Anti-Internet Rally Floundering Amid Apathy and Counter Rally
The Ultra-Orthodox Anti-Internet rally organized by the “committee for purity in the camp” scheduled to take place in Citi Field on May 20 is floundering amid general apathy by the Hasidic community and an inability to secure high-level endorsements in many Hasidic courts, including Bobov and both Satmars.
R. Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe in Kiryas Joel, received a delegation of the most senior Rabbinic organizers, including R. Matisyahu Solomon and the Skollenner Rebbe himself and yet he was reluctant to commit. After a similar delegation was then sent to his archenemy R. Zalman, who did issue a low-level approval of the rally, R. Aaron responded with a resounding no (in the form of an anti-Citi-field sermon by the Kashau Rav in KJ last week).
A posteriori objections are a dime a dozen: for one, the Internet ought to be forbidden even with a filter. Secondly, with the Lubavitchers conspicuously uninvited to the rally (since their adversaries, the Lithuanians, are at the forefront), it isn’t a pan-Israelite (“kelal yisrael” — as touted by the organizers) initiative any longer; it’s partisan! — and the Aaronites won’t have any of partisan politics. (Of course, that doesn’t stop them from the most sordid of political scheming in the intra-Satmar strife saga, but hey, every rule has an exception.) The Aaronites are arguing that the Lubavitchers are no less Jewish than the Litvakkes (Lithuanians) and an insult to them is an insult to the entire Hasidic sector.
Ironically, Aaron’s apprehension about the campaign may have been fueled –according to some pundits– by the fear of being labeled too soft on the Satmar shittah (doctrine) by the very Zalmanites who have ultimately signed on to the campaign after being honored by the high-level delegation. English is expected to be a lingua franca at the rally. And who knows how low those organizing folks may stoop: they may even utter some words in the wicked Zionist language — Hebrew. This may be the reason why Zalman is still holding back on a more proactive involvement and aggressive stance in the campaign.
Lastly, Satmar is just not used to being a follower. For decades R. Joel, its first Rebbe, had inculcated in his followers the insistence on standing strong, resisting the winds of the time and rendering independent, unbiased, even unpopular opinions and initiatives in Judaic matters. Satmar does not follow, it leads.
The campaign does not fare much better in other Hasidic camps. In Bobov, likewise riven by sectional strife between R. Bentziyon Halberstam and R. Mordechai Ungar, neither of the Rebbes would deign to commit their John Hancock to the program. A dayyan (judge — fairly equivalent to the second-in-command in a Hasidic court) by the name of R. Rubin signed on behalf of Bobov 45th S. (Ungar) while R. Haim Yaakov Tauber signed off in the name of Bobov 48th St.
Organizers have coaxed educational institutions, especially the “modern” Lithuanian ones, to get pupils’ parents to commit in writing that they will either attend the rally at a cost of $10 per person or affirm that they cannot make it but fully sympathize with it. This is seen by some observers as a sign of weakness.
Despite a massive propaganda campaign, arguably unprecedented in expenditure in the history of pro-religious Jewish campaigns in America, support remains tepid. Many are indifferent, asking “what is in it for me?”. It is, accordingly, doubtful that organizers will be able to fill up the 50,000 seat stadium.
With no luck in America, organizers are turning to the Israel. The Belzer Rebbe reportedly did sign on to the initiative bikhvodo uveatzmo — in his honor and sameself.
Meanwhile, amid all the internal bickering a rare alliance is being forged between aggrieved elements in the community who are balking at the system and those on the periphery. Their slogan is: “Internet is Not the Problem. Child sexual Molestation is.” This seemingly utter diversion of attention from the subject of the principal rally may appear odd at first. Considering, however, that the “purity in the camp” that Haredi organizers are seeking to advance is a euphemism for the elimination of Internet pornography, the counter-rally is in fact apropos to the subject of sexual propriety.
On the Haredi side this counter rally is supported by its principal sexual education exponent, Nahum Rosenberg. Some other Jewish organizations are leaning in its favor but are withholding a public endorsement out of fear of backlash by the powerful organizers. One sympathizer from the community reports that upon voicing support for the counter-rally on a Facebook page he was threatened that Hasidic participants “would be photographed and their lives publicized from the day they were born.”
On the periphery, there is Ari Mandel, a former Hasid who is also an army veteran, Chanie Friedman and others.
In a phone interview Mr. Mandel explained that his objection wasn’t to Internet filtering per se — it was rather to the misaligned priorities evinced by the event organizers and supporters. Drawing an analogy from his witnessing of injuries and casualties during his military service he compares the situation in Haredi Jewry to the one in a triage center: “In triage, you don’t fix the guy’s leg before you get his heart beating again. The Internet is a broken leg; child molestation is a heart that’s not beating.” Listen to our May 3 2012 Skype Interview with Ari Mandel.
On its facebok page, presently 284 strong, and in the recently launched website for “The Internet is Not the Problem” counter-rally, organizers are careful to underscore that the counter rally crosses even denominational lines. According to the website:
This is NOT an anti-religious protest. We are ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, male, female, young and old. This is not an ideological issue. This is not an issue only for “insiders.” When it comes to the safety of our children, we must be united and unabashed in our actions.
– a compelling argument indeed.
Another non-observant prominent blogger solicited the Facebook community to find biblical passages and rabbinic verses to augment the universal message of the counter-rally. ”What we are standing for is not only *not* an attack on frumkeit (strict adherence to Jewish law), but actually in line with the foundational beliefs of frum Jews.”
It remains to be seen, however, how comfortable Haredi Jews who sympathize with the anti-molestation agenda would be standing alongside folks who don’t wear yarmulkes but nonetheless care as much or greater about the prevalence of child molestation and the impunity accorded sexual molesters in the community. If such a tableau vivant does materialize, it’ll be a powerful and starkly unprecedented partnership between haredi and non-haredi elements on a socio-religious issue relating to the Hardi sector.