Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rabbi Nechemiah Gottlieb: Director, Ichud text

Rabbi Nechemiah Gottlieb:
Director, Ichud

In his recent article, Rabbi Dovid Teitelbaum argues that sheltering children from the Internet is not a good strategy. Before analyzing his rational in detail, we must remember whose position he is criticizing. He is criticizing the position of all of Gedolei Yisroel and (almost) all Rabbonim and Mechanchim in Klal Yisroel. Even if one is questioning the consensus of all of the above on a strictly intellectual basis with full intent to follow their ruling, it behooves one to approach such an undertaking with utmost humility and to tax the limits of his intellectual capabilities to try to understand why they are right. Just the fact that one does not understand their thinking and can write a few paragraphs outlining the opposing view does not represent a serious challenge to their position. Therefore it is in the spirit of doing our best to understand the wisdom of Daas Torah on this issue that we will address Rabbi Teitelbaum’s claims and theories. Following is a brief summary of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s nine main points:

  • We blame all our problems on technology

  • Aveiros are being done through technology and we blame It on the cell phone

  • Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum Z”l embraced technology

  • Rabbonim banned video etc. and then later pulled back

  • Technology is just a tool and therefore is neither good or bad

  • Each new technology engenders (unrealistic) fear so we don’t need to take the fear of the Internet seriously

  • Many things are addictive and we don’t stop our kids from using them

  • If a kid sent an email with Loshon Hara only a fool would forbid him from using email

  • By totally barring our children from using the Internet we lose out because we’re not being Mechanech them how to use it responsibly.

The first thing that it is important to notice about Rabbi Teitelbaum’s claims is that there is a consistent confusion of Internet and technology. By attributing a ludicrous (and Luddite) position to mainstream Torah thought it becomes much easier to attack it. The writer would have us believe that keeping children off the Internet is inconsistent somehow with his Choshuve father’s usage of the telephone and tape recorder to disseminate Torah. Or that teaching a child computer programming is comparable to allowing a child to surf the web. This type of lack of clarity should serve to make us extremely wary of the writer’s conclusions. The fallacious comparison to the ban on video is a classic example of the thinking employed by those who believe Gedolei Yisroel to be dim witted, out of touch and naive. A home in which kosher videos are viewed is dangerously close to viewing non-kosher videos. When a special machine (VCR) was necessary to view videos it was practical to keep it out of the house and also reasonable to believe that once the expense was incurred to buy the machine its use would not be restricted to the occasional Chasunah video. With the advent of CDs and now DVDs these reasons no longer apply.

Rabbi Teitelbaum writes, “Technology is not good or bad. It’s a tool just like all tools.” This well-worn cliché again misses the point. Nobody is interested in a philosophic discussion on whether technology is good or bad. The question is should we let our kids use the Internet. There are plenty of tools (which are neither good nor bad) which are dangerous and we don’t let our kids use them.

The argument that all new technologies are feared and the fears prove to be unfounded is inaccurate. Even the writer’s own examples (fear of loss of arithmetic proficiency through use of a calculator or reduction of face to face communication due to telephone usage) do not support his contention. What the writer means to prove is that the good which the new technology facilitates (e.g. increased communication via telephone) always clearly outweighs the bad (e.g. loss of face to face communication). However even this is not entirely correct. Many hold that, on the balance, food coloring, pesticides and nuclear technology, to name just a few, are bad.

The use of the term addiction in the popular media in relation to digital technology has led to much confusion. A full treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of the current article. Suffice it to say that we most definitely do not allow our kids to engage in behaviors and activities where there is a clear threat of real addiction and the consequences of addiction are seriously debilitating.

The example of barring a child from using email because it served as a vehicle for Loshon Hara highlights the confusion between benign mediums being used for an Aveira and tools which invite or facilitate danger. In the case described, email just happened to be used for the same Aveira that could very well have been done off line. A parent may feel that a child who, for example, consistently spreads Loshon Hara by utilizing the anonymity of a Gmail account should be barred from using email. (Compare to a child who consistently crosses the street without looking both ways.)

The last of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s points is that by keeping our children off the Internet we are losing a valuable opportunity to be Mechanech them on its proper use. An entire article could be devoted to exploring all the dangers and fallacies inherent in this approach. However the crux of the issue is simple. This idea of exposing children to spiritual danger in order to teach them how to deal with it lies at the heart of Goyish education and is one of the chief differences between our way of Chinuch and theirs. Torah Chinuch places a premium on allowing children to mature in a protected environment. Liberals do not accept this. However, this argument has no particular relationship to technology. Whoever rejects the premise that children will have more Yiras Shomayim and will consequently be better adults by being sheltered in their youth, rejects one of the basic tenets of our Mesorah on Chinuch.

Rabbi Nechemiah  Gottlieb:
Director, Ichud


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