One of the core things the Internet has taught me is that the rabbis are not always right. Ironically this realization proves the rabbis right. For years, the rabbis, insisting that access to the “impure” Internet corrupts the mind and soul, forbade it.
I grew up Hasidic, totally oblivious to the world outside our community. Television, movies, radio, or English newspapers never entered the house. I went to cheder, where we spent most of the time learning Torah; “English” studies consisted primarily of arithmetic. Socialized to act and think differently, I thought of myself not as a stranger but rather as a superior being — a chosen one.
And then, some years later, I found the Internet and uncovered my ignorance. Although the Internet was forbidden (at that point I was still practicing), I couldn’t accept the idea the rabbis insisted as doctrinaire — that reading and thinking about the core tenets of Judaism is prohibited. As suspicious as such a decree might sound, I managed to cognitively reason that this ban was for those people who might understand the questions but not wholly grasp the answers offered by the great rabbinical philosophers, and so, to not walk into a potential soul-destroying peccadillo one should refrain from reading “outside” material. I believed in myself a little too much, I guess, and thought that I would understand all the answers. I began to explore and question everything I had been taught — wondering if it just might be a farce. I realized that the rabbis did not have satisfying answers; I suspected that no one did (nor did they have the questions). From this realization to acting out — in secret, of course — did not take long, and soon I began to voice my frustrations and speak online with a community of likeminded questioners.
I took my cue from other Hasidic bloggers who write to a diverse array of readers, not only likeminded Hasidim. I started writing my own online diary, calling it “A Hasid and a Heretic” (hassid.blogspot.com). In one of my first posts I admitted to eating on Yom Kippur and to a host of other transgressions and sins and got shocking responses both online and offline — controversy really does sell. Unlike my blog heroes “Hasidic Rebel” (hasidicrebel.blogspot.com) and “Shiagetz” (theshaigetz.blogspot.com), my grammar was horrendous — I had never really learned to write. But since the other bloggers were much more accepting of the dogma and were only critical of the lifestyle, compared to my heresy, I had people who cared to read, debate, and convince me to change my sinful ways. Soon I found good fellows who took their time to correct my English and teach me how to be more articulate. Most of my readers, I believe, are Hasidim. Some are likeminded who identify with the tale, or proselytizing-minded who try to convert me. But, surprisingly, I get emails and comments from people I wouldn’t believe would be at all interested — people from southern states or from as far away as Germany, Brazil, or Malaysia.
After writing a few posts mostly just for fun with no thoughtful plan at the urging of a virtual friend, I found the interaction with readers very curative. It gave me my own beaten chair in the mythological Hyde Park to stand on and preach to half-interested bystanders and the occasional tourist with a camera.
Alas, the longer I stood selling my idea, the tougher it became. I found myself screaming at times, begging bystanders and supporters alike to bring me a shred of evidence with which to hang on, naturally to no avail. Continuing to live the life of a frum Jew didn’t help matters too much. It’s one thing to fast believing that you serve a higher purpose, it’s quite another to drive my family to the shopping malls on December 29th (taking advantage of the season’s sales), while fasting because the children know that the tenth of Tevet is a fast day. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I might rather have remained ignorant.
Before long, people I know in real life would mention blogs in general or mention the bad-boy “Shtreimel” (my pseudonym). I had to try very hard to inconspicuously avert the subject. The absurdity peaked one day when I took a Hasidic hitchhiking couple from Brooklyn to Monsey. The man, sitting with me in the front seat, wouldn’t stop talking about the “Heretic” who “washes our dirty laundry in public,” while the woman in the back talked about the Internet’s bad influence.
Most Hasidic bloggers are aware of the dangers of people finding out their real identities. “Baal Devarim” (sitra-achra.blogspot.com) is a great new addition to the frum blogsphere. For some time he commented on other blogs under the name “szhgknb,” and he is “not eager to find out” what might happen to him if his secret is revealed. Another blogger, “Hasidic Rebel,” is aware that “there are always firebrands — folks who can decide to demonstrate outside my home, [where] a random rock might find its way into my daughter’s bedroom.”
The greatest danger lies in the potential destruction of the family fabric. No one deems it worthy to break up a marriage and get shunned by the community for a blog. And none of us want our children to be expelled from their schools — and we are all aware of that possibility — so we go the extra mile to hide our identities. I post a disclaimer on every page: “In order to hide my identity,” it reads, “I use a lot of misinformation and intentionally misguide you on anything that could lead back to me… God is in the details they say, and when I gave up on God I gave up on the details too, but the essence of anything I write is unfortunately true.”email print