Aguda Convention Warns about the Danger on the Desk (and in the
By Sarah Pascal
Agudath Israel of America's 89th National Convention, in which
thousands of Jews participated over the four day period of November 24-
27, confronted the unprecedented challenges of modern technology head
on, starting with the overcrowded Thursday night plenary session.
Rabbi Elya Brudny, Maggid Shiur, Mirrer Yeshiva, discussed the
difficult times that Klal Yisroel is currently facing; we are
confronted with unprecedented tragedies. While we used to hear a
scandalous story once every few years, that is no longer the case.
"Our homes have been broken in epidemic proportions," said Rabbi
Brudny. "This can primarily be attributed to technology. The more
advanced and specialized technology becomes, the more pronounced the
"We all understand the overwhelming problem," he continued. "The clock
can't be turned back; the world operates on these technological
advances." He speculated that "maybe, because limud Torah is so
strong, and so many are kovei'a ittim that we can now fill up a
stadium for a siyum, the Yetzer Hora has been given a license from
Hashem to entice Yiddishe kinder."
Rabbi Brudny elaborated on some of the dangers of technology. First
of all, technology has created a "global village". Living within a
small "village" with the worst elements of society has a dangerous
impact on our lives as we read their commentaries on life, and
interact with them on a daily basis.
Additionally, said Rabbi Brudny, technology has taken away Klal
Yisroel's inherent trait of modesty. Tznius is in our blood. And yet,
technology has found a way to bypass this modesty. When one uses
technology to sin, there is no embarrassment; it can be done
Rabbi Brudny concluded his address by urging the klal to allow their
use of technology to be guided by the gedolim.
Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, Rov, Congregation Tiferes Yaakov, was next to
address the crowd. He began by stating that the gedolim should not be
coming to the klal to talk about this. "It should be the tzibbur
coming to ask, and say what can we do about this terrible thing? The
tzibbur should realize how many people are being lost daily because of
technology. The tzibbur should be crying out, 'Help us!'"
"The iPhone and BlackBerry have not only destroyed the kedusha of klal
Yisroel," said Rabbi Schorr, "they have destroyed families, and they
have destroyed the Shabbos. How can we be mechanech a bochur who has
an iPhone full of movies?" he asked. "And it doesn't only touch
bochurim. There is no age discrimination; the yetzer hora attacks
everyone across the board."
Rabbi Schorr continued by addressing a question that many have been
asking. "Some feel that there is no point to begin this milchama,
because we can't win anyway." He stated that nonetheless we have an
obligation to engage in this battle.
"In Eretz Yisroel," he said, "under the Gerrer Rebbi and other
gedolim, there is an embarrassment [to have the Internet and
BlackBerrys]. Bnei Torah are embarrassed to walk around with a phone
that is not a kosher phone. Why can't this carry over to America?"
Rabbi Schorr urged the klal to create centers that provide computers
with filtered Internet for those who need it for work; this way there
will no longer be a need for Internet in our homes. The greatest proof
that we are ready to join the milchama, he added, is when we do
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach Ruchani, Beth Medrash Govoha,
concluded the plenary session.
"I am very afraid to speak tonight," began the Mashgiach. "If we don't
speak strongly enough, people won't accept. If we speak too strongly,
The Mashgiach quoted a posuk from the end of Koheles, "Sof davar hakol
nishma es Elokim yira; ki ze kol ho'odom." He stressed that we have to
be afraid; we have to have Yiras Shomayim, because we will eventually
have to give din vecheshbon.
The Mashgiach stated that everything a person does in the privacy of
his home — every view, and every screen — will be publicly
shown to all. "Are we prepared for that?" he asked. "Nothing is hidden
from Hashem, and nothing will be hidden from your friends and family.
One wrong press of the button is going to be the greatest shame in
your life, a shame that you can't run away from. This Yirah should be
sufficient to keep us away from the Internet. Is it worth it?"
There are those who have given up on this battle against technology,
said the Mashgiach. "And that is a terrible curse. The worse thing
for Klal Yisroel to say is, 'We can't do anything about it, it is too
The Mashgiach said that we need to engage in a war against
destructive, unfiltered, technology. But, he added, "Fight means self-
sacrifice. Fight means that we need the courage and strength to
sustain losses in order to win the fight. Yes, it may mean that the
standards of comfort in our lives will have to drop a little bit.
We'll have to forgo certain bargains and deals. We have to weigh the
benefits against the losses. That is how a Yid lives." The Mashgiach
added that we should have a simcha in this mesiras nefesh, because we
are saving ourselves and the future generations.
"I want to mention something which is going to be considered a bit
controversial," said the Mashgiach. "The Godol Hador [Rabbi Chaim
Kanievsky] gave out a psak: He made a statement that possessing the
Internet is yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor." The Mashgiach went on to
"He [Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky] made a comparison: The Chazon Ish said
that it is a yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor for girls to join the army, as
they are putting themselves into a situation where they will become
vulnerable to giluy arayos. A person sitting next to unfiltered
Internet is vulnerable to all the aveiros in the world. This wasn't
just a loose comparison. This was a deep insight and revelation."
The Mashgiach concluded by saying that technology started out as a
temptation, but has grown into an addiction because we have waited too
long. Now the challenge is for us to cleanse our hearts to be able to
appreciate the simcha shel mitzvah so that Hashem can have simcha from
Rabbi Avrohom Lefkowitz, the convention co-chairman, expounded upon
the frightening effects of the "Frum blogs". "These blogs," said Rabbi
Lefkowitz, "promote rechilus, loshon hora, machlokes, and the worst:
devastating destruction of our gedolim. A Washington insider confided
to an Orthodox askan: 'You don't know what your blogs are doing to you
in Washington. They are destroying the perfect picture of the Jewish
community, with the violent responses you write against your
In order to turn the words of the gedolim into practical solutions,
Rabbi Yosef Viener, Rov of Congregation Shaar Shomayim in Monsey, and
Rabbi Nechemia Gottlieb, director of Technology Awareness Group,
addressed a Friday morning session devoted to "Finding Practical
Solutions for the Brave New World of Technology."
"The way to win this battle," declared Rabbi Viener, "is not only
through his'orerus, but through education. And if one doesn't need the
Internet he should get rid of it."
He added that if one feels that he must have the Internet for
business, a good filter and an accountability program should be in
place. Rabbi Viener said that we should create a peer pressure
amongst ourselves, that no one should have unfiltered Internet in
their homes. "We have to take care of each other," said Rabbi Viener.
"If he is your friend, keep him out of Gehennom."
Rabbi Viener and Rabbi Gottlieb shared heart-rending stories of lives
and families that were destroyed by technology. "A bochur can see
something on the Internet that can destroy his learning for the next
five years," said Rabbi Viener.
Aside from the problem of the Internet attacking the kedusha of Klal
Yisroel, added Rabbi Viener, Internet use causes tremendous amounts of
wasted time and bitul Torah.
"The key is," he concluded, "that this is not a chumra. The peer
pressure should come to a point that someone with unfiltered Internet
and phones shouldn't be able to do a shidduch."
Rabbi Gottlieb stated the importance of making kabolos that are
sustainable. He stressed how important it is to be aware of the
devices that our children's friends have, as this can have an enormous
impact on our children. "Children today have too much spending money,"
he added, "50 dollars is enough for a child to destroy his life."
Rabbi Gottlieb elaborated on the dangers of handheld devices,
including smart phones, iPads, and video games. He stressed the need
to educate ourselves continuously about the capabilities of the
devices that our children use. "We are past the point where we can
say, 'Just put on the filter and get on with life.'"
Rabbi Gottlieb shared the phone number of the TAG (Technology
Awareness Group) hotline — (267)295-1954 — which answers
questions regarding technology, both practical and chinuch related.
Joining our Gedolim in this war against technology is undoubtedly a
tremendous challenge. The attendees recognized this challenge; yet
were inspired and equipped to follow the Gedolim in their rallying cry
of "mi laHashem eilai."
Motzei Shabbos Session Stresses Fidelity To Daas Torah in Response
to Contemporary Spiritual Challenges
By Boruch Shubert
An overflow crowd of Torah Jews from diverse backgrounds packed the
main ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in East Brunswick, New Jersey, on
Motzei Shabbos at the 89th National Convention of Agudath Israel of
America, to hear gedolei Torah and communal leaders stress the
importance of maintaining fidelity to daas Torah in order for the
Orthodox community to successfully withstand the many challenges to
ruchniyus emanating from contemporary society. The keynote session of
the annual four-day gathering, entitled "Taking Stock at Year 100
— The Timely Message and Timeless Mission of Agudas Yisroel,"
gave the audience the opportunity to learn about current issues of
concern to Torah Jewry and discover how the tzibbur — under the
banner of Agudath Israel and its Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah — can
properly respond to those issues.
Introductory remarks were offered by Mr. Chaskel Bennett, a member of
the organization's Board of Trustees and Chairman of the convention.
Mr. Bennett noted that "American Jewry has throughout the decades
placed its trust in Agudath Israel and has been amply rewarded."
Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Rosh Hayeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha, then
delivered a message from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Comparing the
current 100th anniversary of the Agudah movement to a siyum on a
masechta, wherein the one who is celebrating his completion of a
portion of Torah learning does not declare that he is "finished," but
rather says "hadran alach" — "we will return to you" — Rav
Kotler asserted that the completion of 100 years since the founding of
Agudath Israel in Europe should be a catalyst for increased Torah-
based activism. The Rosh Yeshiva then recalled how his father and
predecessor, Rav Shneur Kotler zt"l, had expounded in his last public
address (at an Agudath Israel Dinner) that the Ramban explains a posuk
in Parshas Re'eh stating "Go after Hashem" to mean that there is a
mitzvah to follow daas Torah for one's direction in life, just as the
Bnei Yisroel followed the anan, the Divine cloud while traveling in
the desert. "Being part of Agudath Israel is like being surrounded by
the anan of daas Torah," Rav Kotler avowed.
In this vein, the Rosh Yeshiva recounted how his legendary
grandfather, Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l, prepared an entire speech for
Rabbi Moshe Sherer z"l, the late President of Agudath Israel, to
deliver to a United States government commission that was deliberating
whether to approve federal funding of parochial schools. "Although
Rabbi Sherer was just one of many speakers," Rav Kotler said,
"President Kennedy focused on his words. The result was many years of
valuable support for yeshivas," thus demonstrating the beneficial
impact of heeding the directives of gedolim.
Rav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rosh Agudath Israel, took
note of the unusual amount of tragedies that have befallen the frum
community over the past year, and called for everyone to make a
cheshbon hanefesh regarding their daily personal behavior. Citing an
example of two people sitting in the front seat of a car — one
the driver and the other a passenger — the Rebbe said the
ultimate question in life is whether the materialistic focus of our
body, or the spiritual aspirations of our soul, takes the lead over
our actions. "If the neshamah 'drives' the individual, then it will
lead him to the derech Hashem," Rav Perlow emphasized. "But if the guf
'drives' the person, he may eventually descend to the depths of
The Rebbe then pointed out that, while 'it is easy to be a Jew today'
due to the widespread accessibility of religious accommodations, "the
nisoyon posed by modern technology requires the koach harabim of
Agudath Israel" to enable us to contend with such a test.
Speaking in Yiddish, a special guest from Belgium — Rav Aaron
Schiff, the recently appointed Rav of Antwerp — referenced the
grand Siyum HaShas scheduled to take place in New Jersey next summer.
"Agudath Israel is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivas Daf Yomi," Rav
Schiff declared, going on to praise the organization for being at the
forefront of all Torah-related concerns. The Rav then cited a rabbinic
teaching that when Avrohom Avinu was cast into a burning oven for
refusing to engage in idol worship, he was actually saved by Hashem
due to the merit of his grandson Yaakov, who would build a house
fortified with Torah. "Agudath Israel similarly built a 'house' of
gedolim that has provided Torah leadership for Klal Yisroel," he
Rabbi Shimshon Sherer, son of former Agudath Israel president, Rabbi
Moshe Sherer, z"l, and a respected mora de'asra in Flatbush, Brooklyn,
electrified the crowd by dramatically delineating and decrying the
numerous instances of late wherein leading proponents of divergent
forms of Orthodoxy have publicly cast aspersions on gedolei Torah and
the accepted values of the Torah world. Reading out loud from an
article that recently appeared in a major Israeli publication, Rabbi
Sherer quoted its writer — an Orthodox author who now considers
himself "post-Chareidi" — as shockingly stating that Chareidi
roshei yeshiva are guilty of "abuse of rabbinical power." Rabbi Sherer
insisted that, in contrast with the American Bill of Rights,
constitutional freedoms of press and speech, "The Jewish 'Bill of
Rights' is "Anochi Hashem Elokecha." (See also `New Chareidim' and
`Post Chareidim' in this issue.)
Rabbi Sherer went on to roundly condemn those private members of the
Orthodox community who — under cover of anonymity through
Internet comments and phone calls to radio talk shows —
routinely criticize the decisions of leading rabbonim. "Our gedolim
are not like political candidates who are subject to being bashed by
pundits," Rabbi Sherer asserted. "Total subservience to daas Torah is
Demonstrating that cynicism towards Torah authority is not a new
phenomenon, Rabbi Sherer regaled the audience with an incident that
his father had related to him when he was a youngster. "My father once
visited Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l during the 1950's and tried to show him
a newspaper article that opined that 'Agudath Israel is not the same' -
- meaning not on the same level of greatness — as in previous
years when Rav Chaim Ozer zt"l was leading it," he said. "Rav Aharon
became visibly incensed, and he kept saying, 'It is, it is!" Declaring
that Agudath Israel continues to maintain its well-respected status in
present times, Rabbi Sherer concluded by urging those who are
affiliated with the organization to actively involve their children
with it from a very young age.
Although he was the evening's final speaker, Rabbi Chaim Dovid
Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, held the
audience's rapt attention with his thoughtful yet passionate comments.
Expressing his belief that — just as Agudath Israel is a
"hemshech" (continuation) of the ideals of its founders in Katowice in
1912, so too it is incumbent upon today's younger generation to
continue the organization's vibrant legacy into the future —
Rabbi Zwiebel recounted the decades-old pioneering efforts of a group
of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas bochurim, who would befriend Jewish youngsters
hanging out in the nearby streets and spend time learning with them in
the yeshiva. "When the leader of this group was asked why he bothered
to do this, he answered that this act of 'kiruv" was his way of
'taking revenge' for a terrible beating his zeida had suffered from an
anti- Semitic Cossack in Europe," Rabbi Zwiebel said. "Yes - every
child learning Torah is our act of revenge against those who persecute
the Jewish people."
The Agudath Israel leader continued by listing a host of issues that
are currently threatening the spiritual and physical well-being of the
Torah community, including efforts to legally undermine bris milah and
shechitah, society's attempt to redefine marriage, the unjustly
lengthy prison sentences of Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Mordechai
Rubashkin, and — as he outlined in full detail by reading a
lengthy message from the offending party — the imminent opening
of a major missionary center in the heart of Flatbush specifically
intended to target frum individuals. "Agudath Israel is our nekamah
against all of this," Rabbi Zwiebel affirmed. "Every time we defend
authentic Yiddishkeit or accomplish something that helps our
community, it's a 'shmeiss', a lash, against the anti-Semites." Rabbi
Zwiebel concluded by stating that each person who joins the efforts of
Agudath Israel of America is a "mighty warrior entrusted with a sacred
The audience was also treated to an informative video presentation
highlighting the crucial activities of Agudath Israel of America's
latest project, Chayim Aruchim. Through interviews with professionals
and lay people, the video depicted how Chayim Aruchim representatives
are repeatedly able to use their legal and medical expertise to
intervene and prevent the premature termination of life in cases
involving Jewish individuals who are critically ill. The video
emphasized the vital need for adult members of the Orthodox community
to complete an advanced medical directive that can ensure they will
receive end-of-life care in accordance with halachic guidelines.