NEW YORK - The Associated Press
Ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe that the Internet threatens their way of life fill New York's Citi Field for an unprecedented gathering on how to use modern technology in a religiously appropriate way, Sunday, May 20, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/VosIzNeias.com)
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men attended a rally Sunday at the New York Mets
' stadium on the dangers of the Internet and how to use modern technology in a religiously responsible way.
Women were not permitted to
attend the meeting at Citi Field in Queens. However, it was broadcast
live to audiences of women in schools and event halls in ultra-Orthodox
neighborhoods. The event garnered so much interest that organizers
rented the nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium for the overflow crowd.
Eytan Kobre, a lawyer who is the
spokesman for the event's organizers, said the rally's purpose was not
to ban the Internet but to learn how to harness it.
"There is a very significant
downside to the Internet," he said. "It does pose a challenge to us in
various aspects of our lives."
He cited online pornography and gambling as well as the risk of
social media undermining "our ability to pray uninterruptedly, to focus
and to concentrate."
Television is banned or
discouraged, but Kobre said many ultra-Orthodox Jews use the Internet
either on computers or smartphones. "There's a spectrum of usage and
there's a spectrum of how people are dealing with it," he said.
Shlomo Cohen of Toronto told The New York Times that he uses the
Internet for shopping, business and staying in touch with friends, but
that "desires are out there."
"We have to learn how to control ourselves," Cohen said.
The rally was organized by a
rabbinical group called Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, which means
Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. Published reports have
put the cost at $1.5 million.
The organizers are leaders of
ultra-Orthodox sects that reject many aspects of modern life. Women
dress modestly and wear wigs after marriage, while men wear black hats
and long beards. Children are educated in Jewish schools, and Yiddish is
the first language for many.
A group urging more support for
the victims of child sexual abuse inside the close-knit community held a
counter-protest outside the stadium.