Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chareidim are using WhatsApp to defy their rabbis’ internet ban

the verge     Like most people, Moshe spends a lot of his time messaging friends on his smartphone. Unlike most people, he can’t openly talk about it.

As a Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn, Moshe’s online activities are extremely limited. His ultra-orthodox sect has long banned internet use, on the grounds that exposure to the secular world would lead to moral corruption, sexual promiscuity, and infidelity. The insular community has allowed for some exceptions, acknowledging that smartphones and computers are now essential for business, though its leadership still requires members to install web filters on their devices, blocking all social media services and all but a few whitelisted websites. Internet use among children remains strictly forbidden.

Moshe, like many other Hasidim, regularly skirts these rules with WhatsApp — the popular messaging application that Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. On his second, unfiltered smartphone, he uses the app to share news articles and local gossip across several group chats, some of which include up to 100 members.

WhatsApp has become popular among the Haredi community — an umbrella term for ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects that include the Hasidim. For Moshe and other Hasidim, the app provides a window into the outside world, and a forum for candid debate and discussion. In their view, it’s a closed network that’s not explicitly connected to the open web. For Hasidic leaders, it’s the latest threat to centuries of tradition and insularity.[...]

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