Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Haredi Web geeks fight rabbis' crackdown on Internet

As if to underscore my post on EvE the following story by Yair Ettinger showed up in today's Ha'aretz. Is the Charedi public ignoring the ban? See the bolded section near the end. - HM

Under a blitz attack by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the people behind the country's ultra-Orthodox Web sites are attempting to return fire.

Guy Cohen is the CEO of Global Networks, the Internet media company whose Web portals include the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim. He is threatening a million-shekel lawsuit against Rabbi Moshe Karp of Modi'in Ilit, the behind-the-scenes leader of the three-week-old campaign against the sites.

The campaign has already led to the closure of one major ultra-Orthodox public Internet site and the resignation of key figures from others. Cohen, a businessman who is not religiously observant, is hoping to save Behadrei Haredim, considered the most important ultra-Orthodox Web site.

Haaretz has learned that on Saturday night Cohen met with Karp and gave him a letter claiming that the rabbi, under cover of the official boycott, was slandering him and engineering threats to the site's advertisers. The letter informed Karp he could face NIS 1 million suit for slander.

The boycott began with a letter in the party-controlled ultra-Orthodox dailies that had been signed by dozens of the most important rabbis in the Haredi community, beginning with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the most senior ultra-Orthodox adjudicator, did not sign the letter).

The letter, which Karp is thought to have written, targets not the estimated hundreds of thousands of Haredim who use the Internet, but rather the operators of the Haredi sites.

"Recently, 'Haredi' Internet channels have been sending forth all sorts of reports and gossip and slander against the Haredi public..." the letter said in part.

The undersigned rabbis called on the Haredi community not only to avoid looking at the sites but also not to cooperate them in any way and not to advertise on them as individuals, organizations or companies.

Subsequently, both editors in chief of Hadrei Haredim, David Rotenberg and Dov Povarsky, announced they were leaving the site. One of the sites that continued operation, Kikar Hashabbat, is being attacked directly in the Haredi press. The ban generates headlines on a near-daily basis. Hamodia's front page yesterday featured an article in which the great adjudicator of the Hasidic world, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, was quoted saying that the "steadfast battle against the Internet and 'Haredi' sites that destroy all that is good is a moral war."

Behadrei Haredim continues to operate, and Guy Cohen said recently that user numbers have not declined.

Cohen said he has, however, been hurt by the flight of advertisers from the site.

At a meeting last Saturday night at Rabbi Karp's Modi'in Ilit home, Cohen offered to submit the portal to the rabbis' authority, including increased supervision of forums by the direct representatives of the rabbis. According to sources who attended the meeting, he was rebuffed. Karp demanded that Cohen close the site, and that is when Cohen produced the letter informing

Karp of his intention to sue. Both Karp and Cohen declined comment.

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