Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Entering the Cyber Stone Age

The posting on this Blog from 2 August 2009 speculates whether the Agudath Israel of America will eventually get itself a website.

[To bring everyone up to speed, the Agudath Israel of America is an advocacy group for some of the more insular segments of the religious Jewish community (NOT to be confused with Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex, NJ, which does have its own website.). In such circles, there is much consternation with the new technologies, including and especially the Internet. A more in-depth analysis of this phenomenon is to be found in an article by Nathaniel Deutsch entitled "The Forbidden Fork, the Cell Phone Holocaust, and Other Haredi Encounters with Technology."].

The newspaper Hamodia has published an interview with Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, written by Rabbis Avraham Heschel and Yosef Rapaport. Rabbi Perlow is the top rabbinical banana at the Agudath Israel. Given Hamodia's editorial policies, it is more likely than not the interview questions were scripted in advance and/or edited afterwards by the Agudath Israel. I say this not to cast any negativity upon Hamodia, but only to acknowledge what I believe to be the likely facts. Consistent with the policies which Hamodia freely concedes as its own, the publication of the Perlow interview is likely an instrumentality of Agudath Israel's policies.

In the interview, Rabbi Perlow admits that the Internet's use can be restricted, but cannot be banned outright because (A) it is now increasingly a necessity for earning a living; and (B) most of the community would not adhere to the ban. The Rabbi also admitted that most of the insular community does in fact use the Internet.

It is likely, in my mind, that this is a calculated step towards the Agudath Israel's adoption of a website at some time in the future.

The foregoing contentions were conceived prior to my accession last evening of the succeeding edition of Hamodia, which, through a fortuitous chain of events, I managed to get hold of shortly after its publication instead of about a week later. This latest edition of Hamodia, along with the latest edition of Yated Ne'eman (which I got hold of along with Hamodia, through the same chain of events), published an account of the Agudath Israel's Thanksgiving Weekend Convention in East Brunswick, NJ. At the Convention, Rabbi Perlow, consistent with some of his statements in the Hamodia interview, addressed the problem of children who have not been placed in a religious school.

That issue made the rounds in late October, when Rabbi Aron Krausz strongly condemned those schools that reject students for petty and picayune reasons.

Also in the 3 December 2010 edition of Yated Ne'eman, on page 22, is an article by Avrohom Birnbaum entitled "It's Time to Bring Back the Jewish Observer!" (exclamation point in original). Rabbi Birnbaum was a panelist at one of the sessions at the Agudath Israel convention, and, as such, expressed sentiment that the Jewish Observer, an AI publication now (to use a Catholic term) in limbo, ought to be restored to its former status as a viable thought-provoking intellectual publication. Rabbi Birnbaum reported the response to his call to bring back the Jewish Observer as 100% positive, and that "the first person to spring up and applaud that clarion call was the Agudah's Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel." While the JO's current induced coma has been presented as a financial-based decision (and finances, no doubt, did play a role), howcum the AI's own EVP cannot, after a year and a half, get it going again? Methinks that the prospect of the involvement of the Internet medium has some of the rabbis spooked.

But why would Yated Ne'eman publish Rabbi Birnbaum's account if it were totally contrary to rabbinical sentiment? Methinks that it is part of a strategy for the AI to be able to backtrack, without backtracking, on the anti-Internet posture it has assumed in very, very recent times.

And so, I see a pattern here. Rabbi Krausz comes out against those schools that reject Jewish children, and Agudath Israel follows suit at its Convention. Rabbi Birnbaum calls for the revival of the Jewish Observer, and Rabbi Zweibel agrees enthusiastically (although, to be sure, doesn't decree the magazine back to life). In recent years, the Agudath Israel's rabbinical leaders have, after years of denial, finally admitted that there is abuse of children at the yeshivas (but still strongly opposes efforts to hold accountable the responsible individuals).

Once upon a time, the rabbis controlled, to a large extent, the flow of information to and from their communities. Now, with the Internet technologies, that prerogative has largely disappeared. The management of information requires more proactivity than silence and denial. Remember that the flow of information through channels not controlled by the Politburo is what brought down the former Soviet Union

I cannot help but ask whether the Agudath Israel is providing leadership, or followership. And I stand by my belief that the Agudath Israel will eventually find a face-saving way to go cyber.

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