Monday, 16 January 2017

The Magnitude and Root-Causes of Today’s Kedusha Crisis

What is the magnitude of the problems that have arisen as a result of digital technology, and how can we address the core roots that lead to these problems?

by Yaakov from GYE (See all authors)

An email received by GYE from Rabbi Y.W:

Dear GYE,

My partner and I are directors of a local kiruv organization that realizes that nowadays many in the frum community need a tremendous amount of kiruv and chizuk as well.

I am aware of the enormous help GYE provides, and that you are among the worldwide leaders to help address this enormous emerging problem.

We want to get a sense of the magnitude of the problems that have arisen as a result of digital technology. We are particularly interested to learn about the prevalence of "binge watching" in the frum community, and how extensive is the inappropriate use of social media among people who have a religious background

We know people (who learned in yeshiva and even kollel) who are so addicted to binge watching that they watch netflix on shabbos. We know frum people using social media to foster inappropriate relationships (to say the least). We would like to get a sense of how big the problem is. We suspect that it is far bigger than many of our leaders realize.

We would like to direct our efforts to help address the core roots that lead to these problems.

Thank you so much


GYE Responds:

Hi. Unfortunately we don't have any specific stats on binge-watching and/or inappropriate social media usage. But GuardYourEyes has thousands of frum yidden turning to us for help from all over the world for help with lust-addiction. These are people who are involved in a range of inappropriate behaviors, ranging from watching soft-core and hard-core porn, masturbation, and occasionally going further than that as well. But we can only help those who are looking for help, as they say, "You can bring a horse to the water but you can't force it to drink".

For those who have progressed beyond the screen, we generally refer them to SA 12-Step groups and/or therapy, because live "acting-out" usually requires live help and support to be affective. Our org is responsible for bringing hundreds of frum Yidden into these live 12-Step groups. But the main bulk of our members are not full-blown addicts, but rather people who have developed these unhealthy habits, recognize the incompatibility of these behaviors with the frum lifestyle and need help and support to break free. You might find the 8 minute video on the homepage of guardyoureyes.com very interesting, as it explains how we help people in detail.

As far as the "magnitude of the problem", I can say that it is probably the greatest challenge facing Klal Yisrael today. Probably about 85% of frum people have internet access today (in the U.S.) and perhaps only about 30% use only filtered internet. The accessibility and anonymity makes this a huge challenge. Kids are naturally curious, teens are pulled in, and by the time they get married, many have become addicted or developed unhealthy habits. It's hard to give exact numbers, but we know the problem is everywhere. We have over 20,000 members worldwide on our English and Hebrew websites, and we believe this is still a drop in the bucket.

If you have a chance to listen to this 1 minute recording of Rabbi Twerski at our board meeting last year, as well as read a number of articles from the Mishpacha that might be of interest. One is a column from Yononson Rosenblum back in 2011, and another 3 "Lifeline" stories from 2014, 2015 and 2016 (it seems they do about one story a year on this topic).


Response from Rabbi Y.W:

Dear GYE,

Thank you so much for your information. It was extremely helpful.

I was recently asked to write an op-ed about this issue. I also strongly feel that this issue is the greatest threat that we have today. But for some reason many people have become tone deaf to this issue.

I also believe that the issue will not be solved with filters alone (they are of course critical), but we have to find a way to address the core roots that are creating an emotional emptiness in frum people's lives, that they are seeking to escape that emptiness and pain with unhealthy digital behaviors like binge watching, illicit images, and promiscuity.

Based on what you said, is it accurate to say that around 70% of frum people who have internet still have unfiltered devices?

Also you mentioned that "hundreds of people have been referred to SA therapy because of sexual promiscuity, beyond illicit images. Can you tell me how many hundreds that is. Is it 200. Is it 900?

Also you said that GYE is connected to 20,000 religious Jews who are trying to do teshuva (get help) for viewing illicit images and acting out. Do you have a general sense how many of these 20,000 live on the east coast of the US?

Also what is your estimate of how many more are struggling with these issues and are not ready to try to do teshuva for it? Can one make a projection such as "if there are 20,000 religious Jews trying to change, then there are likely ---- (40,000? or 100,000?) who are trapped but not ready to change?

I also think the fact that many frum people have started watching rated R movies on a regular basis on their phones or tablets is an underreported problem. Based on my anecdotal interviews, I suspect that between 40-50% of religious Jews are watching R rated movies or shows at least twice a month. This will surely lead to further unhealthy internet behaviors and undermine the level of yiras shomayim in the religious community. These behaviors may not lead someone to the GYE community, and our resources are not currently being directed to them

Thank you so much, and tizku lemitzvos. You are literally saving klal yisrael


GYE Responds:

Hi. Please see replies below:

> We have to find a way to address the core roots that are creating an emotional emptiness in frum people's lives, that they are seeking to escape that emptiness and pain , with unhealthy digital behaviours like binge watching, illicit images, and promiscuity.

Agreed 100%. Please see this article from the Mishpacha called "The Next Frontier" that came out in 2010 that addresses this very idea.

In our work on www.guardyoureyes.com, we put an emphasis on trying to help frum Yidden strengthen their emunah and their sense of purpose. I wrote an article recently called "The Secret of Happiness" that was published in Rabbi Twerski's latest book called "Teshuvah through Recovery". I was hoping to perhaps give frum yidden a deeper understanding about what Yiddishkeit really is all about, as well as a deeper appreciation for the Torah and Mitzvos. I don't know how much we succeeded, but at least one person seems to have enjoyed it, since he wrote me the following after reading it:

I have just read your essay (The Secret to Happiness) in the new book by Rabbi Twerski, Teshuvah Through Recovery. This has changed my life. You have taken some of the most complex and stumbling questions faced by every Jew and organized it in straightforward essay. The levels and metaphors were concise, and relevant! This has truly changed my life and fired me up on how to look at EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE! I want to carry this with me wherever I go. This is why we do what we do, each and every day! I have read dozens, if not hundreds of articles and Torah vorts over my Yiddishkeit... but, this one is different. This one is for me. This one is for many others as well :) Would it be possible to get your permission to print this en masse to distribute in shuls around my area, as well as any other Jews in need? I really think this will change people's lives for those who need to hear it.

We also added a section in our video website called "Strengthen Your Emunah" and under the title we wrote the following:

A lack of Emunah can exacerbate addiction. When a person is missing meaning in life they tend to fill it with anything that feels like it gives them a reason to live, often resulting in unhealthy behaviors. A strong Emunah can motivate and empower us to fight addictive tendencies.

I believe that some of the videos on that page can really inspire people to appreciate the value of being a Torah Jew, for example, "The Mystery of the Jews" and the amazing video about Yishai Cohen (in Hebrew). "Jewish NDE" is also powerful.

I'd be happy to hear any other ideas you might have on ways to address this "emptiness" in frum people's lives. I think it really boils down to chinuch. If parents and teachers are true examples and live inspired lives, they will pass that on to the children in their care, and at least the next generation will hopefully be healthier and more fulfilled adults. This is indeed an area that needs a lot of work. Rabbi Dovid Sapirman in Toronto has attempted to partially address this problem by creating the Ani Maamin Foundation that helps inspire Emunah in today's youth.


> Based on what you said, is it accurate to say that around 70% of frum people who have internet still have unfiltered devices?

We don't know the exact numbers, but I think this is a safe guestimate for the U.S. Even if more than that amount have filters on some of their devices such as in the home, they likely won't have on their personal mobile devices. (Note: Besides for the great danger that this is to them, what kind of message does this send to our children?)


> Also you mentioned that "hundreds of people have been referred to SA therapy because of sexual promiscuity, beyond illicit images. Can you tell me how many hundreds that is. Is it 200. Is it 900?

Again, I don't have exact numbers but there was a recent international convention of SA in Israel and someone who was there sent us the following email:

GuardYourEyes just got a big mention and a round of applause at the Yerushalayim SA convention with 700 people. The speaker referred to GYE as the biggest feeder of SA members in Israel.

A man named Dov has about 20 years clean in SA and he is the leading moderator on our forums. He also leads a special SA phone conference. He has been guiding hundreds of GYE members for about 3 years now. In 2012 he wrote this email to us:

I just want you to know that I just got back from a sexual sobriety shabbaton with ~300 people, at least 100 wives and >200 sexaholics, all going to SA and S-Anon meetings and getting well, be"H. It was incredible. The speakers, the ruach, the simcha, the meetings, the honesty and the sobriety. Lots of laughing and lots of crying, lots of couples working hard to get life right for themselves and their families. What can I say? And there were at least 30 guys there who came over to me to thank me for GYE. Many told me that although GYE on its own wasn't enough for them ...but they found friends on GYE, and those friends led them to SA. Now they are sober, their wives have support with their S-Anon sponsors and buddies, and their families are transformed and getting better. After sitting down with the first two or three guys, I took a break to go to the bathroom. As soon as I locked the stall door, I burst into tears. A great member in the fellowship told me today that he did not see GYE as an appropriate way to save so many families when I first mentioned it to him. But I stuck with it, stayed available to the scared and confused "ba'alei Teshuvah"...and now many families are alive that were previously dead and dying. I know that it is not just me, but Duvid Chaim, Steve, Shlomo and others on GYE, too. He admitted that GYE is a conduit that Hashem is using to change the way the frum world gets into recovery and that he is amazed.

In 2013 Dov sent us the following email:

Just got home a few hrs ago from JSS (the SA frum weekend) and met at least 10 guys there who came forward to me and thanked me for GYE, specifically reporting that they read the 'Daily Dose of Dov' on your chizuk emails and it carried (or pushed them) them into recovery. I know there were a lot more who were helped along by your website but did not know to associate me with it at all, so they didn't say hi. I am so grateful for the opportunity given to me...yet again.

More recently Dov wrote:

I have had the zechus through GYE of individually helping about 30 people a year successfully move into good SA recovery via the "Desperados call", posting, and chatting on GYE in my spare time. By the very same token, I have helped many GYE people keep and open mind and steer clear of SA and 12 steps when it was not right for them, b"H, and get to counselors and shrinks who can help them navigate and make the hard choices. It's incredibly rewarding work. Thank G-d for GYE! And thank G-d that there are qualified counselors and shrinks who can help 12 step and non-12 step guys get the help they really need.

Most GYE people I meet are so terribly alone, as I was in those 20 years before recovery. You have started a real chessed society that the Chofetz Chaim would probably have been been proud of. He stepped in the breach, and his was bris haloshon while GYE is helping many with bris ham'or. Amazing...

Bottom line: I think it is safe to say that about half of SA members today in Israel have gotten to the groups through GYE, and perhaps about 25% of frum people in the U.S. got there through GYE.


> Also you said that GYE is connected to 20,000 religious jews who are trying to do teshuva (get help) for viewing illicit images and acting out. Do you have a general sense how many of these 20,000 live on the east coast of the US?

We have about 22,000 members worldwide. Of those, about 11,000 are English speaking. I did a quick check in our system of 1,000 random users (see the map below) and I see that over 90% of our U.S. based members are in the East Coast. About 60% of our world-wide English speaking members are on the East Coast.

map

> Also what is your estimate of how many more are struggling with these issues and are not ready to try to do teshuva for it? Can one make a projection such as "if there are 20,000 religious jews trying to change, then there are likely ---- (40,000? or 100,000?) who are trapped but not ready to change?

Please see the chart below for some recent stats. Indeed we have over 22,000 members, of which about 6,000 signed up in the past year (2016). But this is likely still just a drop in the bucket. I'd be surprised if even 1 in 10 frum people who struggle from around the world actually sign up as members to GYE. So I think it's safe to estimate that upwards of 200,000 frum Jews are struggling/falling, if not more. (We've had over 100,000 unique visitors to our English website in the past year alone!)

Listen to this powerful 4 minute audio file from Rav Yosef Viener from back in 2009. If it was as bad as he describes then, just imagine how much worse it must have gotten in the past 8 years with smartphones in practically everyone’s pockets! At 1.48 min in the recording he says "keep in mind that the people who come to me are so frum and so upset about what's going on that they're willing to talk to their Rav. That means that there are thousands of people who would never even think of speaking to their Rav...". I think that a similar sentiment can be expressed regarding GYE.

stats-2017

> I also think the fact that many frum people have started watching rated R movies on a regular basis on their phones or tablets is an underreported problem. Based on my anecdotal interviews, i suspect that between 40-50% of religious jews are watching R rated movies or shows at least twice a month.

Yes, this is yet another tragic consequence of the prevalence and ease of viewing these kind of things. One used to have to go to a shop to rent videos, and there was still some level of shame to rent R rated movies. But today it's so accessible and in private, and once the line between kosher and nonkosher becomes blurred, it is so easy to slip into viewing things that no frum person would once have dreamed of viewing!

I think the solution to these problems needs to be twofold, (1) strengthening ourselves inside--as discussed above, and (2) better chinuch and awareness about technology in general, especially for our youth.

I happen to be close with the Stoliner Rebbe who holds that the approach that many Rabbanim took to "banning technology and the internet" back in the day (and even today, on some level), caused damage in Klal Yisrael, because it led people to just learn to disregard what the Rabbanim say, since they felt they needed it. And once they felt that they were anyway a "sheigitz" and doing something assur by using it, they felt they may as well do whatever they want. This led to terrible breaches in kedusha that perhaps could have otherwise been prevented with proper foresight and education to the masses about HOW to use technology responsibly, instead of just trying to ban it.

Recently, one of the Rabanim discussed the issue in depth with the Stoliner Rebbe, after which he gave a beautiful shiur on the topic (at which I was present). I had the zechus of translating the shiur from Yiddish into English, and it made a lot of waves in the frum world. You can see the translation on Matzav.com over here. This shiur came about 10 years too late in my opinion, but it really is a breath of fresh air and gives much needed clarity on this cloudy issue.


Dov from SA (mentioned previously in the article) weighs in to the discussion:

I would bet that the majority of people on GYE are not addicts and probably never will be. But that leaves a large number who are, certainly hundreds out of the thousands who are getting the daily emails and perusing the forum etc, are addicts.

But the numbers business is a bit misleading, here. I recall the great Rosh Yeshiva who gave a shiur klali with tremendous enthusiasm even though only a couple of bochurim (or only the one?) who showed up that day. The talmid asked him how he could do that so well with only one kid there! And the Rosh Yeshiva responded, "I do not see you here. I see your children and children's children who will be affected by the shiur I am giving with you. I see hundreds of Jews sitting here today." So the hundreds I refer to above is just for today - in five short years from now there will be thousands of kids (who today are oblivious and sweet 10-year-olds) who will then be starting a life of shame stealing looks, sneaking their precious porn and saving it up to eventually masturbate, setting them ever further inside themselves, lost and eventually living the double life as marrieds. So I see tens of - maybe hundreds - of thousands. I know askonim need to understand the realities of demographics, but for me it's really hard to do that.

Re the SA guys coming in from GYE, I know nothing about Israel's scene but know a bit about USA's and elsewhere, bH. I speak to a lot of GYE guys every month, maybe 5 end up leaving GYE and starting 12 step meetings each month. Some are helped into therapy first (and those among them who are addicts often end up in 12 steps anyhow). Some of those who call me end up joining the Desperados call. Of those who join our call, about half end up in meetings - that's about 10 per year. These numbers add up.

The other factor here is that many of these are in other countries:

1- The fellow who started the Golders Green SA meeting in London was a die-hard Desperado guy. Now the meetings there are feeders for all people and the frum community has a new hope for the many still suffering alone. These London meetings that we helped jump-start, have many dozens of attendees now and has spun off into Manchester and other areas.

2- Two weeks ago I Skyped into the 1st SA meeting in South Africa outside of Durban along with the first three members; two gentiles and the Desperados member who started it. There was nothing Jewish about the meeting, bH - that's how all SA is and must remain. And I am sure the South African's will have an explosion of membership soon, as well (after all, their country's initials are SA, right?) So this stuff is exponentially growing world-wide and by next year iyH there will be more access points for people in frum areas because of the existence of established meetings in more and more frum hometowns. While growth has been an SA-reality since SA started, it has been more relevant to gentiles than to yidden. But because of GYE this is becoming a reality for Jews as more meetings start in frum areas.

Now, I love GYE. But if GYE was a viable recovery solution for most sexaholics, none of what I am observing would be happening. It is davka because GYE alone can't save most people, that they seek out SA, etc. GYE - as it is today - is entirely based on secrecy: "I will tell you the truth about what I do because you cannot figure out who I am." And that is of course its main draw. In contrast, 12 step recovery offers anonymity only outside the group. As the TED talk that Yaakov sent out a while ago clarified, the solution of 12 steps recovery is based on real relationships. GYE can offer secrecy so that terrified loners can come out of isolation from themselves. SA offers anonymity outside the group, so that those same folks can get out of isolation from others. They are completely different. Incidentally, this is why I feel that as long as GYE sticks with what it's good at, its success will continue. The success of GYE is astounding and its leadership have big plans to make it even better with G-d help (see their recent hour long board-meeting presentation here). But if people insist GYE itself provide real online recovery for addicts... it will fail and then רווח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר, etc.

There will always be Rabbonim and other yidden who are insulted for k'vod haTorah that AA's 'goyishe' 12 steps would be used by yidden, or that will have other complaints with SA-type recovery. The friendlier ones will just try to remake the Program in their image. Many have tried to use GYE to do this over the years. Boruch Hashem they have failed, and the credit goes to Yaakov and company, too. My 2 cents on that.


A continuation of Dov's response:

Now regarding your main topic: Prevention.

First let me say that after being in SA meetings every week for 19 years in 4 countries and at many SA international conventions, it has become clear to me that Frum yidden are the single fastest growing group of sex addicts there are. A few observations:

1- Compared to their gentile counterparts, the 'ultra-orthodox' are more often sicker. Prostitution, for example, is actually more common among the frum yidden who are in SA than among SA's gentiles.

2- Getting married seems to make sexaholics sicker - and this is more clearly demonstrable among the frum than among any other group.

3- While religion is always abused by addicts (just the way marriage is), we frum seem to have perfected it. Fervent yiddishkeit frequently develops in tandem with the frum addicts' disease, and by the time we come to places like SA or good therapy, they two are nearly impossible to tease apart. This leads to terrible pain and confusion when the recovering sexaholic begins to figure out that some very nice-appearing-but-overboard frum things he has been doing need to stop if he is to ever have hope of staying sober.

4- The tightest frum circles (I do not want to name names here) have the deepest problems. I think that is partially due to 'self policing', kind of like the bubble that burst for the Catholic church 20 years ago. Also, since these groups have the most trust in their own way of answering all problems, they don't sense their arrogance. Sick family dynamics, addictive behaviors, and other shameful problems are covered up or self-policed. The Twerskis have created a tool for training Rabbonim in hopes of turning this sad tide. But it's too little too late, no?

Seeing the scope and nature of the problem is important, and that was my contribution. With these things in mind, I think the main issues the Frum community faces is lack of real spiritual content/meaning and that this is enabled by shame at imperfection and the great importance placed, in its stead, on appearances. These things run deep.

When I visit a certain very yeshivish yeshiva, the boys are all 'shtotti'ly dressed to the tee...but just try to make eye contact with any of them. Many don't allow it, looking away as if they were ashamed of being. Is that me projecting? Try saying 'hi' or 'good morning'...many do not respond. The sforim taught me that a person learning Torah should naturally be among the happiest of persons - ok, let's not get carried away for they are still high school boys - but still shouldn't they at least be ok with themselves enough to say hi?...well, what's wrong here?

This is not a 'mussar issue' to try to fix behaviorally. Something's missing. At my work, people make eye contact with strangers and also say hi back at anyone. The excuse that goyim are all shallow is just an excuse, of course. Something's missing. Some may think most of these yeshivah kids are depressed. And no, I have no axe to grind, bH...but I must be honest with you and say that I fear that they are repressed as well as a bit depressed about being who they are. And no, I doubt that most of them are struggling deeply with sex and sexuality and actually ashamed of sinning last night, etc. But I do feel certain that something is definitely going on. I believe that connection is not happening, not being allowed. Something inside is successfully insulating these boys from nearly everyone they come in contact with. Excuses can be made for this, but the issue is not a coincidence with the fact that many of these boys will end up in SA meetings one day with distraught and terribly confused wives. I feel it is a big part of how they ended up this sick in the first place.

So is there a way we can increase the capacity of our high school aged boys to open up? To make safe relationships for the sake of making relationships, just because humans are cool? To be really proud and happy with who they are and what they are doing - not just to their Rebbis or close friends, but to anybody they meet. Personally, I am a little proud of who I am and what I do, failures and all. I am not afraid of eye contact. I like people - mainly because I like myself...but I was not that way before a few years of recovery.

OK, I understand that high school boys are not exactly going to 'talk openly about their feelings', yes, and the age is rather awkward. But there is something missing here. I do not think most gentile high school boys act the same way around others - do they?

And when it comes to Shidduchim...oy vei...the shame and covering up is deep and broad. It starts long before, at home and in yeshivah. Is there a way to help fathers connect more with their sons? Not about middos, but about their humanity. Tzaddikim have said that this generation's children cannot be beaten any more, it will backfire. Well, perhaps the 'sheivet' that is appropriate for this generation is the father's own frailties and failures. Opening the truth up to our children in an appropriate way - may be the only thing that can save them from living a life of secrecy...until R"l things get so bad that they get caught and become pariahs, perpetuating the problem with the shaming that others often use in order to insulate themselves from association.

Sorry this is so long and thanks for letting me participate and for maintaining my anonymity. I'd be happy to meet and talk if anyone here thinks it'd be helpful.

Any thoughts?


Rabbi Y.W Responds:

Dear Dov and the GYE Team,

You are among the heroes of our generation.

What R' Dov has written (on the previous page in bold) in my opinion and experience is right on the mark.

I think that as a Kehilla we have to openly accept that pornography (and watching pornographic material in movies and TV series – today some of the most popular TV shows feature graphic nudity and relations. In the words of one Baal habos I spoke to on Sunday: "everyone in the religious community watches these programs") is the main Nisayon and avodah of our generation. It is the modern day "Shabbos Nisayon". It is the modern day Haskala.

If we think it's a problem only for fringe elements and teens at risk, we are helping to perpetuate the problem. In most religious circles people are deathly embarrassed to even utter the word pornography out loud. And pornography is just the tip of the iceberg. Frum people are using all the popular social media platforms to have affairs and act out with z’nus. Frum people are spending hours and hours a day watching graphic sexualized movies. A Baal habos told me on Sunday, "It’s good the Rabanim don't know about Netflix, because then they will stick their nose into it. They found out about pornography and got their nose involved in that".

Companies such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime give unlimited access to streaming television and movie programs. Very popular programs have something like 7 seasons, with 15 episodes each. It's like one long movie with 105 parts. Each part is 45 minutes long. This means that to finish the "long movie" you have to watch close to 80 hours of videos. Netflix is designed to encourage you to watch them all consecutively. (See this powerful video clip on GYE's video site about this point). Programs are written to be addictive. Many people watch them over one or two long weekends, watching for 8-10 hours straight. They can be watched on a phone, tablet, or laptop.

This of course has disastrous consequences on shalom bayis and chinuch. It also leads to chillul shabbos, and a general sense of depression.

In the past, when one watched television, they watched for an hour and the story was over. When one went to a movie theater, he watched one movie and was done. But now the story is not over until one goes through all of the scores of episodes. It's similar but much more interesting than a soap opera, like an action movie never ending. And soap operas had very small budgets, usually shot on a single set. These programs sometimes have a million dollar budget for one episode. So they are much higher quality than anything ever shown on TV in the past. They are therefore much more addictive. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger and it is extremely difficult to stop.

And this is in everyone's pocket; and it's free for anyone who uses Amazon!

In fact, movie studios are shifting away from theater programming to streaming episodic content, like the ones I described above.

One Hollywood figure described the function of these long episodic, 100 episode long programs in the following terms. "Movies are for a short escape. But Episodic content is to "fall in love and make a relationship with the characters". Another said: "Movies should not be a place to escape to recharge, but a destination". In other words, their express goal is to make people leave the real word, with their "boring lives" and join them in the digital world, where things are much more exciting.

Binge Watching (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binge-watching) is part of an internet addiction "conveyor belt", a continuum of compulsive behaviors. Binge-watching can lead to compulsive porn use, that can lead eventually to meeting with prostitutes and other physical sexual encounters. Binge-watching also leads to Chillul Shabbos.


Continuation of RYW's Response:

My partner and I have brainstormed together and we have a multi-page plan of ideas that can be done. My partner spoke yesterday to Rav Aharon Feldman, who encouraged us to take a proactive, not reactive position with regard to this issue.

I am preparing to share our ideas with this esteemed group soon.

I just wanted to share two quick ideas that were raised with Dov's email.

1) GYE has an accountability program that matches everyone with a chavrusa to speak to once a week to affirm if they are still clean, or not. (This is known as a sponsor in the Anon parlance, but "chavrusa" might be a more familiar term in our circles). Why can’t we roll this out more broadly? Maybe in 9th grade, every student gets a chavrusa they speak to once a week to ensure that they are clean. Even if every bachur is not looking at porn, they are surely struggling with the thought of it, knowing how accessible it is. Maybe everyone should have a Shmiras Einayim Chavrusa. It can start in yeshivas and then be rolled out in shuls. Why wait till they have to go to GYE?

2) TAG is doing very important work. They set up filters and other accountability software, But TAG is currently being reactive. They wait till people go to them. We have to switch to being proactive. What about this idea, from my partner. The Rav of each shul should make a private meeting with every couple in the shul. He should tell them frankly what is going on: that 70 percent of frum people have unfiltered devices. The addiction continuum in many cases can run like this (I know this from some frank conversations with relatives and baal habatim): Unfiltered devices lead to movie watching. Movie watching leads to binge-watching (4-5 hours at a time of addictive programing) that leads to compulsive porn use, lust addiction, and eventually to meeting with prostitutes and other physical sexual encounters. Binge-watching also leads to Chillul Shabbos. The Rav can say, "I am making a personal request. Everyone in our Kehila is at risk, or at risk of being at risk. Please make sure to get all your devices TAG'd. Do it for the sake of the future of Klal Yisrael. We cannot have a Klal Yisrael with these shockingly high numbers (at least 100,000 - 200,000 frum Jews struggling with porn addiction). If 70 percent don’t have filters, then an equal number of people are at severe risk of being on a continuum that leads to seeing prostitutes or having affairs, which is as close as a few clicks or swipes in some of the popular apps today. The rav can’t just say it in a drasha. He should make a personal solicitation. He tells people that he will follow up in a week. The same thing can be done with schools. The principal and a tech expert meet with every parent and tells them frankly what is going on and makes a personal request.

This may sound like a lot of work. But the status quo is not tenable. We all know so many adults who went to yeshiva who stopped being frum. The term "at risk" or "off the derech" seems outdated nowadays, because it's so common. Not only with kids, but with married men and post seminary girls. In the last Haskala we lost 80% of the religious community. We can literally lose 80% again if we don't change. We have to see it like a spiritual holocaust that we are watching in real time, with extreme speed. If we can stop a holocaust would we put in a little effort?

But all of this is just staunching the bleeding. this is the Sur Mera. We need the Aseh Tov. The main work has to be put into creating a sense of simcha with Torah and Yiddishkeit in the first place.

That we can continue shortly in another email.

What do you think of these ideas?


GYE Responds:

We are looking forward to hearing more about your multi-page plan about steps that you think can be taken to improve the situation in Klal Yisrael.

Regarding your point #1--chavrusah’s, this is indeed an important and powerful tool if we can convince people of its necessity (which will not be an easy task). Tool #11: Accountability and Tool #12: Group Support from the GYE Program discusses this in great depth. Let me just quote an anecdote from an older bochur who was clean for over a year (an excerpt from Tool #12). He wrote:

Yes, it is possible to be shomer habris, both before marriage and after. How did I make it this far? At the time it seemed impossible but, Baruch Hashem, I have a few friends who realize the importance of this mitzva as well. The six of us are unmarried bachurim, currently learning in a prominent yeshiva. Together with my friends, we formed a group based on the idea that this is an important focus of our lives. We meet once a month to stress the importance and beauty of what we have undertaken, and also to make some pledges. The rules of this group require that if one falls chas v'shalom, we are required to inform all other members of the group and to pay a fine of 200 dollars to the tzedaka of our choice. The number is arbitrary and serves as a number that is a significant amount, yet doable. The members have managed to be shomer habris from one month to six months, as of today, Baruch Hashem. Your amazing website guides many aspects of our group. It all starts with accountability. If you have someone to answer to, and especially to a group, it will be that much easier and it becomes that much more real.

Regarding your point number #2 for rabbanim and principles: This is a wonderful idea. I am wondering if we can tie it in somehow to what we have already begun in Israel.

This past year, we launched an educational campaign in religious high-schools in Israel with the cooperation of the Ministry of Education (but without their funding) and we lectured in over 80 schools to approximately 15,000 students.

The Ministry of Education encouraged us to continue our activities and we developed more extensive curriculum and booklets for teen boys and girls on this sensitive and important subject that were approved by the administration.

We already created and distributed tens of thousands of booklets for teens in schools, with special versions for boys and for girls. We are also currently working on a ground breaking book for pre-bar-mitzva boys to introduce them into this sensitive topic. There is nothing like this in existence. These booklets and presentations will all be translated into English as well, and we are hopeful to work with Torah Umesorah and other organizations to get this into the hands of Jewish teens everywhere.

Please see more information about the project, the presentations and booklets here: tiptipa.org.il

We would also like to develop a curriculum for schools and mechanchim world-wide, on how to best teach these sensitive subjects in schools and Yeshivos. I have begun putting together large amounts of material that, if organized properly, I believe can be a gold-mine of chizuk, guidance and advice to the younger generation. I am looking for talented writers and visionaries who can help organize all this material into a coherent curriculum for rabbanim and teachers.

I believe that this project can empower hundreds of thousands of our next generation in today's challenging world, and it has the potential to be a game-changing initiative in the frum world. Perhaps you could help us and be involved in this, especially for the U.S. community.

Regarding what you wrote about TAG being reactive as opposed to proactive, we have a website called www.venishmartem.com (or useitsafe.com) that not only lists all the TAG offices worldwide, but also helps people find the best filtering solutions on their own, for whatever device they may have. The new Wizard we created makes this easy for anyone, with just a few clicks. Once the Wizard if fully ready (we are working on it now) we hope to begin advertising this website in a more proactive way. Perhaps we can use some scare-tactic articles on frum websites to help encourage people to take the important step of filtering their devices. TAG, by shitah, does not have a website and will not advertise on frum websites. But we can do this, and start to be more proactive in this area.


Continuation of GYE's Response:

Regarding the progression that you mentioned, of how addiction develops from being "at risk" to full blown addiction, in 2010 we made this iceberg diagram below to bring this point out in a more graphic way.

The tip-of-the-iceberg depicts the point at which we end up hearing about the problems in our communities, but of course the issue starts way, way deeper...

3-Icebergs


Rabbi G. Suggests:

1) Making Torah and Yiddishkeit more meaningful, enjoyable and inspiring

I am glad that this is coming out finally.

At the beginning we though the OTD problem was mostly the youth facing our society, but the true root is how parents and communities, as well as Yeshivos, live their Judaism .

WHERE are the classes on Emunah!?

WHERE are the Shiurim on Spirituality and Dveykus B'Hashem?

WHERE are the classes on Taamey HaMitzvos and Chasidus to inspire all the Baaley Batim so they can inspire their wives and children !?

WHERE are the classes on Tefilah in Yeshivah !?

How can we expect them to be more excited than watching a movie or TV show if we as Rabbonim don't provide at least the same excitement in our teachings of Torah and Mitzvos?

(GYE Note: This amazing 22 part series from Rabbi Moshe Weinberger on the sefarim of the Pitzetzner Rebbe is a great example of the kind of shiurim we need more of today. I have heard that his shiurim have changed many people's lives. Suggestion: If you can't listen to the entire 22 part series, at least listen to the last one. Rabbi Weinberger can't hold back his weeping as he reads the beautiful teffilah of the Rebbe. Wow.)

2) Kosher Outlets

Besides, when will we create Kosher outlet for kids? Most kids cannot stay 8 hours a day in front of a Gemara, especially if it is not relevant to their lives. And what should couples do at night instead of watching an exciting TV show, God forbid! We need more exciting Torah classes for couples and other kosher events and outlets.

We are talking here not just of a solution. We need a revolution, a wave that will change the whole dynamic of our Judaism. The whole Kiruv world will soon need to use their whole strength for the Frum world.


Rabbi Y.W Responds:

Indeed, this initiative is not a chastity crusade, but an even more fundamental one; a crusade to help klal yisrael manifest its true purpose; to become people who are so shalem and godlike, compassionate, honest, just, disciplined, holy, and in love with Hashem - that we experience an intense sense of inner simcha and fulfilment. In the words of the Mesilas Yesharim (biur of kedusha): to be in love with Hashem and experience Gan Eden in this life, in olam hazeh.

If we don't get this sense of simcha, then we will find simcha in other, more apparent places.

We don't want frum Jews just to stop binge watching R rated sexualized movies. Rather, we want frum Jews to have such a sense of simcha, fulfillment, dveikus from a relationship to Hashem, and a simcha from the dynamic that a Torah and shomer shabbos lifestyle creates, that one will recognize that the fleeting, escapist pleasure of watching that movie, pales to the pleasures that the Torah and mitzvos offer us all the time.

And we need to keep busy with positive things, as the Chidushei Harim once said: "I don’t want chassidim who don’t sin. I want chassidim who have no time to sin!"


Better Kedusha education, from young until married.

Another frum educator suggests:

It occurs to me that halachic sex education is very hard to come by. I constantly hear of people learning chumra and thinking it's halacha. So many people (frum and married) have questions with regards to their own sexual fulfilment and no one whom they can ask. There's not a straight talking book anywhere on the market. Hardly a shiur available.

If people are unsatisfied sexually and have no address to turn to or are too embarrassed, they'll find their pleasures anonymously.

I bet if you carried out a survey with regards to what is ossur or Mutar you will find more "I don't knows" and chumras than anything else.

Yes, klal Israel has always been tzanua on these inyanim. But perhaps that tsnius has become a luxury in today's world of total access. Perhaps we need to be more vocal and aggressive about making sure our communities are educated properly on these topics. Our couples need to be educated and our parents need to be armed to protect and educate their children, our singles.

We have fought every war with education. Is this one any different?


RYW Responds:

She is raising an important point. Frum boys and girls are raised to think that their private parts are bad, and intimacy is bad. It makes it difficult for young married couples to switch have a healthy and nourishing sexual relationship.

We have to teach that the bris is the most holy part of the body, the portal to pnimuis. Intimacy is the most kadosh thing, akin in the words of Ramban in Igeres Hakodesh to dveikus to the shechina. One draws down hashpaa from the highest level of Daas when one has intimacy (that's why its called Vayeida)

Because it is so holy, klippos and the yetzer hara attack it the most aggressively

The sfas emes says that the makom of the bris is the source of Desire-Love and the mekor of Ahavas hashem!


GYE Responds:

Excellent points. This issues comes up all the time in our work on guardyoureyes.com.

R' Simcha Feuerman, President of NEFESH (mental health) did a series of talks on this topic called "The Chosson Shiurim you wish you had but never got" that gives a lot of refreshing clarity in this important area.

He also wrote a great article called "The Dangers of Misguided Piety" - worth reading!

Regarding giving children the right attitudes on sexuality and their body, we wrote booklets for teen boys and teen girls in Hebrew and we are presently having them translated to English.

We also just created a booklet for young boys now, approx ages 11-13, which gives them just enough information to help them keep safe and pure, but not a drop of "extra" information which could be detrimental. Again, it's in Hebrew now but will be translated shortly to English. We believe this booklet will make big waves in the frum world. Rav Aharon Feldman is currently reviewing it and will hopefully write a haskama for it shortly.

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