva with such skills in the chareidi world would be extremely valuable in being able to help support the community, especially in such troubling economic times. I would think that to have him learn full-time (rather than work), his potential value as a leader would have to be extraordinarily high, considering the value that is being given up to have him learn full time. Perhaps that's the case here -- we don't have enough information to judge -- but I would think that the odds are against it. If the former laptop owner in question were truly a prodigy, he'd probably be in a mainstream yeshiva.

The Wolf

* The saying actually has halachic significance. It really refers to new grain which grows in Israel which is forbidden for use before the Omer sacrifice which was brought on the second day of Passover. Such new grain was called "chadash" (new) and, unlike old grain ("yoshon") could not be used before the sacrifice. The Chasam Sofer, in his fight against the emerging Reform movement applied the statement to refer not to new grain, but to new ideas and concepts in Judaism.


UPDATE (2:40pm EST): According to VIN, the computer owner is still working. He is a photographer who used the computer to develop his (presumably digital) photographs. Now he's going to go back to using film and developing the pictures traditionally. Knowing what I know about how much more efficient digital photography is over film, I think the guy's nuts or the whole story is a bit too fishy. Or, perhaps, he's a film purist... but those are few and far between, and I find it odd that he'd be using a digital camera up until now and then revert to film. Most film purists never switched to digital in the first place.

The Wolf


18 comments:

micha said...

I can accept the notion of people who want an approach of avoiding the computer, the internet and its dangers rather than embracing the extra potential it offers. Everything has its tradeoffs, and weighing pros vs cons is inherently subjective.

What I can't accept is someone teaching students to take such childish glee in smashing things. To my mind, that's inherently un-Jewish.

-micha

ProfK said...

Ahh, the irony of all this. We have a computer smashing captured by a video camera. So the camera doesn't represent any kind of "chadash" that needs to be done away with, but the computer does. And it's clear from the video that the participants in the smashing not only knew they were being filmed but made sure that certain actions were clearly seen by the camera.

And what did they think was going to happen to that video? Not even to be dan l'chav zchus do I believe they were just going to put the film away somewhere without seeing it. And it just "happened" to find its way to youtube? And said youtube just happens only to be available for viewing via computer?

Something awfully fishy here.

Honestly Frum said...

This guy was interviewd on VIN and this is one of the genious quotes "

"VIN: What if you need to work on a computer at home or at work?

Rabbi Feinhandler: They need to work on the Internet for their parnossa? It's better to clean streets and dirty your body than to work on the Internet and dirty your soul. "



This is what we have become.

yagayaga said...

looks like baal tashchis to me. its idiotic, as well.
I knew a guy who went to Israel,became a BT and was taught that he is not allowed to work, except for maybe fundraising for the yeshiva. I guess he had no reason to disbelieve it. anyway, a few years later he is in major financial tzuris he was in the US, a guy took him to Rabbi A Miller and he asked him what to do about his financial woes. Rabbi
Miller said you must move back to the us right NOW and go to work!!

Aaron S. said...

we have to keep in mind that there are extremists out there who are always ready to shout "chadash assur min HaTorah"

The Chasam Sofer said "chadash assur min HaTorah".

Is he too an extremist in your humble opinion?

Aaron S. said...

What I can't accept is someone teaching students to take such childish glee in smashing things. To my mind, that's inherently un-Jewish.

I suppose then you "can't accept" us stamping by Haman's name in the Megillah, and taking "such childish glee in smashing" him.

It must be inherently un-Jewish in your most wise mind.

micha said...

Aaron S. - I find your sarcasm to be inherently un-Jewish. See Tehillim 1:1 about moshavei leitzim. Leitzanus ought be beneath us.

That said...

We don't smash Haman. We don't destroy property. There is no parallel whatsoever.

-micha

Aaron S. said...

micha it was the last paragraph of your original comment here that falls into the category of leitzanus.

We don't destroy property? What did Avrohom Avinu do with Terach's getchkes? Was it too "inherently un-Jewish"?

BrooklynWolf said...

Is he too an extremist in your humble opinion?

Yes... but sometimes being an extremist is necessary. It might have been for his cause. For this cause, it is not. Or do you think that all computers should be banned (internet connection or not)?

The Wolf

micha said...

The destruction of lives is sometimes a necessary evil. (See the Beis Yoseif, who reaffirms the gemara's earlier answer on why there is only half-Hallel on 22 of Nissan. Or the Yalqut Shim'oni, or R' Yaakov Kamencki, or...)

The destruction of anything of value, all the more so has its place. But it's still a necessary evil. People are in the Image of the Creator, and should take joy in making, not destroying.

-micha

Aaron S. said...

Yes... but sometimes being an extremist is necessary. It might have been for his cause.

Here he holds that being an extremist is as necessary on this issue as the Chasam Sofer was then.

BrooklynWolf said...

Here he holds that being an extremist is as necessary on this issue

Except that both you and I agree that he's wrong.

The Wolf

Aaron S. said...

I said nothing of the sort. He has a right - nay, obligation - to fight the extreme dangers of the internet with extreme actions.

Perhaps someone else has other methods of fighting it, that work for their community. Nothing wrong with varied opinions on the issue.

BrooklynWolf said...

Aaron,

Obviously you don't agree with the complete ban on computers. You *are* using one, are you not?

The Wolf

Aaron S. said...

*I* don't. (But who am I anyways in this matter?) Yet I recognize his right and wisdom in making this takana for his community.

And I respect it and honor him for it.

BrooklynWolf said...

Then I guess that, here too, we will just have to agree to disagree.

The Wolf

Bob Miller said...

Is there anything a community leader could assur or destroy that would make Aaron say the leader went too far?

Ari said...

Someone is making graven images? Sounds assur to me. Smash his camera :>)