Who’s Hot and Who’s Not? Who’s Going and Who’s Blowing (Yiddish calque for sulking)?
While HN was pessimistic in a previous article regarding the projected success of the Pan-Israelite Anti-Internet Conference coming up this Sunday, we now predict a massive, unprecedented turnout and a resounding success attendance-wise. It is now reported that the Arthur Ash Stadium has been rented to accommodate an overflow of reservations for the event. Nonetheless, casual polls of community members reveals that a significant portion of projected attendees will participate mostly as spectators and kibbitzers, beholding what is anticipated as the largest ever organized Haredi gathering in modern times. At this point people are going for the spectacle and to be a witness to the historic moment. (This is somewhat akin to the highly extravagant and massively popular wedding by the ultra-wealthy Haim Moshe Srulowitz in the 90′s).
So, let’s get right down to brass tacks. Who’s in and who’s not?
Belz, Vizhnitz, Gur, and other Israel-headquartered Hasidic sects are all on board. The Belzer and Vizhnitzer Rebbe have signed in person. As moderates and Agudists they revere the daas torah (Torah opinion) as rendered by acknowledge leaders of Haredi Judaism. Skver is likewise on board.
Skollen. The Skollener Rebbe (R. Yisrael Avraham Portugal) was chosen as the figurehead representative of the Hasidic sector of the conference, likely because he is one of the oldest in his generation and is considered a uniter. As to his credibility regarding the best way to tackle new technology, however, he is largely mocked by the masses. One joke circulating in the community currently is that R. Aaron-Satmar asked him why he supports restrictions on the Internet, to which the Skollenner Rebbe responded “today we already have Artscroll; we don’t need Internet”.
SATMAR-ZALMAN POSITION ON THE CONFERENCE
Speaking of Aaron Teitelbaum, in a most bizarre twist in Hasidic politics, it is he who is boycotting the event due to what appears to be zealotry, even as his rival and traditional zealot R. Zalman has relented to pressure to endorse the event.
In a recent public discourse on Lag Baomer, R. Zalman publicly endorsed he event after receiving a very senior delegation of the biggest Rabbis behind the event, including the Skollenner Rebbe and R. Matisyahu Solomon himself. R. Zalman is taking flack for it on the level that the German Wehrmacht did over London in 1940. His one-time staunchest allies in the Bene Joel camp –who looked up to him in 2006 as the “one who will return the crown to its ancient glory” by correcting for the Berakh Mosheh’s (R. Moses Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe 1980-2006) digression from the orthodox Satmar path– are now bristling at him for collaborating with the Agudists.
R. Zalman has reportedly deferred to his beth din to decide whether the community should participate in the conference. One eminent judge on the beth din, R. Shlomo Leib Weinberger, who is a brother-in-law of the Skollenner Rebbe, nepotistically endorsed the event. After R. Zalman publicly endorsed it, others on the panel such as R. Yisrael Haim Menashe Friedman and R. Menasheh Phillip quietly assented, so as not to jeopardize their politically-dependent positions.
R. Zalman Leib Phillip, however, a brother of R. Menashe and the leading exponent of the radical anti-Zionist cause, isn’t playing ball. In a harsh, stinging criticism of R. Zalman he accused R. Zalman Leib Teitelbaum of being even worse than his brother Aaron: “even Aaron Veltz (aligned with Satmar-Aaron) that Satmar does not join with others in the Kinnus Tehilim (Psalms Conference) in Borough Park. Indeed, R. Mensahe Philip and others Bene Joel members are not giving R. Zalman a carte blanche, their alliance with the Zalmanites having been tenuous all along and predicated on the understanding that Zalman will purify Samar from the attenuation and contamination introduced by the Berakh Moshe.
Another leading figure, one Alte Moshe Goldberger, announced on his hotline 951-262-3722 that “Zalman Leib eitelbaum hot zich geshmadt” (Z.L. TB has committed apostasy). According to this ultra-radical, puritanical line of reasoning the biggest problem with the Internet is its insidious Zionism emanating from the Jewish Haredi circles with which the Satmars tend to cooperate to some degree in one form or another, contrary to the idealistic vision of the radical Bene Joel and Neture Karta.
R. Haim David Katz, the chief dayyan (Rabbinic judge) in Satmar-Zalman Borough Park is a relative moderate in the Zalmanite rebellion against their Rebbe’s endorsement of the event. He pledges his support under one condition: expel Shimon Rolintzky, proprietor and editor of The Star and The Spective which is banned in Williamsburg by the Zalmanites due to its secular outlook. Rolintzky has been running ads and publishing editorial columns supporting the event, probably for pay from the organizers. He is generally aligned with the Aaronites (although on the matter of support for the event he differs); hence R. Katz’s stipulation of support on the condition that Rolintzky be sidelined.
Lastly, R. Yitzchak Lebowitz, Rabbi in Woodridge, NY asserts that “the biggest Internet problem is the very kinnus (conference) itself”, according to a person familiar with the matter.
On the flip side of the coin, Aaron’s vacillation about endorsing the event until recently when he finally came out vehemently against it, is almost as puzzling. Analysts are scrambling to make sense of it and are grasping at straws. “Aaron thinks he’s the biggest Rebbe”, says a member of the community, “He’s afraid people will say he’s mattir (permits) Internet with a filter”.
Others add that Aaron is too eloquent and dignified to be able to go along with the coalition as one among equals. He’ll steal the spotlight and upstage the other Rabbis if he participates in the manner he would have wanted to. What’s worse is that he may thus alienate other, pettier Rabbinic members of the coalition envious of the honor accorded him and resentful of his demanding concessions pertaining to the Satmar shittah such as no Hebrew in the conference and minimization of English.
There are two Bobovs. As the case is with Satmar, if one faction endorses the event the other opposes it. Bentziyyon Bobover (48th St.) is against the event. Critics say it’s because organizers first secured the endorsement of R. M.D. Ungar, the rival Bobover Rebbe (45th St.), and attached the title “kaq maran admor shelita mibobov” (Rabbi of Bobov) to his signature. Thus, the Bobov 48 bahurim (bachelor Yeshiva boys) will not attend the event (which seems to be generally free for Yeshiva boys) although others in the congregation may attend following a lower-level endorsement by a congregational functionary.
R. Mordechai David Ungar, by contrast, is a staunch advocate for the event, one of the most outspoken in the spectrum of Hasidic Rabbis.
Tens of thousands are expected from Lakewood and other Lithuanian enclaves in the metropolitan New York region. Unlike the Hasidim, the Lithuanians are more dogmatic about the principle of daas torah (a torah opinion, rendered by a qualified scholar and Rabbi). They are also much more cohesive than the Hasidim since they don’t follow petty Rebbes with grand egos who love to squabble quibble, and cavil.
Notwithstanding the above, R. Shumel Kamintzky, a preeminet figure in Lakewood is against the conference on the grounds of it being bittul torah — withdrawal from Torah study. It is not known how big of a dent his dissenting opinion will have on overall Lakewood participation levels.
INTERNET-FILTER ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
The two companies standing to reap a windfall from the conference are the Internet filtering giants Jnet and YeshivaNet. YeshivaNet is run by a member of the Lithuanian sector and R. M. Solomon had reportedly originally insisted that they receive an exclusive charter to provide the required Internet filter. Jnet is run by one Mr. Rosenthal from Williamsburg and is expected to be the prevailing filter among the Hasidim.
Jnet, an Internet Service Provider that piggybacks on Verizon’s DSL service, offers three tiers of filtering service, ranging in price from $60/month to $100/month. Mr. Rosenthal has been campaigning for filtering for over a decade and his company is even older. The Rabbis were skeptical or dismissive of him in the formative years of the Internet, arguing that the Internet ought to be kept out altogether. For Mr. Rosenthal, the conference on Sunday signifies a mainstream recognition that he had been right all along that the Internet cannot be kept out forever and effective filtering is the ultimate solution. As a sign of its popularity, B&H, the largest commercial Hasidic employer in the world has deployed Jnet on its network, in addition to having donated an estimated million dollars toward the campaign.
Both Jnet and YeshivaNet representatives are expected to speak at the event and sign-up booths will be provided so that attendees can sign up for Filtered Internet on the spot.
Nevertheless, as alluded to earlier, HN does not anticipate large numbers of new sign-ups for the services. Many attendees will be there for the sheer spectacle of it all with no intention of ever making a purchase. Others are expected to drop the service soon after signing up and discovering that the filter is crude and overly-aggressive. Jnet, for example, seems to be unable or unwilling to discriminate between a search for penis in a raunchy context and one in a medical context, resulting in intense frustration and service calls.