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  • Chief Rabbi Goldstein

Q&A – Modern Ails And The Innocence of Youth – July 2011 – “Jewish Life

The by-line of the Sinai Indaba last month was Torah talking to the modern world – what is the key challenge in the modern world?

One of the main challenges is the easy and private accessibility of images and other content that  people get from the media and the internet today. All of this can be very damaging from both a spiritual and emotional point of view.

How so?

The Torah says ‘Do not go astray after your heart and your eyes’, because the things that we see have a profound effect on us, an emotional effect created by the mental images, and the expectations created from them, preconceptions about life. These effects can have long term damage in how a child grows up and views marriage, relationships, intimacy, and violence and other things. So much of the content out there is in direct conflict with Torah values, those of spiritual connectedness, purity, and innocence.

But this can be true of so many things – why specifically this issue?

The boundless imagery and content which can be found on television and now, in more recent years, that which can be found on the internet which, in terms of private anonymous  accessibility as well as the nature of the material is so much worse than anything which is available on television, is limitless. A clear emotional damage is done – to a child specifically but even to an adult – when exposed to material that is detrimental to them. But then there is a more subtle, and yet profound, damage.

What is that?

The damage to one’s world view. To the innocence of youth. To our entire value system. To the way that we live and view our lives.  Is it based on Torah values and ideas or not?

But we do live in the technological age wherein we need these things to get by – what can be done on a practical level?

Parents need to take responsibility, and the community needs to acknowledge the kinds of threats this poses to our children, and even to adult. We need to be aware of the kind of dangers that are out there, and parents have to be confident and proactive in the education of their children. That means two things. One is careful monitoring of the amount of screen time that a child spends in the day. Because if we look at it purely as a medium, we can see that it takes away the energy, enthusiasm and natural skills and talents of a child to grow and develop as a child should. And then of course there is checking the content we allow them to be exposed to daily.

But children need to be au fait with computer usage in this day and age…

But this is all part of protecting our children – a useful analogy is child abuse. G-d forbid there is any threat of child abuse, we would all jump to defend our children because they are vulnerable victims. So too with this. Children, even teenagers in a sense, are too young to make judgement calls about the kind of things they are exposing themselves to as well as the time they spend doing it. This is where parents have to be proactive.

So what-ban technology?

There are a whole lot of different ways of doing it, but first and foremost what is needed is a mind shift. The community needs to realise that for a child to be exposed to any sexually explicit material at a young age, or indeed any person of any age, can be spiritually and emotionally damaged by it. Particularly a young child or adolescent who does not have the emotional capacity to deal with it, has a lasting impact, and damages them irrevocably.

Different people have different standards about what is acceptable – what can we do?

We all need to assess where we are at to improve on it. It is in a sense giving our children back their childhood. Practical things –like setting up mentoring programs for internet usage, where the address of any site that your child visits is emailed to you so that you can track where they are going and what they are doing on the web. You should also have your own usage tracked! Because it is such a big issue that we need to start dealing with it as a community. The warning bells need to start sounding because this is a major social issue that is so pervasive and so difficult to deal with. And then make positive changes.

Like what?

The power of Torah learning. This is considered by our sages to be the engine of Judaism, because they say that learning Torah brings you to mitzvas. Through it, you imbibe a certain world view, based on the revealed wisdom of Hashem. That for me was one of the most important dimensions of the Sinai Indaba – Torah talking to a modern world, saying that Hashem’s revealed wisdom, explained throughout the ages by our great Torah scholars, actually talks about everything in life, and through understanding this we start to understand the world from a Torah perspective.

Why is this in opposition to the values espoused in a modern setting?

The problem with the pervasive nature of the media and the entertainment industry is not  only in content, which is clearly antithetical to Torah values, but that it has a particular value system that is being conveyed subtly all the time. People start to see the world through the value system of the creative directors of Hollywood or the media captains of the internet. It becomes deeply rooted in who we are.

How do we get around this, in theory?

We have to make sure that the prism through which we see the world is the prism of the awesome light of Hashem’s Torah not alternative philosophies. The Sinai Indaba’s title ‘Torah talking to a modern world’ is based on the Mishna ‘Turn it over and over for everything is in it’ and on the midrash ‘Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world’. We have a whole framework of values and principles that HaShem has given us. Judaism does not belong just in Shul  – everything we see and do in life has to be looked at through the Torah way of thinking. Because it is not just religion in the conventional sense, it is an entire world view that affects the way we are.

So is it that we as South Africans, who for the most part separate their Jewish life from their everyday life, need to integrate the two?

It’s not so much about integration as much as it is about viewing the modern world through the eyes of the Torah – processing that information and then formulating a response based on Torah values. Torah does not belong to an ancient world – it is eternal, given to us by Hashem for all places, every situation, and every time. It is a value system that tells us how to lead our lives today, and that applies to technology too. Technology is just a tool. Whether you communicate through smoke signals or bbm, it is still human beings interacting, just using different tools. The fundamental dynamics of what it means to be a human being living in the world are there, and it is just a matter of applying the Torah’s eternal principals to changing circumstances.

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