What Are the Parameters of Responsible Internet Usage?

Many were disappointing that the last Asifa did not describe the parameters of responsible Internet usage.

Should a responsible Internet usage standard be defined?

If so, what elements should it include?

1) All Internet access should be filtered, preferably using whitelists, but minimally with filtered categories and blacklists

2) The use of Internet accountability software where a spouse, parent, or friend monitors your Internet activity

3) Attempts to minimize “time-wasting” on the Internet

4) Other

It’s Not About the Internet; It’s About Us

by Jonathan Rosenblum
First published in Mishpacha Magazine on March 7, 2012

Forget all analogies between internet today and TV of the 1950s and ’60s. The battle led by gedolim in those decades, when no one could fully have seen how far the tame family fare of that era would degenerate, can only be described as prescient. But it does not provide a ready model for a communal response to internet today.

TV provided entertainment, and its absence from the home did no more than confirm that Torah Jews exist outside of the cultural mainstream. Internet, by contrast, will increasingly become an essential tool for the performance of many of the most basic functions of modern life. Even were it theoretically possible to live without it, most Torah Jews will not cut themselves off completely.

That is not to suggest for a moment that internet, or more broadly interconnectivity, does not pose an immense threat to the spiritual health of Torah Jews as individuals and as a community. To date, most attention has been directed at the dangers that might be classified as “do not stray after your eyes.” Talk to any communal rav, and he will tell you of the havoc wreaked in homes by internet, and of the lives and marriages destroyed. Internet does not just facilitate the fulfillment of illicit desires; it creates new desires previously unimagined. On-line (ironically) recovery groups, like GuardYourEyes, have come into existence to help those – sometimes respected communal figures – recover from having strayed after their eyes on internet.

Less attention has been given to the dangers in the category of “do not stray after your hearts.” The Internet puts an unfathomable amount of information and disinformation within easy access. And, in some ways, the danger of minus is even greater than the visual temptations because it will prove impossible to create filters to weed out minus with the same type of algorithms used to screen the former.

One of the salutary effects of internet has been to break the monopoly of the mainstream media on information. That has proven ever more vital as once respected information sources, like The New York Times, engage more heavily in advocacy journalism of a highly ideological bent.

But the inability to maintain a monopoly on information or opinion has important implications for the Torah community as well, and not all are benign. More than twenty years ago, a friend commented that the great problem of our age was that every fool has access to a printing press, and can post his wall posters all over Meah Shearim. Well today, every fool can gain a worldwide platform for his views, without leaving his chair. Those who would once have gone unheard or been ignored can vent their criticism of gedolim, often with anonymity, to a wide audience. That has important implications for the nature of rabbinical authority, and will only lead to even greater cynicism about exercise of Torah leadership.

(The phenomenon of other voices being heard is not entirely negative. All societies require feedback mechanisms between rulers and subjects, leaders and followers. Internet comment could theoretically be one such form of feedback, with the caveat that those most likely to comment tend to be a self-selected group of aggrieved people, often with too much time on their hands.)

THE PRECEDING THREATS are mostly known and have been widely discussed, particularly those in the category of “after your eyes.” But, in my view, the greatest danger of internet may well be more subtle and less quantifiable: It will turn us into less serious, shallower Jews.

Just the waste of time alone would suffice to do so. How often do we tell ourselves that we are going on-line just to check our emails (for the umpteenth time that day) or check a favorite site for just five minutes, and find ourselves, in the manner of someone who tells himself he will eat only one potato chip or smoke one cigarette, adding just another five-minutes and then another? Even if we succeeded in confining ourselves to just the promised five minutes, those five minutes add up, and very fast. Just think of the number of times that Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, completed Mishnayos bein gavra l’gavra.

Those rapidly accumulating five minutes not only take us away from Torah learning, but away from our children and spouses. How many of us treat a spouse’s arrival home as an unwanted interruption from our browsing and keep our greetings perfunctory so that we can return to our favorite activity?

While internet browsing may not be physically addicting, there is little question of its addictive impact. Those teenagers who profess a vague allegiance to halacha but cannot refrain from texting each other on Shabbos, sometimes from right across the table, are but the most glaring example. I have seen surveys in which people are asked whether they would prefer to be a week without their spouse or their handheld device. The handheld devices win.

We have reached the point that to be seen in public without talking on a cellphone, or checking an Ipad, or without earplugs in one’s ears is perceived as an embarrassment – a sign that no one wants to speak to us or that we have nothing to do. When we send an email, we wait at our computers expectantly for a reply: Little does it occur to us that others may not be checking their emails every five minutes, or might have something more important to do than respond to us. Few still relish time to be alone with their thoughts without fear of interruption at any moment.

The very manner in which we absorb information on-line — and not through reading — changes how we think and what kind of people we are. Scientific studies show that the neural connectors of our brains are being shaped by constant exposure to internet. The type of reading encouraged by the internet – constantly jumping from one text to another or to a video or other visual image, writes Tufts literature professor Maryanne Wolf, is inimical to our capacity for deep reading and “the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction.” The result is a loss of capacity for contemplation and wisdom.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Above all, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Even if bans on Internet were the ideal, I’m afraid, that they will be largely ignored. Thus their value is primarily exhortatory: They serve to warn that the internet is highly dangerous. But if they are ignored, they will only encourage deceit on the part of parents and students. Worse, those who ignore bans will often end up using internet without proper filters (not that the latter provide any kind of fail-safe protection.) We should do everything possible to encourage protections, including the development of improved filters, the use of buddy systems, which utilize the power of humiliation by providing someone else with a full record of one’s internet activity.

Parents must not just throw up their hands and treat the internet and its attendant risks as the inevitable price of technological progress. I’m always struck on my trips to America by the ubiquity of handheld devices, capable of connecting to the internet, in the hands of teenagers. In my opinion, no handheld device should be permitted in any educational framework; their presence makes teaching and learning virtually impossible.

It seems to me that the Torah community in Israel has done a better job with regard to handheld devices, through the development of kosher phones, without internet connectivity or SMS. (The occasional convenience of the latter is more than outweighed by the following statistic: the average American teenager sends 3,339 text messages per month.) Admittedly, the market power of the Torah community in Israel enables us to demand internet-free options from the cellphone companies. But I’m sure more could be done in America as well.

Teenagers should not have computers in their rooms, where they can do what they want behind closed doors, and access to internet on the family’s computers should be limited to hours where parents are home to supervise its use. If the home has a WiFi connection, it must be blocked in such a way that children cannot just connect through their own, easily hidden, handheld devices.

But at the end of the day, all the protections in the world will only take us so far. Ultimately the only protection against the siren song of the internet is the development of rich internal resources in ourselves and in our children. That requires a clear-eyed appraisal of the wiles of the yetzer hara and the ability to structure one’s life and establish boundaries to counteract the yetzer’s tricks. Above all, it requires a rich spiritual life beside which the attractions of internet pale.

A leading rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael told me recently that the development of those inner resources is the great challenge of our time. Nothing else, he assured me, would be anything more than a stopgap solution. And he was far from confident that as a community we would prevail.

Already eighty years ago, the great Mirrer Mashgiach Rav Yerucham Levovitz described the loss of the ability to think deeply as the source of the societal degeneration predicted by Chazal during Ikvesa d’Mashicha. Yet he would surely have been amazed by how rapid have been those processes of degeneration. That decline long preceded the internet, which has only further accelerated the downward spiral, and they have not left the Torah world unscathed. Reversing that spiral is not just a technical problem, and the answer will not lie in technical adjustments.

Jonathan Rosenblum founded Jewish Media Resources in 1999. He is a widely-read columnist for the Jerusalem Post’s domestic and international editions and for the Hebrew daily Maariv. He is also a respected commentator on Israeli politics, society, culture and the Israeli legal system, who speaks frequently on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. His articles appear regularly in numerous Jewish periodicals in the United States and Israel. Rosenblum is the author of seven biographies of major modern Jewish figures. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. Rosenblum lives in Jerusalem with his wife and eight children.

Darchei Noam’s Internet and Technology Initiative


Dear Readers:

About five years ago, I formulated an Internet policy for Yeshiva Darchei Noam where I serve as Dean. It was designed to be “real” — something that parents would be able to respect and adhere to, rather than one that would be so restrictive that it would be ignored.

Recently, our Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Bezalel Rudinsky, shlit”a and I decided to raise awareness among our school parents about the need to follow our technology policy and at the same time, add several components to it to reflect the evolving nature of technology.

It is always a risky proposition to publicly share information about events that are still a work in progress with the outcome yet unknown, but since Yeshivos/Bais Yaakovs and parents worldwide are grappling with these very same issues, I will be sharing the progress of our initiative in “real time” with the hope that our readers may find it helpful. So, here goes:

This past Tuesday, Rabbi Rudinsky and I conducted a special Asifa with the parents of Darchei Noam to discuss these matters with them. This is a link to my presentation in MP3 format: Rabbi Horowitz on the Dangers of Technology and the Internet mp3. Rabbi Rudinsky’s shlit”a address to the parents can be found here: http://www.ohrreuven.com/audio_library.php (click on “This year’s new shiurim” and then click on “Special”).

I am gratified to report that we have had overwhelming support and positive energy from our parent body for our efforts, and many Darchei Noam parents have accepted my offer of assistance and reached out to me in the past 48 hours, asking me to help them in “selling” this to their children.

After speaking to a number of parents, I decided that I ought to take a more active role in explaining these takanos directly to my talmidim.

Below, please find the text of the letter that I sent to the parents in our yeshiva, which is pretty self-explanatory. I hope you find this unfolding saga to be of interest and perhaps helpful as well.

As always I look forward to your input, and if you can share stories of mosdos that have had success in dealing with these issues, please share them with us.

The meeting with my talmidim is taking place soon. Wish me luck!

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos,



Dear YDN Parents:

Rabbi Rudinsky and I would like to thank you for the overwhelming messages of support for our Internet Asifa that was held this past Tuesday night (You can listen to it here http://www.ohrreuven.com/audio_library.php click on “This year’s new shiurim” and then “Special”).

I was pleased to see that throughout the day yesterday, many YDN parents took me up on my offer of assistance in “selling” our technology policy to your children. In fact, one YDN couple actually came to my home last night to discuss ironing out some glitches that arose when they discussed this matter with their son.

After processing all this feedback, and in order to partner with you and help frame your discussions with your children, I decided to write the following letter to our talmidim and invite the older ones to a special meeting, where I will discuss this with them directly – and address their questions. I think this will be an important component in the hatzlacha of our joint efforts to raise our children b’tahara.

Please print this letter and give to your son, and be prepared to discuss it with him. (Be sure to give it to him when things are relatively quiet so he can read, think, and respond.) As with all other parenting matters, listening is usually far more important than speaking. Always remember that an unasked question is inevitably an unanswered one.

Don’t get on the soapbox if the children express their disappointment or even displeasure with my words (or even with me personally). Remember that this is a very, very big deal for them – if they have gotten used to a level of technology use and we are now taking it away from them. Just discuss the issues they raise, softly remind them to speak with derech eretz, and encourage them to raise their concerns and/or questions with me tomorrow at the meeting. Also, please take advantage of my offer to have the kids call me directly in the days and weeks ahead should you hit a rough patch or even if they are listening to your directions but are deeply resentful.

Finally, there was a lively and productive Q&A session after the Asifa which, due to the late hour, many parents could not participate in. I would like to offer to have a follow-up meeting where I will take Q&A on this subject and discuss overall technology and pre-teen/teenage matters. Please drop me an email at rabbihorowitz@rabbihorowitz.com if you would like me to arrange such a meeting in the next week or two – or if you would appreciate a YDN workshop with a technology expert, who can help you select and teach you how to install blocking software. (Here are two programs that come highly recommended – eblaster (http://www.eblaster.com/) which records all activity on your house computers and cyberpatrol (www.cyberpatrol.com ).

I intended the gathering to be for incoming 6th-8th graders, but incoming 5th graders may attend as well. Our graduating 8th graders are welcome as well. This is a “closed-door” session, so I respectfully ask you to drop the kids off and not enter the building. It will end promptly at 10:15 so you can plan the pick-up. (Or you can have the kids text you when we are … just kidding!)

I hope you find this to be helpful and, once again, feel free to contact me should you need “tech-support.”

Best and warmest regards



Dear YDN Talmidim:

The Internet and all of today’s technology is very, very exciting. It helps you be in touch with friends, allows you to play all sorts of interactive, fun games online, and lots of other things.

Your parents and I use the Internet – some more and some less – to help us in our work, pay our bills, to listen to shiurim and read divrei Torah, and in our personal lives. And as time moves forward, more and more things will be done over the Internet. We understand that you, your brothers and sisters, and all your friends will be using the Internet more and more as you get older.

But, along with all the good things the Internet has to offer, we are also very worried about the many ‘bad things’ the Internet presents. There are an awful lot of pictures and videos on the Internet that are not very tzniyus, and would never otherwise be brought into your homes. Also, the Internet is a dangerous place as well. Your parents carefully watch who comes into your house and who you are allowed to play with, and they would never let you go to someone’s home if they did not know them well. For example, imagine that your parents took you to the Palisades Mall tonight and told you that you could go home and play with anyone you see there. Wouldn’t you think that would be rather strange? Of course they would never let you do that. No parent would. But that’s what it is like when you go on the Internet. You could be talking and playing with very good people – or very bad ones.

So; some of your parents do not let you use the Internet at all, and some do let you use it – but with rules of which sites you can go to, and the emails you are sending and receiving, while watching you to see that you are listening to those rules, and seeing to it that you don’t accidently go to inappropriate sites. It is very important that they do that, because they love you and don’t want your neshama to be hurt by visiting bad sites and contacting dangerous people.

In Darchei Noam, we made rules for our talmidim whose parents let them use the Internet. They are all in our Handbook. 1) No computers with Internet in your rooms – only in family rooms. 2) Filters on house computers. 3) You can only use the Internet with a parent sitting next to you. I made these rules for your safety.

Until now, these Internet rules weren’t always followed – sort of like the rule we have in school to tuck in your shirt. You know you are supposed to do it, and when you see me you (sometimes) tuck it in. But most of the times, many of you simply do not.

But now we are changing that. Rabbi Rudinsky and I had a meeting with your parents this week and told them that this is going to be the most important rule in the school from now on. In fact, from now on, we will not let families who don’t keep these rules send their children to Darchei Noam.

We are also adding a few new parts to the school’s Internet rules – 1) No more private email addresses for kids – only family email addresses – so that you can still get emails, but with your parent’s supervision. You can tell whoever sends you email to put your name in the subject line, and then your brothers and sisters will not open it. But your parents can, to see that the people sending you emails are people they are comfortable with. 2) No YDN talmidim are allowed to have Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter accounts (or any others like it). 3) No YDN talmidim will have their own personal cell phones. Instead, should your parents wish to provide you with a cell phone when you leave your home, it will be a “family” cell phone – and will not have Internet connectivity or texting capacity. And, as in the past, no cell phones can be brought to school or any yeshiva function, like Bar Mitzvos or trips.

Why did we suddenly change things? Well; there are basically two reasons we decided to make sure the Internet rules are really, really followed:

1) The Internet keeps getting more and more powerful and is much stronger than it was when I wrote the rules five years ago. Think of it this way. When you rode a tricycle, your parents watched you to make sure you were safe. But when you rode a bicycle, they were much more nervous. They put on training wheels and didn’t take them off until you were really good at riding. And even when they took them off, they ran alongside you until they were sure you could ride without falling. Do you know why they were more worried about your riding a bicycle? Because it is so much bigger and more powerful than a tricycle. It can do more good things – take you farther and faster – but you can also get hurt much more if you fall. And much more protection is in place when you will drive a car one day. Well; the Internet got much stronger in the past few years and now that so many homes have wifi; video games like Wii, PSPs and devices like iPods can all be connected to the Internet. At your age, no matter how mature and trustworthy you are, you still need training wheels to ride this exciting and dangerous Internet – and you need a parent standing next to you to make sure you don’t fall and really hurt yourself. The time will come when you will be able to do this alone, but that is a long time off. For now, you need your parents to watch you.

2) Another reason Rabbi Rudinsky and I are going to watch carefully to see that these rules are kept, is because we keep seeing how badly the neshamos of kids get hurt when they fall off their bicycles (get hurt by the Internet when they use it without their parents watching them). Kids who do that, fall behind in school, don’t get into High Schools, and some even go off the derech. As you know, I care deeply about each and every one of you, and don’t want this to happen to any of my talmidim.

This is a very important topic and I would like to discuss it with you personally and give you the chance to ask me any questions you may have. So; tomorrow, Friday, I will be meeting with all incoming 6th, 7th, and 8th graders (those who just finished 5th, 6th, and 7th grades) YDN talmidim in Rabbi Rudinsky’s shul from 9:30 to 10:15 and I am asking your parents to carpool you there and back because I think it is so important that we discuss this personally. I will be serving doughnuts and milk to all of you, so don’t fill yourself too much at breakfast! (Incoming 5th graders may also come.)

Also; even after our meeting, if there are any questions you have about this policy, you can call me on my cell phone throughout the summer between 9-11 am Sunday through Friday. (You may feel free to call with or without your parents).

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Rabbi Horowitz

Reposted from Rabbi Horowitz’ site.