Any assassin worth his salt knows this very well: If you shoot a king you must kill him (Emerson). Fail and you’ll only make him stronger. That’s the scene these past couple of weeks in Haredi circles.
When the Internet Asifa began to make it’s way through the public consciousness, it stirred up quite a hornet’s nest. After a while it became clear that this was the hill the “usual suspects” had decided to die over. Why, you may ask? An Haredi gathering for Haredi men to promote Haredi ideals, why should non-Haredim care? More on this later.
As the Asifa gathered momentum, opponents were not idle. They were galvanized, energized, at the opportunity to engage in the ever-entertaining sport of Haredi bashing. Not content to narrowly define the battle as a showdown over the internet, they expanded it to include every aspect of Haredi life that did not meet with their approval, which is basically all of it.
No bullet would be left in the chamber, no arrow in the quiver during this engagement. Charges ranging from the banal (Haredim are stuck in the past) to the concerned (It won’t work), from the sublime (What about the great Torah learning on the internet!) to the absurd (It’s all a scam) were hurled night and day with incredible passion bordering on hysterics. People whose opinions were neither solicited nor desired offered it with the authority of the Sanhedrin.
Nor did they rest post-Asifa. Having failed to prevent the people from going, the rhetoric grew even louder and shriller. Jumping on an admittedly (and regrettably) lackluster program, the pundits prophesied doom, predicting everything from the masses ignoring the message of the Asifa to the end of Daas Torah.
Surveying the Haredi landscape, I am happy to report that, once again, the online punditry has missed the mark. The response to the Asifa has been truly overwhelming. In the past two weeks we have seen many follow-up asifas in diverse places such as Flatbush (this Sunday) and Monroe, Boro Park and Lakewood as well as out of town. Many more are planned. We have seen homes get rid of the internet, businesses install filters and a general awareness that the time has come to get this right.
Organizations dedicated to helping people secure their computers and other devices (at no charge), have reported thousands and thousands of people installing filters, blocking browsers and generally enthusiastic about complying with internet guidelines.
What makes this so remarkable is that even the Rabbonim and Gedolim behind the Asifa did not expect such a positive, quick and decisive reaction on the part of the tzibbur. The attraction of the internet is well known, this is precisely the challenge it poses! To see people self-censor, people who are quite reluctant to surrender control over any aspect of their lives, is truly a Kiddush Hashem. The organizers of the Asifa embarked on their endeavor expecting a great deal of internal push-back, little of which has materialized. While there are those that have had more difficulty complying than others, the message of the Asifa has been received. The Internet is no longer the Wild West. It needs to be safeguarded and controlled, just like any dangerous substance.
Few have stayed unaffected or apathetic. Those who never had or needed the internet were encouraged to keep it that way. Those who had filters were encouraged to get better and stronger ones while cutting down on recreational use. Many who had put off installing proper filters have now gotten it done. And those who refuse to safeguard their own and their families’ spiritual future now feel guilty about it, which can lead to tikkunim in the future (and also explains their lashing out).
There are two big takeaways from this saga:
1) That such a benign event, a gathering by Haredi Jews and for Haredi Jews, should arouse such passion and emotion on the part of outsiders is quite telling. It reinforces that, despite our failings, we are doing our job. The job of the Am Hanivchar is to be a light onto the nations. Sometimes that light illuminates and sometimes it burns, depending on the attitude of those affected by it. Be that as it may, the light is strong and vibrant.
2) The echo chamber of the internet is precisely that, an echo chamber. A Martian reading blogs on Mars in preparation for coming here, would be completely clueless once he arrived. The discussion online is not only unrelated to reality, it is often precisely the opposite. They make Baghdad Bob proud. And like an echo chamber, the sound builds off itself to project immense power but that’s all it is, a projection. They present the facts as they want them to be rather than as they are.
The process continues and so do the attacks. That is the nature of things in this world. Good will always engender a response, will always have obstacles placed in it’s path. It has been and will always be that way. Those with the understanding and the courage to resist the easy path and do the right thing will one day be amply rewarded by the one whose will we are attempting to do, Hashem Yisborach.