Thursday, 29 December 2011

Groundbreaking Statement on Internet Use by Moetzes

Written by a staff member of GYE to be published in a popular Jewish publication.

by GYE (See all authors)

Recently, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America issued a groundbreaking statement on Internet use - see below. (To download a high resolution PDF version of the Kol Korei, right click this link and choose "Save Link/Target As").

Q) How did this statement come about?

A) The Rabbanim decided to revisit the general issue of Internet use, in light of the realities of today's day and age. What resulted is the recent statement, signed by all ten members of the Moetzes. They spent many hours, over a period of almost six months, working on the text of this statement. Every word was weighed very carefully, and the statement underwent numerous revisions before it was unanimously approved and ready to be released.

Q) Why is this statement noteworthy? There have been numerous statements by Rabbinical authorities prohibiting Internet use, except where needed for Parnasah (earning a living).

A) Nowhere does the statement categorically prohibit Internet use. As Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, stated in a recent interview with Hamodia Magazine, in today's day and age, such prohibition would be a gezeira she'ein rov hatzibur yecholim la'amod ba (something that most people would not be able to comply with). Instead, the statement sets up both mandatory and recommended guidelines for those who need to use the Internet.

Q) What are those guidelines?

A) First, it is prohibited to use the Internet without an effective filter. Second, even with an effective filter, children should not be given Internet access. If children must use the Internet, this should only be done under the strictest parental supervision (again, in addition to having an effective filter). These two guidelines are mandatory. Third, monitoring software, which sends reports of one's Internet usage to a third party, is strongly recommended. We note, however, that monitoring software is an important, if not essential, part of strict parental supervision, as discussed in greater detail in our Prevention Tips for Parents.

Q) What is the definition of an effective filter?

A) For a filter to be effective, the settings should be configured so that as much inappropriate material as possible is blocked, while still allowing access to the websites that are needed. In addition, the password to the filter should be held by a third party (or, where appropriate, by the woman of the household). Finally, should the password be forgotten, it should be sent only to an e-mail address which cannot be accessed by those being protected by the filter (such e-mail address should be provided when installing the filter).

GYE's Prevention Tips for Parents, give some additional important guidelines as to how to configure your filter, and otherwise protect yourself and your family from the dangers of the Internet.

For assistance in configuring your filter, or if you need someone to hold the password, contact the GYE "Filter Gabai" at filter.gye@gmail.com. A free filter can be downloaded for home use at the K9 website.

Q) Will an effective filter block websites that I need to access?

A) Generally speaking, websites needed for work or research will not be blocked. If a needed site is blocked, the filter settings can be adjusted to specifically allow it.

Q) Why didn't the Gedolim rule that monitoring software is mandatory?

A) Perhaps because it would have been more than some people are willing to do, which would have made such requirement counterproductive. However, because filters are far from perfect, monitoring software, which makes a person feel accountable to someone else, and fills many of the loopholes that remain even with an effective filter, is strongly recommended. Indeed, as noted above, monitoring software is an important, if not essential, part of strict parental supervision for children who must use the Internet.

Two good monitoring programs are eBlaster and Webchaver. For more information, including pricing and discounts, see GYE's Prevention Tips for Parents.

Q) In today's day and age, where the Internet is ubiquitous, why does the second paragraph of the statement go to such lengths to discourage its use?

A) Presumably, because the Gedolim do not want anyone to use their statement as a reason to start using the Internet.

Q) Have other Rabbonim placed any restrictions on the use of the Internet?

A) Yes, absolutely. For example, we highly recommend a lecture called "How Open is Too Open? Halachic Guidelines for Internet Use," given in 2007 by Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva University and Posek for the Orthodox Union (the lecture is available for free online).

Q) I have no temptation to look at inappropriate material. Does the requirement to install an effective filter apply to me?

A) Yes - the statement makes no exceptions. Keep in mind that installing an effective filter will not only help protect you from, at least, inadvertently accessing inappropriate material, but will also protect others who may use your computer. Finally, by setting a good example, you will be encouraging others, who might themselves be tempted to view inappropriate material, to comply with the ruling of the Gedolim.

Q) If someone already has an addiction to viewing inappropriate material, is an effective filter sufficient to bring his addiction under control?

A) Probably not. Such a person should also use monitoring software, and will likely need support from others. For more information, go to www.guardyoureyes.org.

In summary, the ruling of the Gedolim will, hopefully, make unrestricted Internet use a thing of the past in the Torah observant community. May compliance with the ruling of our Gedolim bring Bracha and Hatzlacha in all of our homes and to the entire Klal Yisrael.