Planned Citi Field Anti-Internet Conference Fraught with Internecine Rivalry
Major media outlets such as Jewish Daily News, The Jewish Press and The Huffington Post finally picked up the Haredi Anti-Internet Conference story (it may have been picked up from our original report on March 13 in which we initially erroneously named the venue “Shea Stadium” — hence the same error persisted in their original reporting).
By now, however, some serious structural problems with this whole campaign are emerging, chief among which is the virtual impossibility of uniting a substantial portion of the deeply fractious haredi sector under a single banner. No matter how hard the organizers tried and continue to try to steer clear of petty rivalry among the hundreds of different subsects that comprise Ultra-orthodoxy, by satisfying some groups others will automatically feel snubbed and thus boycott the conference.
Admittedly, the organizers did do their best to remain above the fray and appeal to as wide an audience as possible. They chose the Skollenner Rebbe as the leading representative and anticipated orator at the conference on the Hasidic side. The Skollenner Rebbe, R. Portugal, is currently the oldest Hasidic Rebbe in Borough Park. He is considered “non-denominational”, above and beyond politics; all Hasidim in Borough Park –be they Satmar-Zalman, Samar-Aaron, Bobov or Vizhnitz– venerate him to some extent. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, a dean in the prestigious Lakewood Yeshiva was picked to represent the Lithuanian community on the assumption that he is a uniter for that constituency, not a divider.
The reality of the situation, however, is that there are considerable disgruntled rumblings already being heard by jealous and cantankerous elements both within the Hasidic and Lithuanian camps. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum is reportedly griping that “by us the vessel [=the computer] is forbidden altogether”. Other Hasidic Rebbes of sects such as Satmar-Zalman, Bobov, Skver, and R. Rosenblum (Shaare Yosher Yeshiva) are cool to the idea if only because they don’t stand to benefit personally from it. If they perceive themselves as being relegated to play second fiddle to other, more prominent Rebbes, why play the fiddle at all? Endorsing and appearing at the conference isn’t exactly a salaried position, although it is rumored that the Skollenner Rebbe’s son does stand to benefit handsomely monetarily from the campaign.
The campaign is a costly one –$850,000 just to rent the Citi Field stadium. Tacking on the cost of promotion and logistics it is estimated to cost nearly 2 million dollars. The principal donor on behalf of the Hasidic sector can be found in Mr. Hershel Schreiber, the owner of the famous photographic retailer in Manhattan, B&H. An ingenuous and unassuming individual and an admirer of Rachmastrivk for its sincerity and its non-entanglement in Hasidic politics, Mr. Schreiber likely sees in this campaign an opportunity to genuinely accomplish something for yiddishkeit. He is probably convinced of the righteousness and universality of the cause, which appeals to him as the most suitable sphere for the allocation of his outsize “tithe” money. Mr. Schreiber reportedly donated an estimated 1 million dollars towards the campaign.
An unnamed Lithuanian philanthropist and ally of R. Solomon donated an even greater sum for the cause. But the question remains: how will R. David Feinstein, R. Feivel Shustel and R. Shmuel Kaminetsky react? They don’t seem enthused. They are already dismissing it as bittul torah – the interruption of Torah study.
Both donors insist on universality –on an aura of pan-haredsism, and it is now becoming increasingly evident that there are too many rifts between petty, petulant and eternally-bickering rebbelekh for this sort of unanimous endorsement to be achieved.
For the activists and rabbanim who are organizing the event there’s planty of money and prestige to go around. But for those who are are reduced to nodding their heads sheeplishly and playing “follow the leader” there is no discernible gain to speak of (the spiritual gain doesn’t count).
A more substantive objection to the campaign, commonly cited by the more liberal and educated in the community is that its driving premise is inherently flawed. The notion that the more publicity the campaign gets the more likely it is that the plague of the internet can be uprooted and banished from the community once and for all is misguided, they argue. Bahurim (torah-studying lads) and other batlanim (those who don’t work) –many of whom have never used a computer before in their life– will predominate at the conference and may find the whole thing tantalizing. Baale-batim, on the other hand, working men and entrepreneurs –the ones who actualy have the wherewithal to heed the admonition and enforce the Internet ban on a micro level– will likely not show up for the conference, as they have better things to fill their limited time with. Moreover, organizers are charging baale-batim $10 for entry tickets “to defray the cost”, which may discourage some.
Besides, can the Internet or its undesirable parts really be universally and effectually banned? Even if one does subscribe to the Jewish J-net filtering service, that doesn’t prevent him from disabling the filtering software on a whim. Without J-net being the underlying Internet Service Provider, the filtering measures are inherently voluntaristic and it would be technically very difficult to roll the filtering software into a full-service Internet product.
And how effective is the filter? It is joked sarcastically that K9 –a rival non-Jewish web filtering firm– is not as good as J-net because it “still allows the daf haymoi (daily Talmud folio) through”. Of Course, searches for “wine” — a legitimate and required product in Ultra-orthodox Judaism– on K9 come up empty.