Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, June 28, 2004

Confronting the Media, pt. 2

There are two major areas of concern regarding Orthodox Jewry viewing the media: one is halakhic, and one hashkafic.

From a halachic standpoint, to me there seems to be a difference between the Hasidic and Haredi and camps and everyone else. The Hasidic/Haredi camps seem to hold that any media is chazer-traif. After all, these groups are very stringent when it comes to mingling, having mechitzos even at small gatherings. So when it comes to the possibility of seeing women, they say we have to stay far away. In fact, I was in a Hasidic shteebl recently and I saw a kol korei banning cellphones with color screens, camera phones, and Palm Pilots, due to the possibility of inappropriate pictures being displayed. The Rabbis who signed were of the Haredi ilk.
The rest of the Orthodox spectrum, however, seems to be somewhat more lenient regarding these matters. Two prominent rabbis that I know of receive the New York Times every day (one of them even helps his family out with the crossword). And the New York Times has its share of inappropriate ads. So they don't seem to treat the stuff as chazer-treif. And I've yet to hear any Rav in my black-hat neighborhood mention the ban on camera phones and Palms. None of these rabbonim signed the kol korei. And I heard of one prominent rabbi in Lakewood who reads Newsweek. And, as Barry pointed out, there's a Young Israel rabbi with a TV in his house. Accordingly, they hold that media isn't quite assur gamur.
One thing worth pointing out, however: I've seen a kol korei from mainstream rabbis banning children from using the Internet. For adults, however, I've yet to see such a thing. Apparently, on some level the adults are trusted to refrain from inappropriate sites, while it's too much of a nisayon for children and is therefore prohibited.

So the only major issue seems to be a Hashkafic one. And this brings back the issue we dealt with before: do we say "lo plug" and abstain from all media or do we deal with the media but set stringent guidelines?

One important factor is how "necessary" is the particular brand of media in question. Another is, what percentage of the material seen/heard through the medium is "kosher"? If there's almost nothing, then perhaps the risks outweigh the value of exposing kids to that medium.

Clearly, many of us can live without TV. So perhaps we can totally ban TV. The problem is, however, that TV isn't going to disappear from our community any time soon. And children will see friends who have TV's, will hear children discussing TV shows, and will feel compelled to watch. Therefore, perhaps we shouldn't ban TV, but limit our kids' viewing to clean, wholesome shows. The problem is, however, that there are almost no wholesome shows on TV today. After a kid outgrows Sesame Street, what's next? The only thing I can think of is sports programming. But even then, there are plenty of filthy ads. So the case for TV is a very difficult one.

For the most part, movies fall into the same category as TV-- they're also unnecessary. The only difference is the lack of variety. If a kid watches TV, he has a whole bunch of channels to choose from, some good and some bad. But if a parent takes out a G-rated movie for a child or only takes him to clean movies, then there's no variety. The kid can only see the films that the parent sends him to! (I know that many Hasidim have taken their families to IMAX theatres with totally clean content.) But there could be previews for other movies that are inappropriate. And a kid might come to think that all movies are okay. However, the rating system does a good job in drawing the line between good and bad. In my opinion, the "lack of choice" factor makes movies less taboo than TV. But even today, some of the G-rated movies aren't perfect. And the stuff from PG and on is trash.

Music? Newspapers? Books? Internet? We'll talk about 'em in Part 3.


Blogger Steve Cohen said...

I am sure you will address this, but there is an important point that explains many chinuch issues. There is a belief among parents that chinuch is to be left to the schools. Parents who pay tens of thousands of dollars of yeshiva tuitions feel that they can leave the chinuch to the schools. Thus, the schools feel that since it is their responsibility to provide chinuch, and they cannot rely on parents to support what is being taught, they have to provide the chinuch in the home by making rules regarding the internet and running contests to see who can hold back from watching TV.

If, however, there was a greater focus on chinuch in the home, by parents, by setting examples or by simply talking to children about the beauty of torah observance and why it is important to avoid inappropriate things on TV and the internet, children would be equipped to deal with the good and the bad of the media that appears before them. As you noted, there is the forbidden fruit problem, not to mention what sometimes happens when children are repressed (which I believe leads to many of the teen problems we face today).


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