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A guest post by Berel Shain
The chareidi press is abuzz [DB: In the customarily excellent English] with news of a massive asifa to take place at Citifield on May 20, the aim of which is to present a coherent approach to the internet "problem". The details of the gathering remain shrouded in secrecy, but glossy brochures published by the purported organizers claim it will be used to formulate a unified approach to the challenges posed by the web. The chief proponent and driving force behind this unusual gathering is non other than Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the mashgiach of Lakewood. I have long admired the mashgiach. I own and learn his seforim (Matnas Chaim) and have enjoyed many of his shmuesin. However, I cannot comprehend how he has the slightest shred of credibility when it comes to dealing with the Internet.
Rav Matisyahu was the driving force behind sweeping internet bans. He traveled the country urging mechanchim and communities at large to ban all uses of the web without an "ishur" - a hetter from a rabbi. From day one, the conventional wisdom was that this approach was myopic, misguided and unrealistic. Even those who agreed with the mashgiach about the extent of the dangers of the web realized that his approach could only fail. And fail it did. I am aware of a number of mechanchim who refused to join his crusade because they knew that it could not succeed and did not want to lose credibility by supporting an unrealistic policy.
But the mashgiach was not to be deterred. Many readers will recall the bizarre attack he launched against blogs that questioned rabbinic responses to accused child molestation, and the outright kooky "sing along" he conducted at the end, when he urged all attendees to be mekabel ol malchus shamayim with him out loud. He has been waging a jihad against internet access for a decade, while everyone with pragmatism and sechel knew his approach could never succeed.
All of this begs the question: why would the leader who has been wrong for a decade on a specific issue, have any credibility to organize a "new" approach to that same issue? Has the mashgiach not already demonstrated that his approach to the web is wrong? That he "does not get it" in any way?
In truth, the upcoming asifa is the greatest repudiation of the approach of Rav Matisyahu and his ilk. For a decade he and his rabbinic peers have been proclaiming the web treif and off limits. For a decade, countless reasoned educators told that mashgiach that his approach was misguided because like it or not, the web is here to stay. Had his approach succeeded, there would be no need for an asifa. The fact that there is an asifa under the slogan "we can't live with it, we can't live without out" proves that the mashgiach's approach to the web has been wrong from day one. Sadly, it took him a decade to "concede" what we all knew before the turn of the century - that we can't (or won't) live without the web. So now, more than a decade late to the party, the "Vaad" has finally and reluctantly accepted reality and now seeks to decide what to do about it - something that others realized years ago.
The organizing members of the asifa have demonstrated that they lack credibility on this issue for years. They have been consistently and repeatedly wrong every step of the way. Those who would attend this gathering and still look to them for guidance, must question their own judgment.
Related: My write-up of the last Asifa
Search for more information about the Internet Asifa at 4torah.com