JERUSALEM — Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have waged a battle in recent years to stop the Internet from infiltrating their insular communities.
Their efforts have included declarations that smartphones aren't kosher, conferences on the evils of the Internet and rabbinic edits demanding that the pious stop using WhatsApp.
But the rabbis, it seems, are losing the fight.
Research by Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has found that ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel use the Internet just as much as anyone else. And just like most others online, they gossip, consult with one another about life, discuss issues in their community and share their feelings on all manner of subjects.
In fact, the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, even like to tweet, and Facebook pages are abundant.
Of Israel’s Jewish population of 6.37 million, roughly 900,000 are ultra-Orthodox. Roughly 58 percent of the community is 19 or younger.
On a public level, Haredi society disdains all things relating to the Internet. Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas have been known to suspend students found logging on, while some rabbis have even told followers that they should burn iPhones if and when they find them.
But according to the research, which focused on the characteristics of the online ultra-Orthodox community, efforts to stop people from getting their hands on smartphones don't seem to be working.
The study used the netnography methodology, a qualitative and interpretive ethnographic analysis of cyber cultures. In this case, it focused on online forums for the ultra-Orthodox and found that Haredi Internet users have some distinct traits: Firstly, they almost never use their real names, which allows them to discuss both religious and secular content and affords them an expressiveness that is unique to the ultra-Orthodox world. It has also led to a game of trying to guess the identity of other users.
In addition, Haredim generally go online during less-common hours, such as late at night.
With the rabbis clearly losing the battle, there have been some creative solutions to at least control the phenomenon. For example, some rabbis now allow for the use of “kosher” smartphones, enabling access to email and online bank accounts but blocking or filtering “problematic” websites.