(Illustration) Sivan Frej

Sarit Okun, doctorate student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's communications department, has exposed the mysterious world of haredi internet culture.

Many haredi Jews have long approached the internet with suspicion, out of concerns of indecency and influence from the Western secular culture, but haredi pioneers have been making inroads into the digital world and navigating the net as Okun found with the help of her research adviser Prof. Galit Nimrod.

Haredi internet users hold religious discussions on web forums, using unique haredi expressions, while trying to identify the individual and group identities of their fellow users.

Under this cover of relative anonymity haredi web surfers discuss numerous topics, share thoughts and feelings, all as part of the online haredi community.

Using netnography, a methodology to research groups and cultures online, Okun conducted the first research to provide a wide and current ethnographic picture of the online activities among the haredi community.

The research found central characteristics of haredi internet users, exploring them as an "Online Religious Community."

This study of the characteristics of haredi users centered around three questions: what identity do haredi web surfers use online? What are their topics of discussion? And finally, what type of interactions and dynamics are at play between them?

Regarding identity, while haredi users often use neutral user nicknames, either not revealing their information or else making it up, many create an identity for themselves using slang and expressions from the haredi world. They also give blatant messages regarding their character, opinions and lifestyle in the real world.

Unlike other online communities, haredi web users only maintain "relative anonymity," and according to the research's findings, there is a strong tendency for gossipy conversations, venting, lightheartedness and freedom, to the point that there are large cracks in their anonymity.

The internet is an intermediate space for the haredi community to discuss numerous topics such as current events, politics, leisure, religious matters and Halakha (Jewish law), the research found.

The variety of topics and irregular hours in which the discussions take place emphasizes the influence of the internet revolution on the haredi community, Okun found.

Interactions online allow haredi internet users the opportunity to be more daring, to discuss and consult with each other, and through the process at some level to change their previous lifestyle which was more closed and compartmentalized.

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