President Obama Doesn’t Need an Asifa

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One of the premises for the Asifa and the subsequent edicts that have been issued severely regulating the Internet, according to highly placed spokespeople like [redacted], is that the Internet is an inherent danger and the secular world is completely at a loss as to how to deal with the Internet. Luckily, the right wing orthodox Jewish community is available to sound the alarm and protect ourselves and everyone else from the cesspool that is the world wide web. If not for the holy Asifa and the “halachos” of the Internet the entire world is at risk. [See: In Support of the Internet Asifa and The Asifa is Done: I Was Fooled]

I dispute this premise.

People in the secular world have been dealing with the challenges of the Internet for a decade and a half. This is not a new problem. New computers come with features to address these issues. Parents are able to attend local seminars and meetings to discuss and learn about how to manage the Internet in their lives. There are articles and books on Internet addiction. There is a wealth of material on Internet safety in the secular world.

Smart people don’t need an Asifa.

Whether or not one likes President Obama as a president or a person, he seems to have a good grasp of this issue. In a recent NY Times article, the First Daughters are profiled and the parenting techniques of their parents are discussed.

The Obamas have a lot of rules.

This is their technology rule:

Technology is for weekends. Malia may use her cellphone only then, and she and her sister cannot watch television or use a computer for anything but homework during the week.

That’s a great rule. And they came up with it without attending the Asifa. Remarkable.

I am not saying this rule is perfect for all orthodox Jewish kids. I am saying that a reasonable rule is not an impossible thing to come up with on one’s own. The need for a multi-million dollar convention to teach common sense speaks to a greater danger than the Internet in our lives. It speaks to a lack of common sense.

I personally know of children in the right wing orthodox Jewish community with full access to the Internet. There is no supervision over this access. They have iPods and iPads and iPhones before their age reaches double digits. They play on the DS or Wii on every night of the week. They watch videos and play Jetpack Joyride until the wee hours of the night. I am talking about pre-teens. When they get older, they have even more access. This is just plain dumb.

We need more common sense when it comes to technology. If the Asifa taught us anything, it’s that for some reason, people are oftentimes incapable of making intelligent basic parenting choices. That is a lot scarier than the Internet.

The underlying premise of the Asifa should not have been that the rest of the world needs our help with dealing with the Internet. Their premise should have been that we need to look to the secular world for help with dealing with the Internet.

I outlined some of my suggestions here: Jewish Action Magazine Takes on Social Media

By the way, the Obamas have some more rules that we can all learn from. Read the article in the NY Times.

Link: NY Times

  • MarkSoFla

    You are conflating two different issues in this post. Issue 1 – the ridiculous level on indulgence (“spoiling”) among the orthodox community, and issue 2 – the safe use of the Internet. Sure the two issues intersect in many cases, but they are still two separate issues that have to be dealt with.

    Here’s a mind-blowing fact that I just learned last week. I have two 7 year old sons that are in first grade. Two of their classmates have their own iPhones. Now that’s the nadir of both of these issues at once!

    • I’m not conflating at all. I am saying two different things in one post.

      • MarkSoFla

        It seemed that way because of the focus on the asifa which only addressed (very badly) one of the issues.

  • tesyaa

    My own teenage girls were surprised by the Obamas’ rules.

    • Really? I wasn’t. They are pretty similar to ours. Granted, my oldest is nine.

      • tesyaa

        When my kids were nine they had no thoughts of having their own phones, and their internet use was indeed minimal.

        • Mine would love his own phone. And his own computer. And his own TV. But he knows us better than that. Although some boys in the neighborhood in the frum school DO have access to those things.

    • MarkSoFla

      I don’t particularly like the Obama rules because they don’t teach responsible use. Responsible meaning safe, healthy, time-management, etc. In general I don’t like arbitrary rules that don’t allow for changing circumstances. For example, what about a weeknight in which there is no homework assigned, there is no reason not to permit some computer use or computer game use on such evenings. Conversely, a weekend during which a school project has to be completed should have less gaming/social media usage. Part of being a teen is learning how to be an adult, and that includes time-management skills as well.

      • All rules have exceptions. These are the standards. And it is good for kids to know what the expectations are so they are not disappointed by the standard rules.

      • Anonymous1again


  • Shoshana

    I live in Israel and work for an organization called Kav L’Noar in Yerushalayim. Kav L’Noar is a Family Counseling Center and Mentoring program which caters to but does not deal exclusively with the Charedi Community. Part of our mission is community education. We feel that awareness through education is an important tool to prevent serious problems and at-risk behavior of children and teenagers. The topic of our annual conference which will take place this year in January 2013 will be “Meeting the Challenges of the Digital Age” . It will not focus on Halachic issues of using the internet and social media. It will focus on both the positive and negative aspects of the internet and social media from a practical and psychological point of view. The conference will include discussion on addiction, cyber-bullying, privacy and many other issues. Kav L’Noar is also planning to give out a booklet with comprehensive practical information about Family Safety for the Internet, Social media and Mobile devices. We hope that the community will realize that neither banning the internet, or using the internet without any protection or supervision is the way to deal with the “danger”. The way to deal with it is to learn how to use the Internet to enrich our lives and protect ourselves and our children at the same time.

    • S K

      pretty random but I saw this post and thought- I know a Shoshana who works with KL.

  • “Their premise should have been that we need to look to the secular world for help with dealing with the Internet.”

    My initial reaction was this is too harsh, but after thinking about it you are probably correct. It became clear from the Asifah that just like our Government doesn’t understand the internet (see PIPA and SOPA) so too the Rabbonim don’t understand it. Therefore it in in our best interest to understand that there is “chochma bagoyim” and that those who do understand its benefits and risks are consulted.

    • Thank you. And well stated.

  • b.parnas

    If a problem(s) with the asifa regarding the internet needs to be identified and prioritized, I would say that it is a matter of trust and concomitant responsibility (acknowledgement or citation: my partner) in people and, in fact, this is symptomatic or parallels the poor relationship of Torah authorities with the people who look to them for “help” (help in quotations because people have different ideas of help).

    I am not saying, trust that children and adults will not act like children and abuse the internet. On the contrary, you can trust them to do that. You can trust that many men and some women will look at pornography; you can trust that many people will waste their time with fun technologies; you can trust that people will just waste their time; you can trust that some people will become addicted in one way or another.

    To expect differently is to not trust people. That is what many authorities do. They do not acknowledge people and their ways. They therefore exercise control over “their” people. They therefore remove responsibility from “their” people by trying to erect some barrier and/or cutting people off from the World. In this case, the barrier is not so much the use of technologies to filter the internet world, it is the use of the black and white paradigms of good and evil, of the O Jewish world against the non-orthodox, the Torah world against the non-Torah, the socially acceptable veneer against the humiliation of being human, the perfect world against the good-enough world, etc.

    None of which have a relationship to the World that G-d created. It is impossible to be completely good: Adam and Chava made sure of that in the Garden. The people who were brought out of Egypt made sure of that at the Golden Calf. We do not live by a direct light from G-d; we live with the surrounding light, the “or hamakif,” that is why when we transgress laws that involve a punishment of “cutting off” we do not die immediately. There is always a mixture of good and “evil” in this world.

    All the control in the world, all the lack of trust, will not change the reality that people always “stray” and that people always “return” and that we all do so daily.

    All the control in the world that the authorities attempt to exercise makes us weaker, not stronger, because it takes away our tools: the success that comes through risk of failure and failure itself, the return that comes through learning and drive for more awareness. The realization that good-enough does not have to be perfect. The Torah teaches over and over and over that perfection is not the G-d’s goal in this World. G-d did not make a “perfect” World even in the six days of Creation: the trees did not taste like their fruit, the Generation of the Flood was wiped out, Moshe’s offspring were idol worshipers, the “holy” Israel of the First Temple were idol worshipers, adulters, and murderers, etc etc. The type of control sought by the Torah authorities through an asifa makes us weaker because it is not grounded in reality.

  • vladimir

    I think we have to identify our kids’ gift and gently direct them toward their own discovery of it. Charmed by gift’s power they will escape ideas and events that not feed their own consept of values.