“'I do not want to be Haredi. I do not care.' What happens to youth exposed to the unfiltered Internet ? Are Internet problems just a symptom of a disease – and not the disease itself?
I got an urgent call last week: 'I need to talk to you ASAP. I think I'm going to lose my son,' the person tells me. We arranged a meeting and he arrived in a state of turmoil. So, he said:
'I am a businessman. I have seven children. All of them, thank G-d, are good and charming children. I cannot claim to be the perfect father, but my wife and I try to be the best parents that we can be. We have a very good relationship with all our children. We go once a year to a children's education course, so that we can be better parents.
My eldest son is studying in his first year at a ‘big yeshiva’ . Last winter, I saw that he was not so careful about the yeshiva, but we did not say a word, we just told him, 'If you need something, we're always there for you.' Two days ago, I sat with my son and asked if something was bothering him… but he said: ‘Leave it alone, Daddy. You won't want to hear what has to be said.’ But I insisted, and said, 'Whatever you tell me, I promise you I will support you. You are my son. I will always be with you.' Then he dropped a bombshell on us that since then my wife and I hardly sleep or eat, only cry.
He told us that he does not want to continue sitting in Yeshiva to study. He does not like to it and is not interested in Yeshiva life. 'Throughout the ‘small yeshiva,’ I pretended like I was sitting and learning, but I just cannot do it anymore,' he said.
Hearing these things would make me cry and break down as well because every parent wants his son to follow his path, the way he believes, but I'd accept it somehow. I'd even bring him on in my business. But then, he added something that actually broke me into pieces. 'I'm sad to tell you, Dad, but I really do not want to be a Haredi who observes Torah and mitzvot . It just does not interest me.' I felt at that moment that I was going to have a heart attack. I could not say a word. I just went over to my son, hugged him and sobbed.'
And here the father burst out in front of me with heartbreaking tears and said, 'What have we done wrong? What have we done wrong? What will happen to my son?' He asks with bitter tears. I talked to him for a long time and decided that I would meet his son, hoping to try to see what was going on with him and what he was going through.
He [the son] came into my room, looking like a yeshiva student in every respect, hat and suit, and long sidelocks on his cheeks. We started talking. He was a very smart guy and the conversation rolled on until he came to his desire to leave the yeshiva and more importantly his reluctance to observe Torah and mitzvot.
'I have great parents. I have no complaints about them, except perhaps that my father used to travel abroad for his business, and so I would not see him, but my father would make it up to me while he was in Israel.
My father's office was under our building. A few years ago, my father was abroad. It was a week before the Pesach  holiday. My father called me and told me he would only be coming home the day before Pesach, so he would not be able to clean his office and asked if I could clean it for him. I gladly agreed and began to clean the office. I do not know why, but I turned on the computer. I know about the Internet. We have filtered internet at home. And so, I began to surf. After about half an hour, a video popped up that that I won't go into detail about here.
At first my soul was scared, I knew that what I was doing now was not good, but I was tempted and viewed that video. I can not describe the agonies of conscience that I had at the time. I did not feel comfortable and I did not tell my parents about what was in the office. I felt that something was happening to my soul, something happened to me. I felt different. What I saw in the office was dancing before my eyes. I swore to myself not to touch my father's computer again, but promises aside… Slowly, slowly, whenever my father went abroad, I would go down to the office and watch all kinds of things that killed my soul. I read all kinds of opinions. I also saw shows that were not in the spirit of Judaism. Slowly the urge to learn, to pray and to observe mitzvot began to leave me. I felt that I was living a false life. I really love my parents, maybe I blame my father for not filtering his internet in the first place, and led me to where I am, but I do not really like Haredi life. What I saw in the screen appeals to me more.'
With the help of God, after a number of conversations, and we are still in the process, the boy agreed to move to a different Yeshiva. The work with him was mainly to change [his conception] and explain that what he sees [on the internet] is really not real life.
That boy stumbled for only one reason, his parents had an unfiltered Internet. I can clearly say that out of a lot of teenagers I deal with, people I have spoken to, as well as people who believed in the Jewish way of life, who do not care more about studying, do not want to pray, etc., one of the main reasons for their straying is that they were exposed to content that is not suitable for a Torah observant Jew.
It is 100% clear to me that a young lad who observes content and viewpoints and sees shows that contradict the Jewish path will have no desire to be in the yeshiva, study and observe the Torah and the commandments. The great Rabbis of Israel ordered the Internet to be banned, but they allowed those who needed [the internet] for work, and there are a number of different filtering companies. And everyone will do what he thinks suits him.
But there are people who, I do not know on what basis, allow themselves to have unfiltered Internet. Even if they take responsibility for themselves and believe they are strong and know how to guard themselves. It may be so, even though the Torah says: ‘there is no guardian of unchastity,’ . But this [sexuality] is not the only problematic content, it is all the opinions and the ways of life [that are shown on the internet] that deviates their minds from the pure faith. But mainly it hurts the children and youth. May it be clear: a boy or a child exposed to bad content – do not expect anything from him, nothing.
And to bring the other side of the coin I will briefly quote an article I once wrote about youth dropping out and the Internet:
Internet problems are just a symptom of a disease – not the disease itself. Where does the problem really lie? […] From my point of view, the Internet is indeed very, very problematic. […] Today, all over the world, Jews and non-Jews understand and know that any view of the unfiltered Internet creates many problems, it encourages and educates the soul to all evil traits. It creates an unhealthy and abnormal soul, especially in children and youth. There are now tens of thousands of proven facts and dozens of studies and data to backup what shocking situations children and teenagers came to because of watching the unfiltered Internet. And, again, it has nothing to do with religion.
[…] In my eyes, the whole argument that people stray from religion because of telephones and the Internet is a form of disavowal of the responsibility of both parents and educators. A child who turns to the Internet when he suffers from lack of attention from his parents and educators around him is the boy who will stumble in his ways online. […] He lacks something, and curiosity leads directly to the infinite source of knowledge – the Internet.
We as parents should take responsibility and, in a case where we need Internet, should have filters. If we want our children to grow up as Haredi Jews who willingly observe Torah and mitzvot, we must at least try to prevent the child and the boy from having access to the Internet, especially unfiltered and unsupervised. And most importantly, we should show love to a child and instill in him a love for religion and a feeling of satisfaction in spirituality so that, with the help of G-d, we will raise our children to be fearful of the Heavens.
And the same boy who came to me told me this week: 'I will do everything I can to change the situation because my parents are so good to me. They are such dedicated and loving parents. I will do everything for them and I will start from scratch.'
This power of parental love for children is, at the end of the day, everything."
– Behadrei Haredim (Op-ed by Mordechai Rot )
0202 Editor's Notes:
 In Haredi society, use of the Internet is largely frowned upon or forbidden completely, albeit this practice is being gradually contested by a growing number of Haredim. Consequently, most Haredis do not use a smartphone. In cases where internet or smartphones are used, filtering is strongly recommended, mainly against sexual content but also against most ‘regular’ sites, as they are perceived as contradictory to the Haredi way of life. From this practice came the term "Kosher smartphones," referring to smartphones that have filtering software. In this op-ed the writer, a renowned Haredi therapist and coach, addresses the controversial issue of Internet use.
 Yeshiva is the mainstream Hebrew term for institutes of Judaic religious studies. A “Big Yeshiva” is the rough equivalent to college or university and students go there after completing the “small yeshiva” which is equivalent to high-school.
 Observing the “Torah” (the Jewish holy scripture) and “mitzvot” (Godly commandments) is a term for leading a Jewish religious life.
 Pesach is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Possession of bread and leaven in all its forms is forbidden during the holiday, resulting in a widespread custom of thoroughly cleaning one’s house and workplace.
 A quote from the Talmud, this saying claims that when it comes to sexuality no one can trust oneself to not stray from the desired approach to this sphere of life.
 Mordechai Rot is a renowned Haredi therapist and coach, and founder of the “Rot treatment method.” He is a weekly contributor to Haredi news outlets and deals with controversial and taboo issues within Haredi society.
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