Friday, December 28, 2007

A Note on Fears Regarding Internet Use

UPDATE----10 years later, having heard and read more about this topic----While what I wrote below may technically be true, I think there is indeed good reason to believe that pornography on the internet poses a real danger to Orthodox Jews as well.


A considerable number of current orthodox Jewish religious leaders, halachic authorities, and publications are hesitant or disinclined to permit internet use. I believe one of their principal reasons for objecting to internet use is the danger that the user will end up employing the internet for religiously inappropriate or prohibited purposes, in particular the accessing of pornography and other forms of sexually explicit material readily available on the internet.

In determining his attitude toward internet use, the halachic decisor must consider how much weight to assign this danger. (He must also evaluate and weigh the need for and/or benefits of internet use, but that is not the subject of this post.) In this regard, I have heard numbers bandied about regarding the widespread use of the internet for pornography and related purposes, presumably from surveys of American society; possibly from surveys of other industrialized countries as well. My input on this matter is merely the following: Studies regarding internet use for pornography etc. in society will not necessarily help our halachic decisor determine how much weight to assign this concern. Allow me to explain.

Consider a study designed to determine the likelihood that an American who enters into an A&P supermarket will buy and subsequently eat non-kosher food. My guess is such a study would find that a considerable percentage, probably a majority, will buy and eat non-kosher. Should our halachic decisor therefore conclude that no Jew should walk into an A&P, because of the great statistical danger that if he does, he will end up eating non-kosher? Obviously this argument is absurd. The flaw in it is that the study considers a population sample consisting mainly of people who have no reason not to eat non-kosher food, whereas an orthodox Jew does have such a reason. The study offers no data about people whose values include eating only kosher. Consequently, the study will not assist in predicting the likelihood that an orthodox Jew will buy and eat non-kosher food if he walks into an A&P. It's the wrong study to answer that question.

It is reasonable to assume that a considerably higher percentage of orthodox Jews than of the American, or Western, population at large consider not looking at pornography and other sexually explicit material to be a major value. Therefore, analogous to the A&P example, a study about internet use for pornography in any Western society will not assist - at least not much - in predicting the likelihood that an orthodox Jew will look at pornography if he uses the internet. Therefore, if such studies are quoted in this regard, their limited predictive powers regarding orthodox Jewish behaviour should be acknowledged.

(Obviously, this argument does not apply to a study specifically (a) about orthodox Jews, or (b) about a population sample from which one can reasonably extrapolate conclusions about orthodox Jews.)


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Mr. Anonymous said...

i do not at all reject your position that it is erroneous to apply statistical data concerning the general public to a 'frum' population...however your moshel to A&P has a serious flaw. at A&P you are in the public domain and your actions are thereby open to the scrutiny of others (a de facto safeguard), with the internet one is free to surf and peruse in privacy and utter anonymity. there is no such safeguard online (outside of one's conscience, which is applicable in all scenarios) - this is why (as i understand it) that some are not inherently opposed to internet per se but as a preventative measure will only place an internet ready computer (be it in their home or workspace) in a more publicly accessible space.

DES said...

I agree. My A&P analogy was not intended to be precise; it merely illustrates the fallacy in assuming that statistics regarding the general populace accurately describe the orthodox Jewish populace.

Yirmiahu said...

"Therefore, if such studies are quoted in this regard, their limited predictive powers regarding orthodox Jewish behaviour should be acknowledged."

I'm not sure this is relevant since, "Chazal say in Kesubos 13b that "אין אפוטרופוס לעריות," no one can trust himself when it comes to illicit matters."

DES said...

Sorry for taking so long to respond. I've been extraordinarily busy.

I'm not sure this is relevant since, "Chazal say in Kesubos 13b that "אין אפוטרופוס לעריות," no one can trust himself when it comes to illicit matters."

Important point. I do not claim that we should not care if a large proportion of internet-using American society looks at internet pornography. I am arguing merely that if orthodox Jews usually don't, that fact should be significant.

For example, suppose 80% of Americans ducked into strip clubs whenever they passed them, but only 0.1% of orthodox Jews. Would it then be logical to tell orthodox Jews to stay far away from blocks with strip clubs on them, because most Americans enter if they pass? Not necessarily. We do not invoke ein apotropos la'arayot to tell someone he must sit at home all day with his hands over his eyes. We invoke it in situations which involve a real danger of sin. If an orthodox Jew is, statistically, in very little danger in a given circumstance, perhaps we should not care that some other type of person would be.

Consider: If 80% of Americans looked at internet pornography, but only 0.1% of Australians, would we consider an orthodox Jew in Israel to be in grave danger of looking at it? Why should we use the American statistic over the Australian one? In such a case, should we not first try to figure out into which category the Jew fits better? Similarly, even if we do not have the Australian counterexample, should we not be interested in what the orthodox Jew might be statistically expected to do, or not to do? Why is a statistic about the American public at large necessarily our litmus test for policies regarding orthodox Jewry?

At the very least, statistics on American internet use should not be presented as if they are accurate indicators of the nature of orthodox Jewish internet use. I am confident that, ein apotropos la'arayot notwithstanding, a considerably lower proportion of orthodox Jews look at internet porn.

Yirmiahu said...

I hope your right that it is a lot less common, but I would say that Kesubos implies that there is no chazaka similar to that which permits yichud between men, for example.

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chaim kanievsky said...

i know im several years too late but if anyone ever looks at the comments section on this blog again here goes: while your moshol regarding the supermarket may be a good moshol in real life the facts are simply against you, most frum jews who have access to the internet are in fact looking at porn

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