by Annette van de Kamp-Wright

Much has been written, said, and sometimes yelled about the Internet. It’s a vile place where opinionated scarecrows hide the hate and prejudice they don’t dare to share in public. There’s porn, and there are scams, and threats; there are lies and really distasteful youtube videos.

Of course, the Internet also allows us to connect with others, share information and communicate. We can skype with family and friends even if they live thousands of miles away, and we can send pictures of the grandkids in real time. Few of us can imagine making it through the workday without email or a Google search (or ten). And there’s nothing wrong with that.

On May 19, more than 40,000 haredi Orthodox Jewish men gathered at Citi Field in New York to discuss and denounce the impurity of the World Wide Web.

“The Internet even with a filter is a minefield of immorality,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a haredi Orthodox lecturer from Monsey, N.Y. “This issue is the test of the generation. Your strength at this gathering will determine what Judaism will look like a few years from now.” (JTA.com)

And so on, and so forth. Of course, the Internet is a soulless, heartless, lifeless thing. It’s not technology that should be blamed; it’s the people who use it, and that includes vendors as well as consumers. If I waste half an hour playing Bejeweled Blitz or looking at cute kittens (not that I would, at least not every day), I can’t blame what my Mac gives me access to. I have to take responsibility for my actions. One can wield an axe to do bodily harm and it wouldn’t end well, or one can use it to chop down a dead tree before it crushes a house and hurts its occupants. At the end of the day, it’s all about making good choices.

I don’t know for certain that these rabbis would necessarily argue with that. But that rally around the Mets’ home plate raises an interesting question. Wachsman and co. are not saying the Internet is all bad; they emphasize that filters need to be in place so the ‘bad stuff’ is not accessible in the first place. No temptation.

We all, Jews and non-Jews alike, live in a litigious society. We don’t like taking responsibility for our actions; we’d much rather sue McDonald’s for making the coffee too hot. If our children do badly in school, it must be the teacher’s fault. Our favorite team would have won that championship if only that referee had had his eyes checked once in a while.

In that sense, these 40,000+ haredim are just like the rest of us: they see a problem and blame the “other.” All this around Shavuot, when we commemorate being given a hefty set of rules about what we should and shouldn’t do: the ultimate reminder that we are responsible for our own actions, if you ask me. But: I am no rabbi, and my opinion is just my own.

When we take responsibility for our own choices, and stop blaming other people or things, we actually benefit from it. We regain control of our own lives, we get to be sorry for our mistakes and we get to feel good when we do something right. We don’t have to feel as if things are out of our hands and we’re just powerless bystanders, at the mercy of whatever evil comes our way.

We can use the Internet without compromising our Jewish values, and we don’t need a filter while doing it. The filter is already built in: it’s our own common sense. We just need to use it, not only with the Internet, but with everything we do.