Haredi women are turning to the Internet to build their businesses, which is raising questions about the “kosher” use of social-media tools.

“Today you can’t run a business without the usage of a computer and the Internet world,” Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov, founder and director of She’arim College of Jewish Studies for Women in Jerusalem, said Wednesday. “Social media is part of marketing and branding, but it opens an array of dangers.”

“For Torah-observant women this is creating a dilemma, raising the question over usage that is consistent with religious life,” she said at the Kishor Social Media Conference in Jerusalem, organized by the Kishor Women’s Professional Networking Group and the Jerusalem Development Authority. “It is about knowing the dangers of online tools so we can ask better halachic questions and make informed decisions as to what place they have in our working and personal lives and set the boundaries accordingly. However, the problems of boundaries it can create are not only faced by religious women – they are also shared by the secular world.”

The conference, which was open to Anglo-Israeli religious women, discussed Halacha and hashkafa (religious viewpoints) relating to social-media use, and how to make the Internet a safer place for business users, families, children and students.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google and YouTube are starting to be widely used by many Torah-observant women, who want to be active in the business world or get their voice heard. But there is a lack of halachic guidelines, and some women are afraid or feel unsure about how to use the Internet and social-media tools.

In particular, English-speaking religious women in Israel are encountering these issues as they increasingly use the Internet for doing business, since their work opportunities are often limited by language barriers. The main problem created by exposure to social-media tools is that they easily blur the line between the professional and the personal sphere.

“You can’t ignore the Internet anymore,” said Esther Ohayon of RBS Marketer, which specializes in communication and brand recognition. “If you are not online today, you don’t exist. Social-media and Internet tools are a way to get your word out there for your business or niche market, while other advertisement channels are very expensive today.”

“There is good and bad in everything,” she said. “You need to be very careful and selective to make sure that you use online tools for professional purposes only. You can use these tools very judiciously and you will be successful.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Berkovits, director of the Jerusalem Kollel and a respected advisor on contemporary halachic issues, especially for Jerusalem’s English-speaking haredi community, said it was too late to ban home computers or the Internet completely. It would be better for religious women to work out of the house, if possible, rather than from home, he added.

“The Internet is everywhere, and it can devastate your life,” Berkovits said. “We cannot avoid the issue. It is about understanding the dangers and using it like a professional and not an amateur.”

“Although it maybe more convenient to work from home on the computer using the Internet, it is better to work out of the house,” he said. “The medium is addictive and it can easily become part of everyday family life, or your central piece of furniture, before we even talk about the content.”

Berkovits recommended sitting down with a professional to determine online needs to identify a proper system of Internet filters that should be installed in addition to access-security passwords.

“Social media presents more problems from a halachic view,” he said, “as it increases the exposure to various ways of life and a certain culture, in which you can say things without taking responsibility, and everything from comments to pictures can be posted on sites. It is this exposure which can be dangerous, and the amount of loshon hara [malicious speech], which is so often part of online posts and in particular of blogs, as they cannot be controlled. There are issues evolving every step of the way, and we need to be aware of them.”

Berkovits said social-media online portals enable people to use an assumed name or someone else’s name, which from a halachic point of view is problematic since a person could become accustomed to lying.

He recommended using a laptop in the home instead of a desktop computer, since it can be closed and put away easily to avoid unobserved or unwanted usage by family members. Haredi women working on a computer by themselves in a room in an office or at home should always leave the door open, he added.

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