I wanted to ask if it is okay for an observant (e.g. Orthodox) Jew to watch TV and use the internet (my internet browser does have a filter on it). I watch TV, but am careful with what I watch, as I don't want to watch series or movies that are inappropriate for any reason (vile language or other things). But is it against Jewish law to watch TV and use the internet? I ask because I know there are (ultra) Orthodox Jews who are completely against it. What does Judaism say? Thanks in advance for answering!
There is no halahah that I know which explicitly forbids watching TV for its own sake. There are certainly issues surrounding how television or contemporary music mixes with Jewish values. Images or music that are immodest, violent, graphic, and the like are certainly not in keeping with all of Jewish tradition. This is true particularly when those images or lyrics are targeted at young children.
As the old saying goes, if you ask two Jews you are likely to get three opinions. There are members of the Jewish community who forbid watching TV. My sense is that their ban is based on the concept of siyag latorah (building a fence around the torah). In order to protect that lifestyle and to preserve the value of modesty within their community, some would forbid modern media altogether rather than monitor and moderate what they/their children watch/listen to.
In my home, we are careful about what we watch on TV. My daughters don’t watch a lot of TV, but occasionally enjoy Dora the Explorer or some similar program. Although I don’t find lots of time to watch TV, I do enjoy watching the news and occasionally a football game. I believe that helps me to more fully live in the multiple civilizations that I inhabit.
I would encourage you to be cautious on how much media enters your home. Not finding the middle ground can be dangerous in many ways. But I believe that balance can be struck, and that in fact Jews can benefit from being connected to contemporary society.
Somehow the Internet has gotten a bad reputation in the ultra-Orthodox world. Are there graphic and vulgar things on the Web? Yes. But such things can be accessed in other ways and in other media as well.
If you are seriously concerned that you won't be able to control yourself from venturing to websites that are of a graphic nature, then the Internet filter is a good thing. However, it's also important to remember that we humans should work to control our urges. If you know there are things on the Web that would be immoral or immodest for you to see, work hard at gaining the self-control to not visit those sites.
The same could be said about televisions. You can enjoy watching sporting events, documentaries, and news shows on TV. You should try to exercise the self-control to not view such movies or TV shows that would be categorized as explicit or immodest.
In a recent article, I explained that the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews are actually correct in their belief that the Internet is dangerous. I didn't mean that the inappropriate material on the Web poses a threat, but rather the content that challenges their core beliefs and is easily accessible on the Web is what actually is dangerous to their way of life.
New technology is all around us and the limits of modesty are certainly pushed with the Web and cable television, but it should be a value to exhibit the control to not violate our own code of ethics by viewing inappropriate material.
Last May the Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane (Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp) filled Citi Field for a sold-out men-only rally against the internet. According to the New York Times (May 17) one of the organizers defined the goal as “to raise awareness about how, unmonitored, it poses a grave risk to the community.” The issues raised include pornography but also social media and the addictive pull of the internet.
Let's be honest. Everyone knows that it is possible to get sucked into the internet. For some it is just a time waster as you surf looking for some distraction. For some it is a dangerous stumbling block leading people to watch pornography, to make illicit liaisons with others, to engage in gambling and more.
At the same time the internet is a powerful portal to learning and positive engagement with the world. A variety of orthodox institutions, including Chabad, Aish, Yeshiva University and many yeshivot, have elaborate websites promoting Torah learning and values. The internet can be a potent tool for positive learning, social action and community organizing.
From a Jewish point of view one can certainly highlight various values that deserve consideration when using the internet (or TV). Here are a two that come to mind:
Tzniut, modesty. There is much in the media that can be enticing. By this I don't mean solely sexual images, but a variety of lures that can make one overdo by watching, spending, desiring and seeking more than one needs or can afford. I include in the notion of modesty an awareness of personal dignity, anything that lowers your sense of dignity should be avoided.
Bittul z'man, wasting time. How often have you sat down to the computer for a few minutes, only to get up hours later? It is fun to surf the internet; to pursue a line of thought, to try to learn something new or to find the best bargain. But when media distracts you from work that you ought to be doing – for your employer, within your family and relationships, for your own betterment, or for your spiritual life – it needs to be reevaluated.
I cannot speak for an orthodox point of view, but from my perspective there is much positive to be gained from the use of modern technology. The challenge is to know yourself. If you need to exercise restraint, for whatever reason, then you need to find the ways to do so – but that is as true for the internet as it is for the aisles of Walmart or the allure of a casino. As always, the goal is to live a balanced life.
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