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Internet Popular Culture and Jewish Values: The Influence of Technology on Religion ...

Chapter 1:  Introduction
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Internet Popular Culture and Jewish Values:

What triggered the present study was a newspaper article that described a ban on computers and the Internet—imposed in October 1999—on the followers of the Belz Hasidic, an Israeli ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) religious sect. This edict was also endorsed by 30 leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis from various other religious communities in Israel (“Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Ban,” 2000). Explaining that this original prohibition against computers and the Internet was later revised to permit computer use but continue the ban on Internet access, the article noted, the Belz Hasidic sect determined that “computers have proved valuable in teaching the Bible and in running businesses” (“Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Ban”). The Internet, however, was declared “out of bounds,” largely because the information it exposed—especially pornography—conflicted with ultra-Orthodox principles rejecting modernity and popular culture (“Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Ban”).

Why was there such apprehension by ultra-Orthodox leaders that Internet content would be exposed to their followers—especially children? It appeared the sect’s leaders and supporters were concerned with loss of control over the kind of information or messages to which their followers were exposed. They were most likely worried that popular-culture messages from the “outside world” and the values that they represented would conflict with their own values. Perhaps they were also afraid that these values might infiltrate their closed society and present challenges that would ultimately affect the control the leaders maintained on their followers—particularly their children. We have found that while the majority of religious leaders and educators—whether in Israel or elsewhere—do not call for an outright Internet ban, they don’t condone unlimited, unsupervised access either.