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      Op-Ed: The Plague of Internet Pornography

      Published: Monday, August 28, 2006 7:24 PM
      Little Joey may be sitting quietly in his room, glued to the computer, but do you know what he is watching? The statistics are frightening. They speak for themselves.


      Little Joey may be sitting quietly in his room, glued to the computer, but do you know what he is watching? The statistics are frightening. They speak for themselves.

      There are over 500 million pages of pornography on the Internet. Two out of five Internet users regular visit pornography sites. In a February poll of university students in America, 87% admitted having "virtual sex" with their computers. Over 63 million viewers enter adult websites per month, reaching 42.7 percent of the Internet audience. The Internet pornography industry generates $12 billion dollars in annual revenue - larger than the combined annual revenues of ABC, NBC and CBS.

      These staggering statistics are only the beginning. It turns out that the largest group of viewers of Internet pornography is children between ages 12 and 17. 80% of these teenagers view pornography online while doing their homework. Surveys reveal that the number-one media concern for American parents has shifted from television to the Internet, with 85 percent of parents saying that the Internet posed a greater risk to their children than any other media.

      Up until now, religious Jewish parents could delude themselves by saying, "Those statistics are for the Goyim." But a disturbing article recently published in Israel by a very respected Torah scholar, Rabbi Elisha Aviner, has changed all that. While the article does not cite hard statistics it makes it very clear that the problem has infiltrated the walls of Orthodox Judaism, and that a great many Jewish teenagers are hooked on Internet porn.

      "We are not speaking about teenagers who fell into delinquent ways," he writes.
      These aren't kids who ran away from their homes, threw away their kippot and experimented with drugs. On the contrary, these young people get along well with their parents, get good grades in school, display praiseworthy character traits, and bring lots of pride and nachas to their parents. Along with this, they are wallowing in the depths of impurity. How can this be? They are surfers in the sea of pornographic sites on the Internet. Not one kid, not two, rather hundreds of teenage boys and girls are clicking on pornographic websites and destroying their souls.
      Rabbi Elisha Aviner teaches Jewish Studies in the Maale Adumim Yeshiva. For years, his insightful "Youth Education" column in the weekly Machon Meir Torah bulletin Ahavah v'Emunah has been a big hit amongst young people, their parents and educators in Israel. If he says that Internet viewing is a problem for religious kids, he does not have to cite statistics to back him up. And when he writes, "The phenomena of young religious people surfing the pornographic sites on the Internet has already reached the proportions of a plague," the reverberations resound like a bombshell.

      While these tormented religious teenagers may come from different backgrounds and communities, Rabbi Aviner asserts that they share a common problem - they don't know how to stop.

      A majority of these young people would be happy if their parents would prevent them from getting into pornographic sites, whether by using a censoring service that filters out unsavory sites, or by switching over to a 'kosher' Internet server. But they are afraid to bring up the issue, lest their parents discover their shameful secret.
      Thus, he maintains, hundreds and thousands of young religious people are caught in a cycle of temptation, failure and shame, on an ongoing basis, with no one to help them. In addition, when it comes time to marry and begin families of their own, many of these clandestine surfers bring their secret habit with them into their new homes. "Sometimes, after many years of polluting themselves on the Internet, falling again and again into endless caverns of impurity, they recoil in horror at their moral decline and manage to escape. But the damage is not easily erased," the rabbi writes.

      For years, the Kabbalist elder, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, has been like a lone wolf in Israel, warning of the dangers of sexual immorality, and the pornography of the Internet, to the spiritual and physical well-being of both the individual Jew and the Jewish nation as a whole. But Rabbi Aviner's article perhaps marks the first time that a mainstream Orthodox rabbi from the religious-Zionist camp has come out of the closet and publicly admitted the depth of the problem.

      "At first a youth may not have even the slightest evil intention," Rabbi Aviner explains. "One second of foolish curiosity is enough to send him reeling into destruction. Curiosity gives birth to more curiosity, and finally, who will save him?"

      "Educational negligence" is the term that Rabbi Elisha Aviner uses in describing the situation. He blames parents for not installing kosher servers or censorship devices in their computer programs. In pretending that the danger doesn't exist, "we behave like educational suicide bombers, like someone who purposely walks off the edge of a cliff."

      Now that the Pandora's Box of Internet pornography has been opened in the religious world, more and more rabbinical articles are appearing to help cope with the dilemma. In addition, telephone hotlines have been opened to offer young people advice in dealing with sexual temptations and Shmirat HaBrit. However, the Kabbalist Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi says that the problem is not unique to young people alone. Many adults have admitted to him that they too have fallen into the trap.

      The highly respected Torah sage, Rabbi Shmuel Vozner, a mentor of the Haredi community, has compared computer watching to yichud, the laws forbidding men to be alone with women other than their mothers, wives or daughters. Some rabbis say that if a Jewish house has a computer, it should be kept in the kitchen, to cut down on secluded viewing. Others suggest that a man only turn on the computer with his wife sitting at his side, in order to overcome the temptation.

      Negligent education need not be the rule. The more the problem is brought out into the open in the religious world, the greater the chance of adopting a successful strategy of preventative education, for both young people and parents alike.