Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Asifa and Centrist Orthodoxy

As is well known by now, on Sunday night there was a huge gathering ("asifa") of Orthodox Jews in Citi Field to talk about the dangers of the internet. This was a primarily a Charedi event, and, as such, the messages were primarily the standard Charedi messages of banning the internet, or at worst using a filter (and even then only at work, not at home). Much has been said about the gathering already - including the huge irony of the massive amount of internet coverage and the number of people at the event possessing smartphones. I would like to focus on one overarching point.

Obviously, coming from a Centrist perspective, I am generally in favor of the internet. My broad position is that it is a tool that can be used for good and for bad, as virtually everything can be. Obviously I am aware that the internet is somewhat different in terms of how much is available and how easily it is available, and I have thought about to what degree that should alter our thinking on this issue.

However, at the end of the day, the divergence in opinions between the Charedi and Centrist/Modern approaches seems to me to be a question of which risk everyone is willing to take:

1) The Charedi approach is to demand that everyone avoid the internet. The risk is that when people fail to heed that warning that they will be ill-equipped to deal with the many and varied temptations and heresies that they will stumble across.

2) The Centrist/Modern approach is to allow the internet and to try to educate people into becoming savvy consumers of content, able to discern between what is useful and what is harmful. The risk, of course, is that our students will be exposed, sometimes unwittingly, to a wide range of objectionable and forbidden materials and will not always have the tools or the resolve to turn away.

Which approach is sounder? Honestly, I am not sure. The all-or-nothing approach is attractive as long as it succeeds, and I am sure that it often does. However, I am also sure that it does not succeed as often as its proponents claim that it does (if it did succeed, there would be no need for an asifa). On the other hand, allowing ourselves to use the internet not only opens up wonderful vistas and opportunities, but also strikes me as a more mature approach. Unless one is planning on living his entire life sheltered from the world, and I am not, then one will eventually need to learn to live and deal with the many complexities that exist.


cyberdov said...

So why are you 'not sure' which approach is better? I understood you to express a definite opinion. Did I miss something?

Anonymous said...

As is often the case, the road down the middle is probably the most sensible. ie educate the consumer to self regulate, and avoid problematic areas but in the interim (parents should) control access and monitor until such time as the children have developed the maturity to self regulate.

Anonymous said...


The approach to the Internet correlates pretty tightly to the different groups' overall approach to society. Isolationism vs. Engagement.

While the amount of troubling material and the ease of accessing it may require a re-evaluation of how cautious you are in this engagement, what support-tools must be part of the engagement, etc, that's not a bad thing. We should ALWAYS be reviewing the extent of our engagement with the world and tweaking it as needed. If anything, this is just another reminder that the centrist path requires constant attention.

And if it makes you feel any better, the more I look at the Asifa and the politics around it, it's less representative of direction in general charedi society, more an example of chassidish theater. It shouldn't be seen in the "massive" terms of the promotional materials.

- Reuven

Micha Berger said...

I don't think either approach is healthy.

Barring explicit halachic rulings, questions of "which is better" have to be followed up with "for whom"? Both Mod-O and Chareidism are short-cuts to avoid facing the truth that we lack the self awareness necessary to really make these decisions. In the ideal world, these things wouldn't be blanket policy, each person would -- probably with the help of friends and a mentor -- decide which challenges they personally are up to, and do the pro-vs-con analysis on a case by case basis.

Both the notion that everything new is an opportunity to embrace until we see the dangers of getting burned, or that everything new is a danger to be avoided as much as possible are both overly simplistic views of the world.

David S. Zinberg said...

Aaron, thanks for this post.

I would argue that the risk you associate specifically with the Modern camp -- exposure to objectionable material -- is really universal. The risk is greater, perhaps, for someone with Internet access than for one who is disconnected (even if that were realistic, which it is not). But, in principle, we are all in this together: Haredi, Modern, and non-Jewish parents and educators alike. Unless a community is willing (and able) to isolate itself from all electronic AND non-electronic media, as well as other sources of information (like other human beings), there will be exposure to unwanted influences, as there has been since the beginning of civilization.

I would also add that as members of the Modern camp, this event offers us a unique opportunity to educate our children and students on the positive and moral aspects of general culture, and on our connectedness with communities outside of our own, rather than focusing exclusively on the negative and on the desire to disconnect.

Raz said...

Am I the only one bothered by the word "Asifa"?

asifa is a verb, meaning the gathering of objects (usually produce)

aseifa (with a zere under the samekh) is a gathering of people

See Yerushalmi, Ta'anit 64:3