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The forum manager of Israel's most popular haredi Internet chat room said Tuesday that over half of its participants are ultra-Orthodox from the Diaspora.
Chadarei Haredim (haredi rooms), hosted by the Hyde Park Forum Management, is Israel's most popular haredi forum, with between 3,500 and 6,000 hits an hour.
Moshe is the nickname used by the 45-year-old haredi Jerusalem resident who manages the forum.
"Diaspora haredim are much more open to the use of Internet and at the same time they want to stay in touch with what is really going on here," said Moshe. The forum deals almost exclusively with local Israeli issues. Moshe said he used an alias to protect himself and his family.
"I want my children to be accepted at a good yeshiva," he said. "True, a lot of haredi families use the Internet at work or at home. But to be the manager of the most popular forum is another story altogether. Its as if I am flaunting my rebellion."
Moshe spoke with The Jerusalem Post the same day that kipa.co.il, an Orthodox Zionist Internet site, sponsored a conference in the capital on the use of Internet among religious Jews. Although the haredi rabbinic establishment prohibits the use of the Internet except for work purposes, thousands of haredim surf the Web.
The extent to which the Web has penetrated even the strictest haredi circles is demonstrated by a current Tel Aviv District Court case. Israel Ackerman, a well-known Gerer Hassid, sued "ploni almoni" (John Doe), the nickname of a chat room participant on the Chatzrot Hassidim (Hassidic courts) forum.
Ackerman said ploni almoni slandered him by reporting on the forum that he had brutally attacked another man. Ackerman is demanding compensation for damages caused by ploni almoni's posts. The success of Ackerman's case depends on proving the popularity of the Internet among his fellow Gerer Hassidim.
Moshe said there was a real need for forums like his own.
"We are capable of revealing stories that would never be exposed by mainstream haredi journalists. I believe my forum helps make the haredi community a better place by uncovering these negative elements and eliminating them."
Moshe cited the example of a well-known rabbi who also worked as a marital counselor. Chadarei Haredim was flooded with complaints that the man was sexually harassing women who came to him for help. Within a short time, the rabbi was expelled from the yeshiva that employed him.
Chadarei Haredim was established four years ago by David Rottenberg, a Chabad Hassid. Several other forums, also hosted by Hyde Park, deal with more specific haredi communities.