“What do you think this is about?” was the question that Sruly, a bespectacled twenty-something Hasidic student and erstwhile packer and shipper from Williamsburg, bounced back at me while we rode on the G train together, en route to what may have been the largest so-called “anti-internet” rally in history. Most of the media coverage I had seen portrayed the asifa, which was organized by Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or the Unification of the Communities for the Purification of the Camp, as a backwards rally against an unavoidable technology and a call to arms to put an end the greatest masturbation aid since lotion. But Sruly, aware of the way it may have looked from the outside, gave me his perspective.
“Distractions, Jewish, non-Jewish, that’s for everyone,” he said. “But the problem is that whatever a person sees goes into his body, it goes into his brain. Whatever you see, you comprehend something you’re allowed to do. You can see the worst of the worst. Whoever doesn’t need it shouldn’t have it and whomever does need it should use it as little possible.”
Television, with all of its pop culture lewdness had already been banned, he pointed out to me. But the internet was necessary for business, and therein lied the rub. To Sruly, the reason for this rally—not a protest or an anti-internet event—was to discuss one of the biggest bugaboos modern Hasidic Jews: how to ensure the internet is kept kosher and only used for business and not gossip, learning, or, ahem, pleasure. “Sure, sometimes friends will send me jokes by text message, but I have to write back and tell them, ‘Sorry, this isn’t why I have a phone.’”
Read about the rest of the asifa at Motherboard.VICE.com