Ultra-Orthodox initiative for adherence to ban on Internet usage begins in Beit Shemesh

Critics decry campaign, calling it ‘political tool to keep haredi community in ghetto.’

A haredi man stands on a hilltop in Beit Shemesh 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A haredi man stands on a hilltop in Beit Shemesh 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A project was recently launched by hard-line sectors of the haredi community in Beit Shemesh to discourage the use of the Internet and the devices that enable easy access to it.
The idea behind the initiative, called “Haver,” is to encourage members of the haredi public to sign a declaration in front of their community or synagogue rabbi that they either have no access to the Internet at all, or that they have only rabbinically approved devices, with content filters, which they need for work purposes.
Anyone signing this declaration will be awarded a membership certificate which, in the language of the publicity material, “testifies that he counts himself among those who fear the word of God.”
Haredi rabbis and communal leaders have waged an ongoing and increasingly fierce battle against access to the Internet, in large part due to the proliferation and availability of pornography.
The Haver initiative has only just been rolled out and a big membership drive was launched on Thursday, with many hundreds of people signing up.
Concerns have been voiced, however, about the second stage of the Haver project. After the initial sign-up period, lists of those who have signed up will be posted at synagogues in the haredi neighborhoods of the city, which organizers say will be “to glorify the names of the members.”
It is feared that membership in the Haver program could be used as a de facto way to determine someone’s haredi identity and that those who do not sign up will be excluded from communal benefits such as access to community charities, schools and other institutions.
A newsletter published by the Haver campaign says that the purpose of the project is for “anyone who wants to be counted among those who tremble [literally, who are haredim] at the word of God and wish to be in the category of ‘a good and quality family’ can join the tens of thousands of members who have joined in recent days in Beit Shemesh.”
According to one of the organizers, approximately 6,800 people have signed up so far, with more expected.
The initiative was organized by several haredi activists from the hard-line sector of the community and received support from numerous city rabbis, including Rabbi Nosson Hacohen Kopshitz and several senior members of the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit communal organization.
One of the activists behind the project, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity, said that the use of the Internet by haredim had turned into “a terrible plague” and was turning members of the community into secular people, despite their outward appearance.
He said that the organizers do not deny the utility and usefulness of the Internet and are not opposed to the use of the Internet for work purposes, but said that the “terrible images which no haredi person and no secular person either should see” were causing tremendous harm and distancing people from God.
“Ninety percent of the Internet is comprised of this immorality, this is its principal foundation, and it is this which we are fighting against,” the Haver organizer said.
“Through this project we are creating an elite society, an even higher level of society, and we will publicize the names of people who join so that the world will know who is using the Internet solely for the purposes of their work.”
According to the activist, a professional representative from an Internet filtering service will be appointed to liaise with participating communal rabbis. Anyone who declares that they use the Internet for the purposes of work will be able to have the filtering software on their computer or Internet-capable device personally customized to allow use only of those applications and websites that might be applicable to their work.
The activist said that the Haver project would pay for these service and that users would in no way be required to pay for it themselves.
“The Internet has turned into an extermination camp for humanity. The Internet is destroying us and we are saving people from this destruction,” he explained, adding that efforts were being made to raise funds for the program from abroad.
“This project is like saving people from their enemies.
Therefore, it can be considered as tzedaka, charity, of the highest degree,” he said.
A haredi resident of one of the hard-line haredi neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh refuted the idea that the campaign was designed to fight the issue of pornography and told the Post that it was part of a long-standing fight by the leaders of the hard-line haredi leadership to “keep the community inside a ghetto.”
“The Eda Haredit fights for extremism and the complete isolation of the community from broader society, and from anything which is for the betterment of the state; this is their goal,” the man, who talked on condition of anonymity, alleged.
He said that the phenomenon of social networks allowing people to communicate discreetly and out of the public eye, as well as the wealth of information about different lifestyles and opportunities made available by the Internet, are the real target of the Haver campaign, which he described as “a political tool.”
The man observed that sanctions against members of the haredi community who use the Internet are already in place and include expelling the children of such people from schools as well as other measures, but could get worse with the introduction of the new Haver scheme.
Yesh Atid MK and Beit Shemesh resident Rabbi Dov Lipman criticized the campaign, calling it “a last gasp effort to keep the haredi community isolated.”
“High numbers of haredim have Internet and more and more are going to work. This exposed them to broader society, and while they don’t become less religious they do become more moderate,” Lipman said.
“The community leaders then lose control and power. The pressure will work on a small level but the battle has already been lost, and within a generation or two I believe haredim will be integrated into Israeli society – while remaining fully committed religiously. This will be good for them and for all of Israel,” he said.