You Don’t Have to Be Frum

Members of our community make great targets. Visible by dress and audible by manner of speech, any quirks — real or perceived — make it easy for anti-Semites and anti-religious pundits to take aim.

In recent years, there were much-publicized campaigns to treat the internet and its “devices” as controlled substances. The reaction in some circles was to dismiss chareidim as being hopelessly out of date and out of touch with the “real world.”

We are reminded of when someone raised a question to the Kotzker Rebbe, “Di velt zogt — the outside world says…” The Kotzker is reputed to have brushed off the comment, “S’iz nisht doh kein velt — There is no world!”

But you don’t have to be a Kotzker Chassid to realize that — when it comes to the hazards of living online — the “world” is not the arbiter of reality. In fact, we are beginning to see that, far from being behind the times, the Rabbanim who warned about cyberliving were on the leading edge.

And you don’t have to be frum to worry about the dangers of the new technology. On a materialistic level, cybercrime, break-ins and snooping have dominated headlines in recent months. With consumers demanding newer and cooler toys, security has become a major headache for retailers, banks and governments.

At the 2015 Retail Banking conference, a hot topic of discussion was the fraud and security issues surrounding Apple’s new Apple Pay service. Melanie Gluck, VP-mobile and e-commerce specialist at MasterCard, said, “It’s an opportunity for all of us to recognize that Apple Pay hooks into our system and our system still needs to be best in class.”

And it’s not just Apple. Computer expert Fred Langa, writing in Windows Secrets Newsletter, said “Something like 70 percent of all new phones and tablets run Google’s OS. That’s a strong incentive for software developers to build cool applications for the platform.” But he adds, “Android’s open architecture and popularity have made it a favorite target for malicious hackers, thieves, and other criminals.” And he warns that Android’s built-in security features are not particularly strong.

But, perhaps the most pervasive effect of cyber living is on the personal level. Merriam-Webster defines an android: “in stories: a robot that looks like a person.” In addition to the inherent spiritual danger of misuse of the internet, do these devices turn children into human beings that act like robots?

For numerous reasons, Rabbanim have instructed that the internet should only be used as necessary, by adults for business purposes, with an appropriate  filter in place. But for children — and casual adult use — the most appropriate  path is to go totally internet-free. As the risks to the social environment become more obvious, even “the world” is beginning to take notice.

A recent lead story in the Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal, says, “Family Vacation Must: No Wi-Fi.”

The Journal points out that what was once an attraction — free wi-fi access at hotels and vacation resorts — has become an intrusion that increasing numbers of vacationers are seeking to avoid.

Hoping to “detox” their children and “get them to look up from their screens,” the parents went to great lengths to escape the wireless barbed wire.

An orthopedic surgeon and mother of two planned her vacation around one goal: to get her children off their cellphones and computers.

She searched — ironically, online! — for a month. Finally, she rounded up her kids and road off into the sunset, heading for Black Mountain Ranch in McCoy, Colo. The dude ranch there promised, “Kids will spend a week electronics-free.”

It wasn’t so easy. Her children were up in arms. “We were like, come on, Mom… we’re going to hate this vacation… it’s going to be the worst week of the summer. “

The 16-year-old and her 14-year-old brother spend most of their days texting or gaming. Occasionally, they pry themselves away from their screens long enough to do homework or to eat.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the kids discovered there is life after shutdown. The anticipated showdown never came. The horses, cows and baby goats turned out to be more interesting than their devices.

Some kids on cyber-free vacations actually turned around and gave their parents a hard time, when they caught them sneaking peaks at their screens!

As devices become ever more divisive — preventing, rather than encouraging real communication — they also become more intrusive and subversive, masking as optics and watches.

An old cartoon showed a businessman sitting at the sea shore. Next to him was a “Ma Bell” black telephone with a rotary dial. A child asked him why he had the phone there.

“It’s not connected to anything. “And I love hearing it not ring!”