A group of haredi rabbis in Israel have posted a ban on haredi web sites. They had long banned non-haredi internet sites, but this new ban cuts off virtually all internet access to their followers.
The ban was publcized on a pashkevil, a wall poster that is commonly used in haredi neighborhoods to proclaim rabbinic decrees. Ironically, the pashkevil reproduced at right (click on it to enlarge the text) came from a haredi internet site, Bechadrei Chareidim, which could be one of the newly banned sites.
Back in the 1990s, when the web was exploding with new sites, there appeared a Satmar web site entirely in Yiddish. On top of the home page was a warning which said "If you can read this, you should not be using the internet. It is muktze (actual meaning: not to be touched on Shabbat, but used to mean prohibited in general)."
As use of the internet became pervasive, in early 2000, a group of prominent Haredi rabbis in Israel with Hasidic, Lithuanian, Sephardic and Mizrahi followers, issued a total ban on use of the internet. They argued, "The Internet is a danger 1,000 times greater (than television, which was banned 30 years ago), and is liable to bring ruin and destruction upon all of Israel." They did issue a dispensation for business use, showing recognition that the internet is an indispensable tool. However, the rabbis specifically noted in their halakhic document that if the use of the internet was required for business, it should, under no circumstances, be available in the home.
Fast forward to 2009. The Haredim have a presence on the internet in the form of newspapers and blogs that report breaking news and thoughful articles on a variety of topics, mostly from a respectful perspective. Some do permit comments from readers, which show a range of opinions from strong support of positions claiming rabbinic infallibility to disdainful references and mocking of the insularity of the Haredi world view.
But the rabbis have been unable to stop the hunger for information that drives even the ultra-orthodox to add internet service to their homes. Bezeq, the Israeli telecommunications company, estimates that 26% of haredi households now have internet access. Many use it for business, financial information and religious studies, but the rabbis worry that even the haredi news sites "pursue all manners of news and gossip that defame our public" and "spread slander, lies and impurities to thousands."
Until now, there was a cease-fire between the haredi internet sites and blogs and the rabbinic establishment. But now, as reported in Ynet News, the online website of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Acharonot,
A haredi journalist said that the rabbis' position "is a very dramatic, historic thing, since they have so far refrained from taking such steps in their fight against the Internet."
This move, he added, "Is a direct war on the websites and it will be a fierce battle. It will start with the personal persecution of Internet personnel and who knows where it will end. This move may very well mean Armageddon is upon us."