As many readers know, a new organization called Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane (United Congregations for the Purity of the Community) is organizing a gathering (“Asifah”) on “Using Technology Responsibly Al Pi Torah” in Citi Field on May 20. Since many people have asked for my opinion on whether they should attend, I will offer my consciously cynical view.
First, we have no clear idea what the message of this gathering will be other than vague catch phrases and rumors. We do not know who is sponsoring it (other than a steering committee consisting of people I don’t know) and what their agenda is. There is no website for the gathering, which in itself is a bad sign.
Second, we don’t know the program. Will the speakers be knowledgeable about the subject or rabbis who know only what they are told by handlers and from some repentant sinners with horror stories? Will the advice be constructive or will the speakers rant and turn people off? Will they focus on the real issues–the increasing proliferation of mobile connectivity and free wifi, and significant privacy issues–or merely discuss filters for PCs, the issue of the day ten years ago? And will they convey a false sense of security with any particular solution rather than recognize that nothing is foolproof and that today’s cutting edge will soon be obsolete?
In my less-than-serious opinion, there is a potential halakhic problem with attending this Asifah. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 218:2) rules that although you must recite a blessing on a miracle that happens to you, if it doesn’t happen to you and happens to less than a majority of Jews then you do not recite a blessing. If the Gedolim and their handlers are able to convey a responsible and usable message at this Asifah, it will be a nes nigleh (overt miracle). Most readers of this blog will not benefit at being told what we’ve known for at least a decade. However, many Jews will. The question remains whether it will be a majority of Jews. Therefore, attending this Asifah could be a question of safek berakhos (doubtful obligation to recite a blessing) and all those who wish to be machmir should avoid the situation.
The serious point I am trying to make is that the leaders of this community have historically gotten this issue so wrong that they have lost all credibility. The attitude of “trust us and just come” is not only condescending but laughable. That trust has to be re-earned because it was lost many times over.
Will this Asifah accomplish anything positive? Even if the organizers and speakers do everything right, the event still represents everything wrong about the community’s leadership. There is no plan or strategy. A few people (rightly) excited about the issue are putting it together themselves and desperately pressuring everyone they can to attend. This is neither top down nor bottom up leadership. It’s a few guys with financial backing.
And we’ve done this before. A big event accomplishes nothing unless there is follow-up. This follow-up is hard because it must be local, but it is crucial and really all that is necessary. We need school curricula, adult education modules, how-to pamphlets and more–but they must be practical and–crucially–recognize that different standards exist within the broader Orthodox community.
What we don’t need is a bunch of darshanim telling us horror stories to (futilely) attempt to scare us away from the internet and then mavens telling us how to protect our devices in ways that anyone with access to Google can learn to bypass.
(Note that I am certainly not against filters and plan on posting shortly some basic information on the subject that everyone needs to know.)