Over 50,000 Gather at Controversial ‘Anti-Internet’ Rally

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Approximately 50,000 chareidi men attended the asifa regarding the dangers of internet use, held at Citi Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, May 20. (Photo courtesy of Vos iz Neias)More than 50,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews assembled at Citi Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday to deliberate on the growing presence of the Internet and the possible dangers it poses to those committed to leading Jewish lives.

The asifa, the Hebrew word for a large-scale gathering, was organized by a rabbinical group called Ichud Hakehillos L’tohar Hamachane, the Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. A group founded with the purpose of educating the masses regarding responsible use of technology, the Union’s event held on Sunday was attended by rabbis, community leaders and residents of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

“We gather here to heed the call of the gedolei hador [leading rabbis of the generation], who have recognized and identified that this issue threatens our continued existence as the selected Jewish nation,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a well-known Orthodox lecturer and the head of Yeshiva Meor Yitzchok in Monsey.

The Internet,  Rabbi Wachsman said, is “changing who we are…You can see it in the ebbing eyes of the younger generation, of the jittery inattentiveness of our children, in the flippant and callous language and attitude, the cynicism … the unbelievable breaches of [modesty]” in today’s Orthodox communities.

“The Internet even with a filter is a minefield of immorality,” Rabbi Wachsman continued. “The internet is no longer a tool or device. Today, the internet is a culture, it’s a psychology— it’s a way of life.”

Speaking via live hook up from Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, one of the senior rabbis in the Chareidi world, ruled that the Internet may be used for work purposes in an office only, if necessary, and with the use of a filter. There is no justification for Internet use at home under any circumstances, Rabbi Wosner explained.

In a letter sent to event organizers, and published on the Yeshiva World News, Bnei Brak’s Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky wrote that the Internet was “a great destruction for the Jewish people, with many reaching the lowest levels. There is no home that has these devices that has not fallen prey to terrible sins…. It is the obligation of everyone to gather together and destroy this evil inclination.”

A counter protest called “The Internet is NOT the Problem,” with the attendance of about 50 people, highlighted what its organizers feel are more pressing problems in the community, including “the dismissive attitude towards sexual and physical violence against children [and] inadequate educational systems,” said Ari Mandel, one organizer of the counter-rally.

“The Internet is an unstoppable force,” Mandel added. “Every religious man has an IPhone or Blackberry they use for business anyway. It feels like they are just trying to shut down anything that allows people to question ideas.”

Since press and media were banned from covering the event, the headlines and content of the coverage were more focused on the exclusion of women, the counter rally protest across the street and the noticeable live tweeting, which has become the nature of any event, but seemed to be viewed as counterproductive to the purpose of this specific rally. Lazer Paskes, one of the events’ lead spokesman, told reporters, “Homeland Security… had determined that press could not attend.” He declined to elaborate, according to the Forward.

The only female reporter that sneaked in and bragged about it in her piece the following day was the Observer’s Adrianna Jeffries, who dressed up as a Hasidic guy “in a pair of $15 Payless loafers, my brother’s dress clothes, and a donated kippah [yarmulke]” But it wasn’t too long until the suspicion of her attendance grew, and she was noticed by a nearby rabbi.

It remains to be seen whether those who attended the rally will ban the internet from entering their home or forfeit the latest technology, but as one of the speakers said: “The internet is secondary; the primary goal is that we all came together.”

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