We Blew it On the Internet


internet-computerBy Rabbi Yosef Shubert, Matzav.com

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was about twelve years ago. I bumped into an individual who knew a friend of mine and we got to talking. Being a computer expert, this man shared with me an idea he had to develop a company that would offer kosher filtered internet for cost price. At the time, the internet was still in its relative infancy, and there was really only one Jewish company offering a filtered internet service, but for many people it was too expensive. [Countless people were still taking advantage of the endless free months of dial-up service offered by AOL. Who can forget those ubiquitous free AOL CDs that we’d get in the mail or pick up in the supermarket?]

I told this man that his idea sounded super. He frowned.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“The matter? The matter is that anyone who I have broached this idea with has laughed at me or rebuked me. ‘The internet?’ they said. ‘Forget it. It’s assur. It’s like television. Would you offer a filtered television service? Of course not. The internet is no different.’

“But it is different,” this man told me he tried to explain. “I and others in the field knew that the internet was going to explode in popularity. I also knew that it would become indispensible, unlike television. But I was fighting a losing battle. I wanted to nip this issue in the bud with a great idea, but I was scoffed at. ‘It will never happen,’ I was told.”

Indeed, it never happened. Because what did happen was that in the ensuing years, the internet grew in popularity and in necessity, and suddenly, frantic parents, educators and anyone with a pulse were running around frantically unsure about how to curb the internet problem.

And we blew it. We blew an opportunity to tackle the issue from the start, instituting a system of filtering and accountability that would have been so accepted in frum households that ignoring it and having unfiltered internet access would have made one a pariah in his community.

But we blew it. We blew it by making silly comparisons to television. We blew it by denying how necessary the internet became for tens of thousands of people. We blew it by denying that tens of thousands of parnassahs relied on the internet. We blew it and we are paying the price.

We are paying that steep price in numerous ways. The first is that thousands turn a blind eye to any proclamation forbidding the internet in general or the need to have strongly filtered internet. More importantly, we are facing the reality that because the internet has been a necessity, and because that reality was never dealt with effectively, many people have said, “Forget it. I need the internet, I got it already, and that’s that. Don’t bother me with filters or anything else, because I am anyway being told by my kid’s school and others that the internet shouldn’t be in my house.”

Of course this lacks logic, because a filter is such a vital and important tool for the spiritual wellness of a home, but a person going through such a dilemma will often react this way, casting aside logic and what he knows is right, and instead dealing with the fact that he needs the internet no less than he needs his telephone in his mind. He will therefore go about his business as he has been doing.

It is because of our communal mishandling of the internet phenomenon from the very beginning that school rules regarding internet presence or use in the households of their students have had little impact. The ishur system in some communities requiring parents to sign a form attesting to the secure nature of their internet access has made slight inroads towards internet protection, spiritually and practically, but the effect is unquantifiable.

I have no hard numbers, and I invite readers to dispute my estimate and share their own thoughts, but I would assume that, at this time, at least three quarters of frum homes have the internet. Of the quarter of homes that we’ll assume don’t have the internet, I’d bet that half them have used, or regularly rely on, the internet of their peers or relatives, making their “internet-free” home dubious. Of the three quarters that have the internet, I’d guess – and this is just a guess – that fewer than half have a good, reliable, frum-moderated filter.

That, my friends, is proof of where we have failed.

For years, I have thought and said and told my students and colleagues that the internet is here to stay. When people compared it to television and made all sorts of outlandish and nonsensical analogies, I cringed. Television was never a necessity. Nor was it ever as potentially dangerous as the internet is. And nor was it ever remotely as necessary as the internet is.

Then there were some well-meaning people who tried to sell the idea that only email is necessary and not the internet. I knew that that claim was sorely lacking in substance.

Every attempt to deny our reliance on the internet set us five steps back, with people who required the internet simply subscribing to the cheapest provider or the one with the fastest service. End of story.

Aside from the obvious spiritual dangers of the internet, I believe that much of the hefkeirus and bizayon to Yiddishkeit and the Torah world that we know exists on the internet, and the belittling of our communities and its leaders in cyberspace, is due to our initial mishandling of the internet reality. We never grasped it properly. Some of us thought that closing our eyes would make it go away or make it irrelevant.

We lost our chance. And we may have lost it for good.

The next time we are faced with such a world-changing issue, if we ever will be, hopefully the voices of reason and pragmatism won’t be silenced. Hopefully, those of us Bnei Torah who really care and have our finger on the pulse of the community will be heard.

{Rabbi Yosef Shubert-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Respectfully:

    Is there a point to this article other than to point fingers and encourage depressing hindsight? There doesn’t seem to be a single constructive idea; are you suggesting that hope is lost and Klal Yisrael is doomed?

    There is great need for thought and consideration of the next steps in fighting the effects of the internet on Frum (and general) society. This article wants/provides none of that. Rather it reads as nothing more than a self-righteous condemnation.

    Can someone enlighten me as to how this helps?

    Let’s look at a sampling of direct quotes:

    “We blew it…”
    “And we blew it.”
    “But we blew it.”
    “We blew an opportunity…”
    “We are paying a steep price…”
    “That, my friends, is proof of where we have failed.”
    “We lost our chance and we may have lost it for good.”
    “It is because of our communal mishandling…”

    Blame, blame, blame. Negativity, negativity, negativity.

    No, we cannot afford to sweep the problems under the rug. Mistakes were probably made. But how this article contributes to constructive dialogue is beyond me.

    I’d be interested in a response.

  2. see, you’re doing it again. you haven’t learned from your own mistakes. you sit at your internet connected computer wringing your virtual hands decrying all those that failed to act. what did you do about it then when you had the chance? NOTHING! what are you doing now? NOTHING!


    no, its not too late to start that internet company that will filter all content for the frum family. there are plenty of people who are yearning for a viable alternative to what is being offered on the street. it would be a lot easier for Yeshivos etc. if they would have a package they could require their parent body to accept and not simply tell them they need to have a “filter” or no internet at all.

  3. How right you are!! Internet at this point is more than just nice and helpful. It’s a necessity. For business purposes we have internet access in our home with a kosher filter. Some of my family and friends, who do not have internet, use my service. I also know more than just one purpose who lie to schools about their internet access in their home. Yes we did miss an opportunity. Much more then oh vay and oh well. A living and proven shame.

  4. What a double talking phoney! You call yourself “Rabbi”? When & who did you get Smicha from? You keep saying “we”. Who do you think you’re representing? Talk for yourself.

  5. I, frankly, do not use a filter, except for a regular spam filter, nor have I ever used a computer with a “kosher” filter. I find that, unlike the early days of the internet, one cannot get to an objectionable site by accident. You have to go there deliberately. I agree that kids, particularly adolescents, need close supervision.
    My concern about “kosher” filters is, who decides what’s “kosher”? I generally read a wide cross section of Jewish blogs, including this one, from right wing to left wing. Would a kosher filter allow, say, “Cross Currents” but block “Failed Messiah”? If it just blocks site of a prurient nature, who desides whats prurient?

    The maskanah is that I believe that I am a better judge of what and what not to see than a canned program based on key words selected by …who?

  6. >For business purposes we have internet access in our home with a kosher filter.

    Presumably you have internet at work for “business purposes” too. What’s your business purpose of reading and posting to Matzav.com?

  7. In the last paragraph Rabbi Shubert accurately writes that the internet has become a moshav Leitzim. The Frum Olam has no presence on the internet. It is a terrible Chilul Hashem and turns people off of Yiddishkeit. Try googling any rosh yeshiva or the word Chareidi.
    I have my issues with Matzav, but Matzav and Rabbi Shubert ARE taking action by making accurate and appropriate information available online.
    Our Google image is at risk.

  8. Very valid. Instead of trying to “asser”,this flood , I was hoping that somebody ( or group of concerned yidden,or organization, or wealthy persons,grasping the situation, the danger, and the huge mitzva and opportunity to make a huge difference in klal yisroel , would back (or create) just such a company , that would provide very high quality filtering (speed,ease, glitch free, etc), at a subsidized price that would make it easy for even many that certainly would want to have filtering, but felt it difficult financially.
    If many , many users, were satisfied with the quality, and happy with the
    mitzva, it would grow and spread and be accepted, and become the standard.

  9. i am a customer of Matzavnet Matzav’s internet filter service. I am very pleased with it. I was wondering is Rabbi Shubert involved with the internet filter of matzav or just matzav.com.

    it seems coincidental.

    anyway , i strongly suggest people get Matzavnet it is the cheapest and best out there. i have it for close to a year and have been very pleased. they are not paying me for this plug. i just think its kedai for people to protect themselves.

    you can get it by going to http://matzavnetwork.com or by calling 877-MATZAV1

  10. To Raphael Kaufman, “Failed Messiah” is not a Jewish blog. Not even left wing. You can read it at your own risk, I sometimes do, but please do not lump it with Jewish blogs.

  11. who said we were wrong 12 years ago to rightfully assume internet is like television? it definitly is the same. how were we to know that it would become a neccesity? Im not sure we were wrong for trying to keep it unacceptable.


    The internet has arrived over a decade ago and will be here long after we are gone.
    It is indispensable for banking, postage, reservations, scheduling appointments, shopping, support advice, emailing, etc. etc. To FORBID a technological advance is senseless and demeans toras hashem. Teach and provide concrete advice on how, when, where and the whys of its use.

  13. Raphael Kaufman I agree with alan Failed Messiah is worse than the worst tumah on the internet!!! the gemara in Sanhedrin says that somebody who does an aveira with an aishes ish misoso bchenek but he has a chelek lolam habo but somebody who is mevayesh chaveiro berabim ain lo chelek lolam habo!

    Failed Messiah’s (and similar blogs which people take as “heimish”) raison detre is to be mevayish individuals, communities and rabbonim.

    Would you bring into your a hard copy of Failed Messiah into your home? NO! Then why should the internet be above the Torah?!

    I think those type of sites/blogs are much more dangerous to klal yisroel than the “shmutz’ on the web. Because most frum yidden are aware of the pitfalls of tumahdike sitesand can control themselves when it comes to “shmutz” but we cant control ourselves when it comes belittling other yidden or communities.

  14. Hate to break it to you R’ Schubert, but nothing will ever change in your community until the knee jerk reaction to anything new and different by banning it- is changed.

  15. If it wasn’t for some of these blogs though, certain misbehaviors in the frum community would continue to fester unabated. Thanks to some of these blogs for blowing the cover off of that.

    As they say “sunlight is the best disinfectant”

  16. Failed Messiah is an apostate Jew who attacks all things Jewish. He is one of the dangers of the internet, until he reaches his bitter end.

  17. I agree with the thrust of this article. However, the key is not to look back, but to look ahead and take action, both on an individual and community level.

    Filters may not be perfect, but they probably block 95% of the really bad stuff. Using a filter (password held by the woman of the household or by a trusted third party), combined with accountability software, such as eBlaster (which sends reports to a third party; again, password held by a third party), works quite well. We need to do this, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

    We should also do our best to avoid brand new technology UNTIL good safety measures become available, usually 1-2 years after the new technology is introduced.

    Finally, for those who have gotten involved with Internet shmutz to the point of addiction, would love to stop but can’t, and are living double lives, I’ve been there, and I know how painful this can be. Today, Boruch Hashem, I am clean for a year and a half. Please visit http://www.GuardYourEyes.org today to begin the road to recovery.

  18. Um, what ever happened to personal responsibility?

    The Torah says, “ushmartem me’od lenafshoseichem” – not “veshomru me’od lenafshoseichem”

    Big difference…

  19. listen to all sides:
    A Jewish author obviously doesn’t qualify the blog to be a Jewish blog.
    As far as Jewish topics; can blogging without the slightest concern for or belief in halacha about the topics being written about, really be considered Jewish blogging? Is a Jews for J blog a Jewish blog? was the reform movement a Jewish movement or a movement by Jews? (careful how u answer that, even if u do listen to all sides)

  20. The modern orthodox world embraced the internet with tremendous enthusiasm as a vehicle for bringing people to Torah and for spreading Torah learning, with dozens of web sites offering shiurim on almost every topic imaginable. http://www.yutorah.org alone has many thousands of audio shiurim from many dozens of roshei yeshivot past and present; Rabbi Hershel Schachter alone has over two thousand online. I myself learn daf yomi each day from wonderful audio shiurim given by Rabbi Moshe Elefant that are available at http://www.ouradio.org. If nothing else this has proven that Torah is endless.

  21. I have to agree with Raphael Kaufman, not because of FailedMessiah, but because of the wealth of worthwhile knowledge on the Internet. Would any frum filter allow academic sites or Wikipedia? I find it disturbing that frum people can still only think of banking and shopping as the good aspects of the Internet.

  22. Professor Hall (post #30),

    In 2007, Rav Hershel Schachter spoke about the dangers of the Internet and the precautions that should be taken. The name of the Shiur is “How open is too open?” (a Google search should pull it up).

  23. the problem with the internet is that when it came out it was assuered it instead of dealing with the problem
    this the way we deal with all issues
    if we would have said thats a great thing but with dangers and get filters then a majority of people wouldnt mind getting filters
    there is an old saying “if u want people not to speak loshon harah then tell them its a minhag”

  24. Besides sharing the same name, I agree with David’s advice (#27).

    Obviously, beyond the problems of illicit sites is the major concern of bittul zman, both from work, and more seriously, from limud HaTorah. Filters will never replace self discipline in this regard.

  25. in a few more years im afraid you will write that we blew it on the shidduch crisis. no one created an atmosphere where marrying a girl many years younger was not lechatchila and boy are those girls paying the price.

  26. Indeed, he is correct. Some of the sites which were started and refined such as those mentioned (YUTorah, OU.org, Aish.com) have developed a wealth of great content over the years. The infusion of positive material was really what was necessary.

    There is still resistance today, as the Agudah and almost every Yeshiva do not have websites. (except for Yeshivos to run fundraising activities) Even without much content, that would at least symbolically convey the message that they are in the 21st Century. Today, the focus is on the filters which as indicated in the piece is too little, too late. If they embraced it earlier, they would have the credibility especially with young people. But today, the Internet has just evolved into a convenient scapegoat for many of the ills in our community.

  27. Sam, some may say it in that we failed in not creating an atmosphere where the focus was on chanoch l’naar al pi darko and creating batei ne’eman b’Yisrael, not arbitrary cookie cutter molds.

  28. Being that the internet problem is so huge, perhaps it has been foretold by one of the prophets? And if so, could we glean any advice?

    Perhaps we can say that Gog, prince of Magog (Ezekiel 38&39), is none other than Google (stock symbol GOOG), prince of internet search?! ‘MaGog’ can translate to ‘WHAT are the results, GOOG?’ (‘ma’
    meaning ‘what’ in English). Gog’s land is Magog, which means it thrives in googled cyberspace. As is known, this war of Gog is already well in progress and with tremendous casualties, may G-d save us.
    Now, Google of course is not the only search engine, so ‘Gog’ is a general term (as in the term ‘googling’), but Google is (currently)
    the premier search engine, and is itself no angel, doing nothing really to prevent the problem, and in fact makes billions of dollars from ads on the dark side.

    Gog is told: “Thus said the Lord Hashem/Elokim: It shall be on that day that ideas will arise in your heart, and you will conceive a wicked design. You will say, ‘I will advance against a land of open
    towns, I will come up against the tranquil people who dwell securely, all of them living without a [protective] wall; they have neither bars nor doors – to seize booty and take spoils…’” (Ezekiel 38:10-12, Stone edition). The ‘wicked design’ is the search engine. The ‘tranquil
    people’ are those without proper internet protection, and those that think they have it — but actually don’t. So the advice of the prophet is to get proper protection, not turn a blind eye.

    As an aside, what about the destruction of Gog? When Mashiach comes, there will be lots of empty disk space and servers — apparently enough supply to satisfy demand for seven years: “Then the inhabitants of the cities of Israel will go out and kindle fires and fuel them with their
    weaponry… for seven years.” (ibid 39:9).

  29. Guardyoureyes.org saved my life. If you’re not addicted, get a filter. If you are, get a filter, and get guardyoureyes.org.
    If you have money, and want to actually do what khal yisrael desperately needs, send money to guardyoureyes.org.
    They are endorsed by Daas Torah. They actually did something instead of saying “we blew it”.
    The problem is huge. We have 1500 (frum!) members. But there is help. There is hope. Guardyoureyes.org

  30. I have Internet Rimon and am very pleased. They have Internet Etrog, also, for those whose field of work allow them to have an even stricter filter. Go to http://www.neto.net.il for more info; they also have a safechat program as well as anti-virus.

  31. I spend a good deal of time on unfiltered internet and never seen anything I didn’t want to see. It could be because I don’t go anywhere I shouldn’t be… Just the way I don’t go places I shouldn’t go in real life.