I still think there are many reasons one could oppose the Asifa. I still think women should be able to attend too.
[By the way, I was told by one of the organizers that there is a simple reason women are not attending. The reason is that a large contingent of Jews made it clear that they would only endorse and promote the event if the Asifa was for men only. But up until a few days ago, it was intended to be for men and women. I mention this because some people took severe offense to my suggestion that the Asifa be open to men and women. Clearly, the organizers wanted it to be for men and women, so it's a bit much to say I am being mevazeh the Gedolim when I question why it is for men only.]
But, during the course of my conversation with one of the higher ups at the Ichud HaKehilos I learned a lot and I have something important to say about the Asifa.
There is a huge of community of people who I believe should attend the Asifa. The Asifa is playing an important role and despite the various flaws in vision and execution, it should be attended by a specific (large) category of orthodox Jews.
For starters, the Asifa’s position is that the Internet should not be banned. Their position is that the Internet is a reality of our modern world. We have it. Let’s learn how to use it. This is a major step forward.
For 15 years orthodox Jews have been told that the Internet is assur. The notable exception was for business purposes. The most permissive position of the Gedolim has been that Internet use is permissible “when necessary.”
Some people adhered to this rule. Many did not. Most orthodox Jews that use the Internet are using it for business and pleasure. That means they use the Internet to read the news, learn about the world, follow sports, share photos and videos (of vorts, upsherins and cute babies) with friends and family, read blogs (not just the ones that are “bad”), and socialize (with people with whom it is permissible to socialize).
These people are Internet savvy. They know the risks, they know how to avoid the risks, and they are generally responsible about how they and their children use the Internet.
There are a lot of people who listened to the advice of the Gedolim. They only use the Internet when necessary. They have Internet in their homes for business purposes. They have no idea what else is on the Internet and that their children can find everything that the parents are trying to protect them from with three or four clicks of a mouse. They don’t know that their children are going on the Internet on their mobile devices. They don’t know how to monitor their children’s use of the Internet, they don’t know how to protect their children or even themselves.
I am told that these people exist. And I believe it.
These people need to get to the Asifa. They need to learn about the dangers and the protections immediately. Sure, they could learn everything that the Asifa will teach them, you know, on the Internet. Or they could attend any of the local Internet safety programs that are well attended by non-orthodox Jews. But these people need to hear about these dangers and products from a source they trust. They need to hear it from rabbis or askanim who speak their language and carry the weight of the Gedolim behind their advice. Personally, I think this is unnecessary, but I believe that there is a huge audience for this kind of advice. Is it 40,000 people strong? I don’t know. But that’s a question of execution, not policy.
So if you are in the group of people, or you know others in that groups of people, go the Asifa or tell your friends to go to the Asifa. They need to be there.
The Asifa will educate and the Ichud HaKehilos will assist anyone who needs help in implementing the solutions you want to use. If you need help choosing or setting up a filter, you can call them for free tech support. If you don’t understand how a device works, the Ichud will help you too. I think it’s great. Frum tech support. It will be free and at your service. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a great idea.
A few final words. I do not agree that the Internet should only be used when necessary. I think it should be embraced as a modern tool for growth, relationships, Torah study, socializing, and acquisition of wisdom and knowledge. It seems that the Asifa is continuing down the road of “use it only when necessary.” I hope they come around to the more liberal view because I think we should think more positively, and harness the incredible power of the Internet for good.
I also think that framing the Asifa as a solution to the problems in our communities is flawed. It is its own problem and has its own solutions. The Asifa will not prevent people from leaving the fold, nor will it save marriages that are doomed, nor will it ensure that everyone davens with proper kavvanah, nor will it destroy skepticism. I sincerely hope that people are sophisticated enough to understand that those problems run much deeper than the Internet. Our chinuch needs improvement. The Internet is not the broader problem here. It is chinuch. Destruction via the Internet is a symptom of a problem, not the actual problem. Treating symptoms may make us feel better but it does not solve anything.
Finally, the term “dangers of the Internet” means a lot of things to a lot of people. It seems that the Asifa is in fact most concerned with access to pornography. In our very lengthy conversation, the word “blog” was never mentioned in connection with the Asifa. I was pleased to learn this and I hope that this holds true.
However, there are other issues associated with the Internet. Like many permissible activities, it can be addictive. Awareness should be raised regarding this as well. Jut because something can be addictive does not mean it should be completely shunned. I also think that many people do consider blogs and “kefira” sites to be a major “danger of the Internet.” Obviously, these dangers are community specific and no general rules should be made. Lastly, some people consider social media an inherent “danger of the Internet.” This is a fallacy. Learn how to use the tools properly and it can be a wonderful and positive use of the Internet. Use them improperly and they can indeed be very dangerous for one’s physical and spiritual well-being.
My advice: If you have the Internet in your home (and I think you should), do not allow any non-adults to access the Internet without protections. The best way to do this is to create a new user account for non-adults that has limited access to the Internet for the account user. The proper protection can be ensured by only granting access to specific websites. That means that the account user can only access pre-approved sites. Don’t rely on a filter. Give them access to specific, pre-approved sites. No filter is foolproof. If you let them on social media sites, monitor their friends and interactions. Obviously, make sure you don’t let them onto the adult user account on the computer. Protect it with the best password in the history of passwords. Finally, don’t give your child or teen any devices that have Internet access. If you want to protect yourself from accessing specific sites there is no solution other than self control.