Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fifteenhundred Flatbushers Fight Foe - Flatbush Asifa

I just returned from a very inspiring gathering which took place at Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin.

Several Flatbush Rabbonim got together to speak about the dangers of the Internet and what we can do about it.

This gathering was very different from the one 3 weeks ago at Citifield, in that the participants and speakers were on the same page. The speakers were noted Rabbonim from local Shuls in the community(aside from RMS); so aside from addressing the crowd in English, the Rabbonim were very aware of the local needs and challenges.

Women were invited, and overflowing attendance showed that this Asifa was warranted. No one was forced to buy a ticket (in fact the event was free), yet over 1,500 strong (I asked an officer outside how many people were there and he said "not less than 1,500") came to be inspired. And inspired we were.

I came early, approximately 30 minutes before the proceedings began and was surprised to see that almost all the seats in the Bais Medrash were filled. There was additional seating elsewhere in the building, in addition to many standees.

I was impressed that the program began within 5 minutes of the starting time, with several chapters of Tehillim read responsively.

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, spoke about the auspicious date that was picked, Chaf Sivan, as that day is noted by Chazal as the start of preparations for Yom Kippur. RAS compared the fight against the Internet to the Milchama against Amalek. He said if people would understand that this Milchama is our Nisayon, they would attack it differently (i.e. they would be more forceful in ridding it from our midst). He cited 3 main problems with the Internet. Shmutz, Social issues and Waste of time. He told a story about Rabbi Uri Zohar who once took a 6 hour flight yet had no book or electronic gadget with him. This required him to think. This was the impetus for him to do Teshuva. RAS said that the Yetzer Hara wants us to be busy, so we don't have time to think and change our ways. RAS quoted a statistic that 80% of divorces now quote Facebook in the proceedings. He emphatically stated that Social Networking sites have no place in a Yiddish home.

I thought that RAS would be more fire and brimstone, but his heart to heart talk seemed to be devoured and appreciated by the participants.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman spoke about the Leitzanim, and the naysayers. He noted that Daniel was 12 years old when he went into Golus, yet he and his friends made Takanos not to eat Bishul Akum, not to drink Goyishe keep their children from marrying Goyishe daughters. The Leitzanim and naysayers laughed at this, yet it was the L&N's that 60 years later went to Achashveiros's party...He noted that 2 twelve year old boys came to him and told him how easy it is to bypass their father's security (Update: in fact, it was these 2 twelve year old boys that inspired this Asifa). RYR then gave very practical instructions for the layman in how to secure the BIOS bootup, how to use secure passwords etc. He jokingly said not to use your own last name as a PW, but rather to use his! So apparently Reisman will now be the dafault PW on many Flatbush computers.

He then pointed out that we speak about filtering for our "kids", but kids is just a code-word for us, as everyone has a Yetzer Hara. He then suggested putting a screensaver with the words Shivisi Hashem LeNegdi Tamid - and said that the Shem Hashem should be spelled out.

Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff spoke about Browsing. He said that no one would pass by a Cathedral or an Ashram and say "I'm just going in to browse". He said that WiFi would be more aptly called Wireless INfidelity. He said over a nice Drosho (from Rav Yonoson Eybeschutz) as to why it says "Asher Bachar Banu" when actually WE chose Hashem. He said over a Drosho from the Chasam Sofer how the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah were Mevatel the YHR for Avoda Zara, and blackened the eye of Arayos. Seems that AZ was done in groups and Tefillah was done then only Beyichidus. Forming a gathering for Tefillah was the only way to combat the YHR for AZ. Yet empty Tefillah causes the YHR to regain power.

He asked an interesting question, why we say Lo Sasuru Acharei Levavchem Vacharei Eynaychem...seems that the eye sees first, then the heart desires...He explained that 4 people could read the same newspaper, yet each person notices what interests him and is oblivious to the rest; one sees the sports, one sees the news, etc. so it is really the Lev that comes first, as the heart "sees" whatever it wants to see...

He mentioned Madison Squre Garden, and joked that that is the former site of the Siyum Hashas...He implored filter use. He said that one can walk 3 miles in the rain and keep dry so long as the umbrella is open, but as soon as you close the umbrella, you get wet.

Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon batted cleanup. He spoke about "Hakhel" how people must gather at times and be taught. He noted that today's gathering is an extension of the Citifield Asifa. He explained that the Posuk says "Kedoshim Tehiyu", not you should be but that you WILL BE. It is therefore a promise. Hashem will lead you where you want to go. Similar to the famous Rambam regarding a recalcitrant husband who doesn't want to give a GET, we force him until he WANTS to, but the point is that he really DOES want to give the GET. He said he is amazed that following the Asifa there are so many people who WANT to do the right thing. He said we should ignore the cynics.

RMTL then went through various guidelines that were printed in the handout.

1. Change our behaviour so that Internet use is limited to uses of practical necessity.

2. Totally avoid Internet for entertainment or social interaction.

3. Cease using Facebook, Twitter and other SN sites.

4. Filter all Internet access and protect filters

5. Filter smartphones.

This was followed with Kabalos Ol Malchus Shamayim and a spontaneous breakout of the song Tehei Hashaa Hazos Shas Rachamim V'Es Ratzon Milfanecha (Rav Meir Shapiro ZTL).

I was very impressed in how the Asifa started and finished on time. The speakers knew the crowd and tailored their speeches accordingly. Rabbi Mehlman from the FJJ was thanked for providing the advertising free in his newspaper. This Asifa was definitely a Kiddush Hashem and was very inspiring.


  1. were the promised techies to add filtration software / disable connectivity from the traifineh keilim there ?

  2. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I didn't find any contact form on your blog, so... I would like republish this post on my website with your permission (with credit and link to the source). Let me know please. All the best.

  3. Sure. Just remember, this was written right after the event and is not polished.

  4. According to this, any person who disagrees with this Asifa, is a letz and a naysayer.

    I respectfully disagree. This Internet crusade is an excuse not to deal with the real problems, which are avoided. Kids at Risk was a problem way before the internet was invented by Al Gore (LOL), and nobody has documented any increase since the internet. Nor will they because no problems are seriously tackled in our community.

    I am sorry to make this post but the truth should and cannot be avoided and will not go away because of hysterical tirades against the "other," now personified by the internet.

    With Emes Kavod Hatorah.

  5. There were no hysterical tirades. There were 4 calm, cool and collected speeches. While it is true that there were KAR years ago, I would say that having the internet available in a Bochur's pocket has increased the potential of making good kids KAR.

  6. The speakers addressed the gathering with respect both regarding their inteligence and their religious sincerity. Gone was the attitude that balebatim who learn and daven and support mosdos are third class citizens. And as a result the asifa was enormously successful. The only sour note was Rav Matisyahou Solomon who insisted on praising the disastorous failure of Citifield... and could only countenance this asifa if it was an "entension" of Citifield. Rav Matisyahou lost his audience and in my view his presence was counter-productive. Moreover his kedoshim Tihyu grammatical question caused quite a bit of head-scratching. In the final analysis, his performance made it clear that, unlike the other speakers he continues to be utterly out of touch with reality

  7. There are several such events planned in diffrent communities.
    Here is an oponion about this issue, enjoy:
    Ignoring the underlying problem hinders a sustainable solution.

  8. Anon 11:58:

    I rarely remove comments, but I am tempted. I would say that your remarks are LH, but that would mean that they are true, which I disagree.

    All RMS meant by "extension of Citifield" was that the Grand Asifa was the turning point, the rallying of Klal Yisroel against the evils of the Internet. Yet it is now up to each community to form its own guidelines. What works for Bnei Brak doesn't necessarily work for Flatbush. The mini rallies that will now take place in various cities are certainly an extension of CitiField.

    As for his Drosho, I don't think he was feeling too well. He looked frail. Remember, not too long ago he was hospitalized.

    I liked his vort on Tihiyu. I'm scratching my head what is bothering you.

    As for being in our out of touch, I would say he is IN. The Grand Asifa was strongly backed by him, and he put in much Koach. Only someone who is in touch with reality could work so hard on an issue when he is not feeling well.

    1. Each of the first three speakers very thoughtfully and effectively addresed the widespread complaints about Citifield -- that it failed to adequately address English speakers (though virtually all computer users speak English) that it dienfranchised women (even though they are a very natural ally in this effort), that it was short on specifics (despite assurances that technical issues would be addressed), etc. Despite the best of intentions, Citifield was widely viewed as a failure because it made gedolim look like they were out of touch with the real life situation. By insisting that Citifield was wonderful the mashgiach regretably undermined his effectiveness. I do appreciate his mesiras nefaeh in coming depite health issues and wish him a refuah she'lema....and a huge yasher koach for his efforts in leading this important initiative.

  9. You wrote:
    "Yet it is now up to each community to form its own guidelines. What works for Bnei Brak doesn't necessarily work for Flatbush."

    I don't disagree with what you say needs to be done, but don't understand how this constitutes an extension of the Citifield Asifa.

    The Citifield Asifa declared that no one is permitted to have Internet in their home, even with a filter, and that all children from such homes must be expelled from yeshiva. This was unequivocal and Rabbi Wachsman declared that this psak was binding on all of Clal Yisroel, presumably including all yeshivos.

    According to Rav Wachsman, whoever goes against this has no chelek in Olam Haba.

    To say that the Flatbush Asifa is an extension is disingenuous, to say the least.

  10. Shlomo:

    In my opionion, the Citifield Asifa was "hijacked" by Chasidim. They decided on who would speak and in what language.

    So you ask an excellent question. Yet the Internet is something that is not a one size fits all for every community. In Eretz Yisroel, ball playing is frowned upon, if not outright Asur. What works in Williamsburg does not work in Flatbush, and vice versa.

    Even in Flatbush, some Yeshivos are already posting their criteria. Kollel fellows will probably face stricter restrictions over Baal HaBaatim.

    My understanding is that Rav Wosner retracted some of what he said, but we probably have no way of knowing if that is true.

    It is very difficult to Pasken outside one's own area.

    Why don't you call Rabbi Wachsman and ask him your question? Please report back here.

  11. Last time I checked hijacking was a criminal activity. Just what are you suggesting?

    I'm sticking to my guns. No hijacking involved. It was a case of proportional representation.

  12. Well, what starts out as a good idea gets "hijacked" when too many cooks spoil the broth. Had the original plans taken root, we probably wouldn't have had a Flatbush Asifa, as the Citifield event would have invited women,would have had English speakers, would have provided practical advice...

  13. The widely-circulated statistic about Facebook and divorce is 20%, not 80%. Even that number must be taken in context, with a lot of salt.

  14. 80% sounded too high, but even 20% is reason enough to keep away.

  15. Let's say your right and the asifa was hijacked.

    Tell me, though.

    Why was this kept a secret?

    Why were people not told two days beforehand or even one day beforehand, so that they would be able to make an informed choice as to whether they were still interested in attending?

    Please show us how you can be melammed zechus as to this did not constitute extreme disrespect for the non-hasidish, non-yiddish-speaking ba'alei batim, including those watching from satellite locations.

    Please be melamed zechus as to why this did not constitute geneivas da'as, geneivas zman, and geneivas mammon.

    As for your suggestion I call Rabbi Wachsman and ask him, why don't you do it and then report back to us? (As for me, he knows my voice, so this is not an option.)

  16. SoMeHoW, "Hijacked" is a very passive word. This assifah was hijacked like a plane whose pilot decides that it is more important to fill up his plane than to deliver his customers safely to their destination, so he invites Yasser Arafat v'siyato on board, and allows them to bypass the security check.

  17. StamADeyah:

    Good Moshol.

    Add to that my comment about their knowing days in advance that the hijacking had taken place and that the plane would be going to a different location, yet continuing to advertise -- through their spokesperson -- that the plane was still going to its original destination.

    Add to that, that those running the airline are sending the message "Trust me."

  18. Ouch! This thread is about the Flatbush Asifah and it is being hijacked. I can't speak for others, particularly because I have no idea what happened. But I suppose the plan was that there was going to be speeches in English, then when the Chassidim were brought aboard, the organizers agreed to their request to have Yiddish only, by compromising by having English subtitles on the screen. What did you want them to do at that point? Take out full page ads in the papers saying so? If I recall, there were articles in Hamodiah stating that there was going to be screen translation.

    In my opinion, the big Asifah was a conglomorate of input, hence a hodgepodge of output. Yet it put Asifahs on the map and certainly got the conversation going. Each locale will now have their own gathering with their own rules.

  19. Anonymous:
    Perhaps you don't understand.

    Right up to the day of the Asifa, its spokesperson was saying that it would not be about banning the internet, but about practical solutions and also that the program would be geared to the broad spectrum of the Jewish Community.

    Yet, they knew full well that this was not to be the case.

    You're saying that they should have continued to not tell the truth and to mislead people? Is there some reason why participants should not have been allowed to make an informed decision as to whether they still want to go?

  20. Shlomo, StamADeyah and all anonymi:

    Thanks for all the comments. I can't really speak for the Grand Asifa organizers, as I am not associated with any of them. This was a first time try and there obviously were mistakes. Let's move on, I've already put up a new post.

    Anyone who can ask these questions to Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, or perhaps spokesperson Eytan Kobre, should please do so and report back here.

  21. I find it interesting that comments were toned down. I have heard Rabbi Schorr ask people with phones that have Internet to leave the shul, and I saw a poster that had Rabbi Solomon as a signator that any Lakewood guy who has internet loses his zchus in the bais medrash, even to learn there

  22. SoMeHoW,
    While you'd like to move on, clearly one of the Grand Assifa Organizers does not.

  23. Anon 2:39

    As I've reiterated above, different strokes for different folks. What works in Bnei Brak doesn't work in Flatbush. Even in Flatbush there are a vast array of Shuls/people. RAS is much more stringent on his Shul-goers than he is on Flatbush as a whole.

    What is noteworthy in my opinion is how TXTing has become much more acceptable as of late. Years ago, RAS was fire and brimstone against it. Maybe he still is, but he didn't mention at the Asifa. Perhaps that is because Facebook and Twitter(s) are more prolific now, or maybe he has softened on that. Pure conjecture.

    I know that cell phones were frowned upon for use in the street when they first came out. It was considered unlady-like to walk and gab on one in the street, yet now it is par for the course.

    Another blog notes that Tape-recorders were victims of their own Ban as recently as 1978. So times do change. Every technology takes some time to get used to and be channelled properly.

    The fight against the TV was won. Yet the Internet combines a tool with entertainment.

    Finally, the Satmar who are vehemently against the Internet have recently banned bicycles. Yet I haven't seen that proclamation reach the streets of Flatbush. Yet.

  24. Yet I haven't seen that proclamation reach the streets of Flatbush. Yet.

    איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד

    Just give it some time. past performance is no guarantee of future results but that's the way the smart money bets.

  25. I understand why you would want to move on.

    I would as well, were I in your position, wanting to believe that there was anything positive -- as opposed to positively embarrassing -- about the Citifield Asifa.

    Why wait for someone else to call Rav Wachsman and ask him my questions when you can do it yourself, especially once you tell him that you're trying to defend the apparent geneivas da'as and geneivas zman (in addiiton to the bizarre situation where, according to him, even the Rabbonim who spoke at the Flatbush Asifa have no chelek in Olam HaBa, given that htey went against Rav Wosner's psak and permitted filtered Internet in the home and did not advocate tossing kids from yeshivas.

  26. there was anything positive -- as opposed to positively
    I love your word play, Shlomo. You are welcome here anytime.

    I almost did heed the call and call him, but I didn't find his number using a simple anywho and google search. Please don't publish it here.

    I always look for the positive, and I am quite aware that all was not well with the Grand Asifa. Yet there was plenty of good which I delineated above.

    I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I've explained elsewhere on this blog Rav Wosner's psak and why I don't feel it applies to me or anyone else in the USA who is not his Talmid.

  27. These talks are available in full on The Yeshivah World. In introducing these talks YWN says:"In the extended article below, are the videos of the speeches delivered at this past Sundays Internet Asifa, held at the Agudah of Avenue L. It should be noted, that YWN has nothing to do with these videos, we are simply publishing a link available on the Internet. It is well understood that it seems ironic to be posting these videos on the Internet. But Rabbonim felt that it may be Nisorer many people who were unable to attend." I would like to understand how these rabbanim decided this issue , did they consult with the other rabbis at the original asifa?

  28. I understand why you consider Rav Wosner's psak not binding.

    However, Rav Wachsman firmly declared that you therefore have no chelek in Olam Haba.

    Now, what do you find "positive" about that?

  29. Rabbi Schorr is still against texting. One concern is that people say things that they wouldn't using other means of communication.

    Tape recorders may have been banned from the classroom, perhaps because Rebbeim were relying on them to teach the lesson while they relaxed. There may have been nothing wrong with the technology per se.

  30. There was an archeological dig near Yerushalaim that found an ancient Kol Koreh banning the use of the wheel. That was because it allowed people to travel outside of their homes.

    Is anybody makpid on bal toseph?


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