Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Yeshiva & Internet

[I'm writing this at 35,000 feet, on little sleep. The next few posts will deal with issues and questions I've thought about and dealt with while on my latest trip to Israel. Stay tuned.]

During my recent trip to Israel I spent some time at the yeshiva where I learned for two years after high school. Enough time has passed that I only know the rebbeim and those of my friends who went back this year. Quite refreshing actually, to be there with no one bothering you.

When I first got to Yeshiva, only a few people had laptops, myself included. Since then the number has skyrocketed. But more than that, our world has become more interconnected. Nearly everyone uses email and surfs the web.

And the largest changes are yet to come.

Historically, all there was to do in Yeshiva was learn. Going into town was a shlep. Now, instead of going to town, town comes to us. Within a couple of years, everyone will be connected all the time. Cellphones with internet access, Wi-Max, and a myriad of acronyms will pretty much guarentee it.

Imagine sending an instant message to someone across the beis medrash, asking what a rishon says. Or getting the mekoros for shiur via email. Chat room chavrusas. Ridiculous you say? Not at all. Incredulity was expressed when the Internet first started, but look at the Virtual Beis Medrash, YUTorah, eDaf, and hundreds of other Jewish related blogs.

And what about the dangers? Pornography is ever lurking. Imagine a spyware infested laptop in the beis. Or, for the more mundane, people constantly checking and responding to emails and IMs, looking at the news or downloading their latest TV show.

But the point is that the changes are coming, and unless yeshivas install jammers in the beis, or ban cellphones, laptops, and PDAs, they'll be caught flatfooted. One morning, rabbonim, many of whom are not technologically adept, will find themselves confronted with issues they never dreamed existed.

The time to act is now. Not to stem the tide. Indeed, we should take advantage of what the Internet has to offer. This transition period, which has already begun and is rapidly progressing, is the time for community leaders to experiment, to try and figure out ways to promote a culture in yeshiva where mundane Internet use is frowned upon. Or to adapt themselves to allowing it.

I hope to address options in a future post.