Assimilated Jews—You and Me?
We have read the stories of the impossible trials of keeping Shabbos in America during the early part of the previous century. The greenhorns who came from Europe were immediately mocked by the established Jews who told them there was no future for religion in the New World. Those who ignored the derision, the daring few, soon discovered that the words they had been told were a reality. There was no way to find a job if one insisted on keeping Shabbos. And so a new Jew developed, Jews who would wear a yarmulke and keep kosher but go to work on Shabbos. There were hashkama minyanim for the workers to finish the longer Shabbos morning prayers early enough to reach their jobs in time for the opening of the doors.
Looking back with the hindsight of over 50 years, we find it difficult to comprehend. We understand that the temptation was overwhelming, but how could a person consider themselves an Orthodox, practicing Jew if they were transgressing Shabbos?!
Imagine what future generations will say of us in 50 years. “I can’t understand it. How could you consider yourself a respectable Jew when you were using the internet without a filter? I understand that the temptation was unbearable, you could not support yourself without it (?), but still— a frum Jew on the internet?!”
Stop and think about it. Are we not guilty of allowing ourselves to lose the most important aspects of our Jewish identity, even as we keep Shabbos and kashrus, even as we daven and learn, even as we support a Torah infrastructure on a scale the world has never seen before? Are we not turning ourselves into assimilated Jews?
And if we are to look at the barometer of history, mustn’t we be concerned that our children will soon be lost to the Jewish nation as a result of the internet, just as so many thousands of Jewish children were lost in the melting pot of America as a result of chillul Shabbos?
At the time, most Jews probably did not even realize that they were sealing their children’s fate by accepting the fact of chillul Shabbos. But we know that there was no hope for Jewish continuity when such a basic mitzvah was being trampled upon, however extenuating the circumstances may have been. Dare we be guilty of making the same mistake, of ignoring such a basic division that protects our unique identity and still believe that somehow the glorious tradition of our past will continue to blossom through our children? Can we afford to be so naïve?
So much of our nation was lost during the Holocaust because of their refusal to stare the danger in the face and respond appropriately. “It won’t happen to us. It can’t be as bad as they’re making it out. Come on, this is the 20th century. Who really believes such medieval stories today?”
Instead of taking the eyewitness accounts for the truths that they were and seeking any possible means of escape, these people walked blindly right into the trap that had been set for them—sadly, the very trap they had been warned about by the few survivors who had made it out. So long as we dare to deny the facts, to deny the seriousness of the situation, to ignore the many fatalities that have already occurred, we are allowing ourselves to be drawn blindly into the trap set for us.
The secular world has already woken up to the fact that the internet is not all fun and games. In China, where internet addiction plagues millions of youths, over 200 boot camps have been set up under military-style control of active soldiers where children are prevented from accessing any technological device whatsoever.
They must follow a strict daily regimen that includes labor and difficult exercises. Those who broke camp regulations were beaten or subjected to lengthy shock treatment, until several accidental fatalities aroused a storm of protests and the government was forced to crack down.
While we do not propose setting up a similar rehabilitation system, the intensity of the response by the non-Jewish world should tell us something about the severity of the problem and how it is meant to be handled. We stand to lose much more than any other nation if our identifying features are erased from the next generation. Should we be any less serious than they in our response to the crisis?
We must begin to admit to ourselves the nature of the disgusting and horrendous trap set for us. We must evince at least the same horror we show when confronted by a harmless spider regarding internet use in our midst.
Technology is a potent tool. While we have concentrated for the most part on the internet itself, much should also be spoken about the problems inherent in the universal access provided by e-mail, in the constant connection created by cell phone use (without internet), and especially the dangers of text messaging.
Perhaps in no other area have the guidelines of tznius between living people been crossed, trampled upon and entirely removed. These are all points not only to consider but to act upon. Acting individually will get little done. I can keep the internet out of my home, but that doesn’t guarantee that my children won’t enjoy using it at their friends’ homes. If we work together, however, spreading the message that unfiltered, unrestricted internet is absolutely not an option for anyone, that unnecessary access will not be tolerated, then we can begin ridding our community of the terrible terror network that operates in our midst.
Our rabbonim have spread the alarm. It is up to us, however, to face the reality and respond accordingly. The fire is burning out of control; it is spreading quickly to our own homes. When we arrive in the World of Truth and are held accountable for our apathy, we will not be able to say that we had not been warned.