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Is it just me, or are most people getting dumb and dumber by the day?

I’m currently writing another book (!) on stress, and its damaging effects on the brain, so I can tell you categorically that most people today seem to have some form of stress-induced brain damage, that’s causing them to act even more dumb and dumber over time.

People just can’t assimilate new information, they can’t change their minds. They have fixed opinions and they’re unable to see anyone else’s point of view. Depending on what their dominant stress response is, they react to any discomfort socially by going on the attack (FIGHT), running away (FLIGHT), totally ignoring ‘the issue’ (FREEZE), or keeping things so superficially ‘fake nice’ (FLATTER) there’s simply no room for deep thought, or a deep exchange of ideas.

All this happens when people have stress-induced brain damage – and all this is happening in spades all around us, right now. And the more ‘damaged’ the person is, emotionally, the harder they find it to engage with different ideas, new ways of doing things.

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if the Prophet Daniel had given over some of his wisdom to our generation.

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MENE MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN

“It can’t be a real prophecy, I don’t understand it,” sniffed Dumb.

“Never mind that!!” Barked Dumber. “Only xtians talk in riddles like this! That message can’t be from God, because He always expresses Himself very clearly. I don’t think this Daniel guy is even a Jew!!”

And so it continued.

When the Prophet Zechariah would stand up to give over his message for the Jewish people, Dumb and Dumber stood there in the front row, clutching their copies of the Ramchal and heckling him.

Zechariah Chapter 3:

“Hear now, O Yehoshua the High Priest, you and your companions that sit before you; for they are men that are a sign; for, behold, I will bring forth My servant the Shoot.

For behold, the stone that I have laid before Yehoshua; there are seven facets upon one stone; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, said the Lord of Hosts: And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”

‘Rubbish!!!’ Yelled out Dumb.

‘Ridiculous mumbo-jumbo!!!’ Echoed Dumber. ‘If you were a REAL prophet, you’d make this stuff easy to understand, like the Rambam did, and not just lead the masses on with all this xtian-sounding clap trap!’

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But the person they derided the most was Ezekiel (1:25-7):

“And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.”

‘Is the man on drugs?’ Dumb wanted to know.

‘I think it’s worse than that’, muttered Dumber. ‘Only a XTIAN would try to give the likeness of an appearance to God!!! He’s obviously a false prophet, a false messiah! No wonder he keeps going on and on about the Temple being rebuilt and how it’s all going to look in the future!!! The Rambam would NEVER say something like that!!!’

Who could argue with such erudite YouTube scholars as these?

I tell you what else is very troubling, continued Dumb. This Ezekiel figure is playing with fire. He’s egging on the masses that we’re going to have a rebuilt Temple, and that the Moshiach is going to come. But he’s totally crazy! Look, he’s spent a whole year lying on his side on the pavement, baking his bread over cow dung!! Who does something like that?! Certainly no real Rabbi I’ve ever heard of!

He’s just a delusional charlatan, agreed Dumber. I mean, all those prophecies about the Temple, and did any of them ever happen? He’s just beguiling people with riddles, and filling their heads with nonsense about ‘bones’ coming back to life. You just don’t find reputable Jewish leaders doing things like that. I think he’s a hare krishna.

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Just then, Dumbest showed up, and all three of them repaired to the nearest pub, to continue their high-level discussion of esoteric Torah principles over a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

Dumbest, what do you think about all these gobbledy-gook ‘pronouncements’ from Ezekiel? Is he a true leader of the Jews, or a false one?

Dumbest put his pint down for a moment (I mean, this was really important, after all!) and after thinking for exactly 5.37 seconds, made his pronouncement:

One thing I know for sure, is that the Mashiach will not speak in riddles which people can interpret any number of ways. Mashiach is coming to make things clearer to us, and erase our doubts, not cause confusion.

Dumb pumped his fist into the air.

Yesss! I knew that guy was a faker!

Someone as clever as Dumbest was never going to make a mistake about something this important….

But Dumber had to ask:

Hey, Dumbest, don’t mind, but can I ask you for your source for that statement?

Sure, Dumbest responded. He looked all around him conspiratorially, then motioned the other two YouTube Sages closer:

My i-Phone has nevua!

Dumb and Dumber were impressed. How could they not be? This is how Jews were really meant to discuss Torah!

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We’re all Dumb and Dumber today, whether or not we admit it. The ikker is just to have a tad of humility, and to be honest that we have no idea what to really think about anything. That’s really the only smart thing to do at the moment.

That’s also the point I was trying to make HERE:

The way out of this morass, all this ‘feeling confused’ stuff, is just to be honest, and to admit that really, we have no idea what’s going on, or what to think about it all.

It comes back to that whole ‘being real’ idea I discussed over HERE, where it seemed to me that the people who are pretending to be what they’re not seem to be the ones most in danger of turning against the Rav, God forbid, or pinging away in disgust.

HOW COULD THE RAV SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!?!” THEY MUTTER TO THEMSELVES.

Really, they have no idea what the Rav did or didn’t say, what he did or didn’t intend, what did or didn’t actually happen.

But it takes a lot of humility, it takes a lot of self-awareness about your own limitations to really admit that, doesn’t it?

What’s going on right now is a massive birur process, or clarification procedure.

All of us are being tested, but especially on our arrogance, our emuna, and our emunat tzaddikim, or belief in our true Tzaddikim.

And so, the test of Dumb and Dumber continues.

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The Jewish media outlets are creating more anti-Semites every day.

In a year’s time, or two years’ time, or ten years’ time – however long it’s going to take for this current, horrible period of time to come to its apex and lead to whatever it’s going to lead to, we’ll look back and wonder: “why did things have to happen this way? Why did the anti-Semites have to come roaring back, the way they did?”

Just like people did with the holocaust, a few years after the inferno had erupted and engulfed 6 million Jews, people sat there incredulous, angry at God, wondering: “why did it have to happen like that?”

Why couldn’t God have just bought all the Jews back to the land of Israel, without that awful precursor, without all that death and destruction, without all that terrible, anti-Semitism?

I also used to wonder these things. But increasingly, I’m starting to see how so much of the destruction happened because we brought it upon ourselves.

And I’m increasingly concerned that history is about to repeat it itself.

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A few days’ ago, a ‘pro-Rabbi Berland’ reader sent me a couple of new ‘shocking videos’ that are now doing the rounds.

In one, you can see Rabbi Berland repeatedly slapping one of his followers, at an event that happened in Eilat a few months ago. Again, the disgusting YeshivaWorldNews made sure to upload this video with a nice heaping dose of derision and slander as their official ‘comment’ on it, and then they sent it out to the world at large, on their Instagram account, to encourage more anti-semitism.

In the second, Rabbi Berland appears to be comparing a woman to a donkey – which is actually part of a Torah lesson that was being taught based on the Midrash and Talmud.

First, let’s deal with what happened. Here’s what I emailed my reader about these two ‘shocking videos’:

“The first one, where the Rav is hitting someone in Eilat, it certainly looks shocking if people aren’t aware of the concept of tzaddikim taking off harsh judgments in this way.

My husband got slapped in the face twice by Rav Arush just before Rosh Hashana in Uman a few years ago – and he was very  happy that happened, because he instantly felt the ‘din’ (harsh judgment) lift off of him.

There’s also so many videos of Rav Ovadia slapping people in the face – even Bibi – and the Baba Sali has many, many stories of slapping people harshly to ‘mitigate judgments’. There is probably way more to add to this, but I haven’t begun to research this properly, and this is what came to mind.”

(If you understand Hebrew, Rabbi Yaakov Selma dealt with this episode in detail a few months ago, and you can see his comments and video below:)

 

And here is the video of Rav Ovadia publically slapping Bibi – the Prime Minister of Israel! – in the face, from many years ago.

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Now, let’s deal with the ‘shocking’ women-are-donkeys statement.

Here’s what I emailed my correspondent about that:

“The second clip is part of a Torah class the Rav is giving over on the Gemara or on a Midrash. It’s not clear from the context exactly which Tractate etc, but it could be Kiddushin (see 68a, where slaves are referred to as ‘donkey-like / ass-like people. Also in the Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 56:2, Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, is compared to a donkey.)

I finished up with this:

“What are we to do, that there are many things that sound ‘weird’ or not PC in our tradition? The non-Jews who are against circumcision are also doing this, and the Reform who keep going on about the status of women in ‘rabbinic’ Judaism are also doing this.

This is not a new thing – the Nazis were also adept at taking quotes out of the Talmud, to demonise the Jews as a people, and so did – (and are still doing…) the xtians.

But what’s awful is that it’s supposedly ‘frum’ Jews who are doing this stuff – and they are playing with awful fire. The video you sent me from YWN’s Instagram account showed up in the search engines next to other ‘suggestions’ for videos which was basically the worst anti-Semitic propaganda about what Rabbis do to small, defence-less babies at a brit milah – ‘slashing’ without anaesthetic, and all the stuff about the two stages of performing a proper brit.

Yeshiva World News is keeping company with very evil people in this matter, and I greatly fear how it’s going to rebound on the Jewish people, particularly abroad.”

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How the Nazis (ab)used the Talmud

Did you know that the Nazis’ main ‘thinker’, Alfred Rosenberg, wrote and published a whole booklet in 1920, called “Lack of Morality in the Talmud”?

He quoted tens of things from the Shulchan Aruch and the Talmud to ‘prove’ how morally degenerate the Jewish people actually are – and it was so popular, he had it reprinted in the 1930s, as part of the Nazi attempt to dehumanize the Jews.

And of course, the xtians and the Church were pulling the same stunt for centuries, pulling different snippets of ‘offensive’ statements out of Jewish holy works to ‘prove’ how degenerate the Rabbis were (God forbid), and by extension, how disgusting the Jews – and all their ‘weird’ practices – are.

We like to think that all that old-fashioned, Jew-killing anti-Semitism couldn’t happen today.

But make no mistake, it’s back – and back with a vengeance, even in places like ‘safe’ America. Here’s what my correspondent emailed me back with:

“Abroad: I would say unfortunately crazy enough. Not a day goes by you don’t hear a new story of anti-Semitism. The comments on FaceBook Group pages and the daily local papers and radio stations in New Jersey are through the roof.

Pure illogical, irrational hate like I have not experienced before. Just simply double standard judgment against Jews in droves totally one-sided and not fair.”

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Ask any Jew abroad right now, even the totally secular, ‘irreligious’ ones who apparently left the fold a long, long time ago, and they will all tell you that they can feel the anti-Semitism in the air.

I’m hearing that all the time from the UK, I’m hearing it from France, I’m hearing it from the USA.

Anti-semitism is going through the roof. Anti-semites are pouring out of the cracks all over the world.

And do you know who is to blame for all this?

The Jews.

And especially, the Jewish media.

Do the evil retards who run YWN not realize that non-Jews make no distinction between a Breslov chassid, a Breslov Rebbe, and any other Jew in black-and-white, who wears a kippa, beard or no beard?

They’re there, making every effort they can to try to make Rabbi Berland and Breslov out to be a bunch of crazy, psychotic lunatics and ‘cult members’ – and who is lapping that message up, along with the 4 orthodox Jews who still actually take that site seriously?

Yup. You got it.

The non-Jews. The anti-Semites. The non-Jewish people living in Lakewood, and Ocean County who are very upset with their orthodox Jewish neighbors.

How do I know this? The Yeshiva World News itself is telling me that!  Here‘s a screenshot from a  recent story it ran about hate comments from anti-Semites in Ocean County:

Screenshot of Yeshiva World News coverage of anti semitic comments on Facebook

That last comments reads: “Slap on the hand and released back to the cult!”

And here’s a screenshot of the YWN comment next to their post on Rabbi Berland:

Screenshot of YWN Instagram account calling Rav Berland's Shuvu Banim a cult

The YWN comment reads: “Cult members will naturally find an excuse for this by saying “he was punching the Yetzer Hara put of this man”, or he has a dibuk that needed removal and some other beauty response. Any insane behavior is justified in a cult.” (All spelling errors are in the original – it’s bad journalism all the way around….)

Surely, it’s obvious where this problem is coming from?

To anti-Semites,  a Jew, is a Jew, is a Jew. Try telling them that the only ‘crazy, bad’ orthodox Jewish people are Breslov, or that only Breslov is a ‘cult’.

So great own goal, Yeshiva World News! Goebbels would be so proud.

And of course, that’s also happening here in Israel in droves, too.

The secular, rabidly ‘anti’ religious press and politicians and ‘enlightened’ big thinkers positively delight in painting the worst possible picture they can of authentic Judaism and orthodox Jews.

They go on and on about how haredi Jews are ‘parasites’, and how orthodox Jewish rabbis in Israel are completely crooked and corrupt, and how the orthodox Jewish community – with their archaic, barbaric, primitive Torah practices – is just one, big massive ‘burden’ that the secular Jews in Israel are sick and tired of schlepping around and dealing with.

Could a non-Jewish anti-Semite phrase it any better?

When places like Ynetnews and Channel 2, and Channel 10, air story after story – often with totally falsified information, designed to manipulate their viewers to hating haredi Jews even more than before!!! – they think they are scoring some sort of massive ‘victory’ against religious Jews.

Really?

They are handing the anti-Semites more propaganda, more fodder, on a plate.

Or to use a more appropriate analogy, they are filling up a rhetorical machine gun with ‘anti-Semitic’ bullets that the non-Jews are going to hold against the head of every single Jew in the world.

Do you think the non-Jews care, that ‘Mr Secular Tel Aviv’ doesn’t have a beard, and doesn’t fast on Yom Kippur, and hates the settlements, and wants to marry his dog? Do you think his extreme hatred of religious Jews and the Torah makes that guy any less Jewish, to Hamas, or Hezbollah, or a neo-Nazi?

Again, we don’t have to go far back in history to see an awful parallel with all the assimilated Jews in Europe, who were convinced that Berlin was the New Jerusalem. But marrying out didn’t save them Hitler, converting to xtianity didn’t save them from Hitler, having lots of money, and status, and five university degrees didn’t save them from Hitler.

Throwing other Jews under a bus – especially their orthodox brethren – didn’t save them from Hitler. If anything, it only encouraged him.

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So let’s return to 2019, and let’s see what’s really unfolding before our eyes.

The hate against Jews is rippling out in concentric circles.

At its heart, Rabbi Berland, the Gadol HaDor, who was stitched-up by an unholy alliance of ‘Shuvu Banim-hating’ Breslovers in Meah Shearim, and ‘Breslov-hating’ haredi journalists on sites like Yeshiva World News and Kikar HaShabbat (which btw is half-owned by Ynet….); and ‘Haredi-hating’ secular journalists, politicians, judges and policemen in Israel.

And all those people think they are scoring massive points, by continuing to fabricate and publicize new scandals against him, and new ‘shocking’ videos.

Then what happens?

All that stuff gets sent to the end of the world and back by the internet, and the anti-Semites wake up, and now, they are giving all these ‘haters’ a dose of their own medicine.

It’s the midda keneged midda principle in action.

God is behind all this, because He’s so sick of what’s going on. He’s sick of all these ‘Jewish anti-semites’ of every stripe, who are encouraging their readers and viewers to hate other groups of Jews.

All those ‘anti’ haredi Israeli Jews who just lurrrrve all the negative, fake news stories being splashed around the press here – don’t you realise the anti-semites and the BDS brigade are doing exactly the same thing to you (to us!) in their biased and distorted coverage of Israel?

All those ‘anti’ orthodox reform Jews in the US, who just lurrrrve trying to poke holes in the Torah and in the Talmud and in ‘Rabbinic’ Judaism – and who are riding high on their ‘political correctness’ and ‘enlightened egalitarianism’ – do you really think the anti-semites think you are whiter than white?

Was Bernie Madoff an ‘orthodox’ Jew? Was Harvey Weinstein? Or all the countless other secular Jews whose bad behavior has hit the headlines again and again and again in the secular press?

All those anti-Breslov, and / or anti-Israel haredi Jews in Lakewood, and Monsey and Williamsburg – don’t you realise that every time you speak badly of Israel and your fellow Jews, you are giving the anti-Semites more spiritual ammunition to turn against yourselves and your communities?

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Let’s end with this.

All the scandal and slander and ‘opinion pieces’ tearing down our fellow Jews that’s being churned out en masse by the Jewish media, it’s all being read by the anti-Semites, too.

Those anti-Semites don’t slice the divisions between the different sectors of the Jewish people anywhere near as finely as we ourselves do. They don’t differentiate between this Jew who wears a kippah, and that Jew who doesn’t. Or this Jew who is ‘egalitarian’, and that Jew who isn’t. Or this Jew who works in hi-tech, and that Jew who studies Torah.

To them, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

And every negative word that comes out of our mouths accusing different groups of Jews of being ‘evil’, and ‘corrupt’, and ‘cultish’, and ‘perverted’ – and all the rest of it – it’s just giving more ammunition and more motivation to the anti-Semites.

So, Ynet, and Yeshiva World News and Kikar HaShabbat please think twice before continuing to slander and demonise a holy Jew, or a holy group of Jews. The anti-Semites are watching, and waiting in the wings. And whatever fake news you churn out about Rabbi Berland, that’s exactly what they are going to use to justify their attacks on the rest of the Jewish world.

And you will have caused the destruction that’s looming in the distance with your own two hands.

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If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about – and struggling with – internet addiction for as long as ‘www’ has been a word.

Although strictly speaking, that’s not true, because before I decided to quit my job 10 years ago, there was no real struggle: the internet had eaten me up, body, mind and soul. Once I realized just how bad my preoccupation with the net was for me and my whole family, I got the internet out of my house, and went cold turkey.

Over the next 6 years or so, I mostly had it mostly sidelined. I’d go to the local library to upload things and gorge myself on geula sites and a bit of news twice a week, but it was manageable – and I have to tell you, I got a lot of other stuff done over that time, mostly hidden in my home and internally, but still a lot.

Then for a lot of different reasons, the internet came back via a plug-in internet stick, and the internet addiction also started to creep back in under the guise of all this ‘important’ stuff that we were now doing online.

But it was kind of manageable still, until the middle of last year, when our disastrous house purchase blew up, blasting my last ounce of spiritual strength away with it.

The internet addiction roared back, and I found myself obsessively checking earthquake sites, and geula blogs, and even the occasional Youtube video or documentary.

And there was nothing I could really do about it, because there was a big, gaping hole where things like ‘satisfaction’, and ‘peace of mind’ and ‘real happiness’ should have been, but just weren’t. So all that internet stuff was my escape out of a reality that I really didn’t want to be in any more, but couldn’t see a way out of.

To put it another way: I gave up.

Of course, all still with the plug-in stick, and what I’m describing as ‘internet addiction’ probably wouldn’t even register on the radar for a lot of people, but for me, I understood that I’d got to a very low place, spiritually.

Then I had that awful experience erev Rosh Hashana, when someone who had previously been quite friendly all of a sudden did an ‘Anakin Skywalker’ and went over to the dark side. She sent me an email a few hours before Rosh Hashana began that upset me so much, it nearly threw my whole Rosh Hashana over to the forces of evil.

I wonder if she has even an inkling of the huge amount of damage and pain she caused me, with her five line email?

All of a sudden, I realized that most of the people I’d been ‘hanging out with’ in cyberspace where anonymous psychos that I actually knew next to nothing about. And that threw me for another loop, because if I hadn’t been interacting with real people, then who the heck was I actually dealing with?!

This thought creeped me out in a way that’s hard to explain, but I think it comes back down to that lack of authenticity.

I felt like I’d been participating in some warped, geula-fuelled version of The Sims for the last few years.

Anyway, straight after Rosh Hashana I deleted my blog in an attempt to avoid getting pulled into any more machloket online, and I also permanently blocked every single geula blog I’d been looking at from my PC. I figured,

maybe, this was God’s way of telling me to stop blogging, and to go and do something else, something better.

So I tried, I really did, to find those other things. I bought a new painting set, I tried to do a real shiur with real people, that didn’t exactly work as fabulously as I hoped. I got to work on the book on volcanoes. I tried a few different shuls locally on Friday night, to see if one would ‘click’.

Long story short: it all flopped. It all failed. And after two months of no blogging, I realized that God wanted me to write, and to return to blogging. And I was really angry when I found that out, because

It’s so much easier to be completely ‘offline’ than to try to use the internet judiciously.

So I started blogging again, half resentfully, and now I started to realise how much of my internet use had been done as a reaction to try to make me feel better about the mess my ‘real life’ was in.

The equation went something like this:

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and lose yourself in Youtube.

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and read a geula blog written by an anonymous psycho

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and post up something you wrote knocking something, or someone else, to try to make yourself feel better

Things were a little better now I’d blocked the geula blogs, but again, the internet was eating me up, body, mind and soul, and after my all efforts to run away from it, I just kind of rolled over and let it happen.

What, I’m going to try to get it out of my life again? I’m going to make another failed attempt to pull away? I can’t. I’m tired. I’m finished.

But God had other plans.

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About three months ago, my youngest daughter started going completely beserk about what was going on in the house.

She started berating me for not doing the washing up promptly, for not doing sponga every week, for not making fancy suppers every night. She started complaining that the house smelt ‘bad’, and would come home and immediately splashing economica all around. My house smelt like a public baths for three weeks.

I’ve had to do a lot of praying to figure out what was really going on, but at its root, God sent this teenage obstinacy to me as a gift. He wanted to shake me out of my complacency, and to encourage me to make some very necessary changes in my life. But for weeks, I was trying to ignore Him.

Leave me alone, God. I can’t do all that ‘trying to improve myself spiritually’ stuff anymore. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve officially retired from making any effort, and that’s that. Nothing else to talk about.

But God wasn’t having any of it. The teenager got more and more abusive, more and more difficult to be around, more and more stressful to live with – until I finally realized:

She is right.

She is 100% right.

I need to pull my socks up, and try to make a change for the better here.

This is so easy to type, but at the stage I’d arrived at recently, it was so very hard to even begin to contemplate.

What, I’m going to try again?!

After the million failures? Why bother? Let me continue to escape into Youtube, and gamarnu.

But God – and the teenager – didn’t give up. I got really ill around four weeks ago, and I know from experience that when a serious health issue shows up, that’s because I’m ignoring the message I’m getting at the emotional / mental level. God was giving me a shot across the bows:

Don’t keep ignoring the message to change things, Rivka, because it’s only going to lead to a bad place if you carry on doing that.

And I knew what I had to do: I had to get offline again, and stop using the internet as an escape hatch from reality.

But how?

Last month, I started looking around for hubs in Jerusalem. Long story short, there are quite a few, but all of them seemed to be miles away, in the centre of town where there was no easy parking. I didn’t have the strength to make such a big effort, so I sank back into feeling miserable and stuck, and just gave up again.

But God said:

Not so fast!

Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, was in town and speaking at a Writepoint evening, and invited me to come. It was pouring rain, but when I realized she was speaking somewhere that was a 5 minute walk away from my house, I decided to go anyway. The event was taking place in a hub in Talpiyot, that I’d never heard about, and all of a sudden, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was still feeling ill, so it took me a week to get back there, but when I returned, I met the manager – and realized I knew him from London. That particular hub wasn’t so suitable for me, but he told me about another place that was also a 5 minute walk away, and which is aimed at creatives.

It would cost me 1,000 shekels a month to get a hotdesk there, but if I did it, I could get the internet out of my house again.

I wavered for a fortnight. The internet had taken over so much of my life, I knew it was going to be a huge, massive change. Also, that’s a lot of money to spend, and I wasn’t sure we could really afford it.

But somehow, last week, I finally took the plunge, and signed up for a month. I told my husband to hide the stick – and on Monday, it finally hit me just how much of an emotional ‘crutch’ the internet had become. I mamash went into some sort of drying-out crisis, like a heroin addict climbing the walls.

Now it’s just me and my life. No running away. No getting away from those lonely feelings by surfing. No dodging the dissatisfaction anymore.

I had a really hard couple of days, because all the things I’d been trying to ignore for months came sharply into focus.

But now, I’m starting to feel better again. There are things I need to work on, things I need to improve, things I need to pray about. And BH, now I’ve pulled the plug on the internet escape hatch, that stuff will start to happen again. I can’t watch Youtube in the hub – it’s a serious place, where people are doing serious work – but I can do all the stuff that I need to do online, like check emails and upload blog posts.

But not all the time, and not 50 times a day.

Hopefully, I’ve made some space to start reclaiming my life again.

And now, like magic, the teen has cheered up and stopped nagging me, even though I’m still not so hot on doing the washing up. And like magic, I’ve found the energy to start work on Secret Diary #2, which is going to be written like a real story, not just a bunch of blog posts pulled together in book. And like magic, I’m starting to get a little bit of the energy required to look the internal black hole in the face, and to get on with the job of shrinking it again.

I’m still feeling pretty shaky, emotionally and physically at the moment. I’m still feeling pretty weak. But now I’ve got the internet out of my house, I’m also feeling calmer and happier. I know there’s a lot going on out there, I know the earthquakes and meteors and volcanoes are picking up, and never mind all the political cack that passes for ‘news’.

But I also know that at this stage, I have to take a step back from that stuff, and to do much less online than I have been doing. I have other things to write, other things to think about, other stuff to work on.

And for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to getting on with things again.


Annette just sent me a lovely post she wrote about a quick tour we took of Musrara, my old hood, when she was here a few weeks’ back. You can read it HERE.

This is another oldy, but goody. From January 2016 – but still ever so relevant today.

Someone just kindly sent me a document that was signed by pretty much every Gadol Hador you care to mention from the last few years, decrying the emergence of ‘haredi’ news sites, and warning the frum public to stay away from them.

What’s wrong with ‘haredi’ news sites, you might ask?

Don’t we need to know what’s going on with all the Rebbes, and all the issues in our local schools and communities, and all the latest appointments being made in our institutions?

Here’s where we hit a huge, halachic reality check that most of us, maybe nearly all of us, would prefer to completely ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘GOOD’ NEWS.

What do I mean by that? I mean that even the most ‘haredi’ news site is regularly reporting things that fall completely foul of even the most basic laws of lashon hara, or evil speech.

Remember, any negative information about a Jew, even if it’s true, still counts as lashon hara.

Sure, there are times when negative information about Jews has to be publicized toelet, for a good reason, such as in cases of abuse, or to avoid potential harm or danger. But the rules governing these instances are very specific and very exacting, and they’re being completely ignored by even the most ‘haredi’ news sites.

Worse, every news site, every blog, every facebook group has its own slant, bias and agenda, even if it’s just implicit. So the ‘news’ you’re getting from that site – or from any other place – is subjectively colored by the beliefs and the desires of the people putting that information together.

Even when people are Torah-observant and well-meaning, they still have any number of subconscious biases, grudges, and prejudices that will color how and what they write, often without being consciously aware of the problems at all.

If you ask that Ashkenazi Litvak guy why he loves running negative pieces about Sephardi poskim, he probably has no idea that on some level he’s trying to prove ‘his’ approach and worldview right, at someone else’s expense.

Or, if you ask the Chassidic writer why so many of his stories are focusing on the teens going off the derech in the non-chassidic communities, he’s not going to know that he’s still fighting a subconscious battle in print with his very difficult yekke parent.

There are hidden agendas going on all over the place with the media and the people who are putting the information together, both obvious and less so. The problems of lashon hara, and people slanting information occur even with very well-meaning and genuinely God-fearing people.

But when the people putting the news out are not well-meaning, not God-fearing (however ‘frum’ they look on the outside) and very emotionally-disturbed – well then Houston, we have a problem.

Because knowledge is power. Readership is power. Huge numbers of visitors reading your site is power. And power, as well all know only too well, is completely corrupting (and also hugely attractive to emotionally-disturbed people who crave attention and influence.)

I’ve been a journalist now for more than 20 years. I started off on a financial mag straight out of university, before going on to work at a Jewish weekly in London, then freelancing for the nationals in the UK, and then going into PR and speechwriting for the British government.

A big reason why I left journalism is because I once went to a class on lashon hara in Gateshead, where the Rabbi spelled out the more basic laws so well, that I immediately understood that most of the stories I was writing for my Jewish paper – even in a well-intentioned, God-fearing way – were lashon hara.

I asked that Rabbi what a Jewish journalist should do, to avoid transgressing the laws of lashon hara, and he answered very succinctly: “Quit!”

Because I’m (trying to be…) a God-fearing Jew, I took his advice seriously, and a few months’ later, I went into PR and speechwriting instead of journalism (which had its own issues, but that’s a story for another time.)

To put this another way: God-fearing people don’t write the news.

Even on ‘haredi’ sites, they don’t abide by the laws of lashon hara, and they’ll write whatever will get the most people flocking to their sites, even if it’s outrageously deceptive, morally corrupt and completely destructive.

If they were truly God-fearing, they’d quit.

Our generation has so very many tests to contend with, I know. Sometimes, the gap between what many of us know is correct, and what we see happening in our own lives and communities is so enormous, it can plunge us into the deepest pit of despair and apathy. In our modern world, how can we not follow the news? But Hashem’s laws haven’t changed, and the rules of lashon hara still apply today – probably even more so than previously.

After I realized just how morally corrupt and corrupting all the Jewish news sites really were, even the ‘haredi’ ones, after the whole debacle with Rav Berland a few weeks’ back, I went cold turkey on reading them.

Man, it was pretty hard going the first few weeks, as following the news is addictive (which is another sign that it’s spiritually ‘bad’, because no-one gets ‘addicted’ to saying Tehillim, or eating lettuce.) I decided I needed a proxy to help me wean off the toxic Jewish news, so I picked….BBC news!

BBC news is so biased, so PC in all the worst ways, and so blatantly manipulative and untruthful, I can’t bear to spend more than 5 seconds looking at it. My yetzer gets its ‘news’ fix, but I don’t believe a word of it, because I know what a filthy place it’s coming from.

I’m not claiming this is a perfect solution, but it’s a ‘real’ solution, and at some point soon, BH, I’ll stop checking that news site, too.

The last thing to say is that while I’ve been writing about news sites, this all clearly applies to things like blogs, newsletters and Facebook groups, too.  I’ll cover Facebook in a separate post, but every time we read or write something online, the potential for contravening the laws of lashon hara are huge.

The Chofetz Chaim famously wrote that lashon hara is the sin that destroyed the last temple and caused the exile. When a person speaks negatively about another Jew, or reads something negative about another Jew, that causes hatred to blossom in their heart towards that other person.

There’s enough hatred in the world towards Jews already, without us adding more fuel to the flames.

Last week, I was in Ikea with my kids in the badatz kosher cafeteria there.

(Even though I’ve lived in Israel for more than 11 years’ now, I still find kosher Ikea wildly exciting.)

It was the last days of Summer, and the cafeteria was packed with all sorts of people and their kids. Ahead of me in the queue was a cute-looking frum woman with a long skirt, long sleeves and regal head covering, who had a handful of younger kids holding on to her by her skirt.

Every two minutes, this woman took her massive i-Phone out of her bag, and started obsessively checking the headlines on Arutz 7. She’d scroll down for a couple of minutes, go over and check her emails, put the phone back in her bag (usually because some kid was tugging at her pretty aggressively, to get her attention) – and then two minutes’ later, repeat the whole ritual again.

I stood behind her for 15 minutes, and I saw her do this at least six times.

There are many things to be said about why i-phones are bad – like how easy they make it to access all the smut and degradation on the internet, especially for men; or how they chain people to work and checking their emails all the time, even when they’re meant to be hiking in nature with their families and relaxing; or how they suck people into a self-absorbed, pretty immodest culture of taking selfies and checking their appearance every 10 seconds.

But today, I just want to focus on one aspect of why i-Phones are so bad, which this one, average frum woman in Ikea really encapsulates: i-Phones give us no time to really ‘be’ with ourselves. I-Phones are addictive, because surfing the internet is addictive, and it fills the ‘space’ and the time that we’d otherwise be left alone with our thoughts.

People are so miserable today, and so uncomfortable with themselves, and so uncomfortable about the notion of exploring what they really think and feel about their lives and their relationships, that escapism has become the Number 1 ‘self-soothing’ activity of our generation.

The equation goes something like this:

Time to think = an opportunity to recognize what’s not going so well in my life, or what is maybe not so healthy or helpful = an impetus to change or improve = a push to actually do something different = SCARY AND DANGEROUS!!! = stay away from thinking at all costs.

i-Phone = escape into news, facebook and fantasy = no time to think = can keep busy at all costs = COMFORT ZONE = go back to sleep, everything’s fine (and don’t forget to take your anti-anxiety medication…)

i-Phones cut us off from thinking and being, and as a result, they distance us from our own souls.

They waste our time on addictive behaviors like obsessively checking emails, Facebook or Arutz 7. They suck us into a fake, plastic, superficial world that’s full of spiritually-dead, emotionally-ill people who spend so much time online because they also can’t just ‘be’. They prevent us from really interacting with the people standing right in front of our faces, because we’re too busy scrolling through old email conversations and sharing new stuff we just found out about.

And that’s if we’re ‘only’ using them for ostensibly kosher reasons.

If the sites we happen to visit are morally corrupting in anyway (which is like, er, 99.9% of the internet…) then the spiritual problems connected with i-Phones only continue to grow.

Do you really want to be immersed in a world where God is absent, people descended by chance from monkeys and where anything goes, morally and socially? And if by chance you really want that for yourself, is that what you really want for your children?

No-one needs an i-Phone.

(I know there are supposedly haredi ‘rabbis’ who are carrying around their i-Phones and claiming they need them to serve the community, but it’s all just fluff and excuses put around by people who forget that God is running the world, and that emails don’t have to be answered within 20 seconds of being received. Can you imagine Rav Ovadia using an i-phone? Or Rav Kanievsky? I rest my case.)

We don’t need to carry-on buying into a culture that has made ‘escapism’ and ‘keeping busy’ it’s bywords, because it’s dead from the soul-down and is trying to run away from all the human misery it’s created with its God-less, heretical and materialistic approach to life.

Take a moment and imagine how different that woman’s trip to Ikea could have been without her i-Phone.

Maybe, she’d have started a conversation up with one of her kids, and learnt something very helpful. Maybe, she’d have given another kid a hug, or a back tickle, to alleviate the boredom of waiting in line. Maybe, she’d have noticed that she has nothing to say to her family, and that would have made her wonder why that was the case, and what needed to change to get her back in touch with herself and with them, more?

Instead, she checked her emails and Arutz 7 six times, until it was her turn to order the schnitzels and fries.

Life is so, so precious. Every moment can be used to reach out to others, reach up to God, or to reach inwards, to our own souls.

But when we’re carrying an i-Phone around, it’s so much easier to turn on to the emptiness of the internet, than to tune in to our own lives and loved ones.

Doing my internet work at the ‘hub’ for start-ups that the Jerusalem Council has very kindly located right next door to my house is giving me a lot of food for thought.

When I first started going there, a couple of months’ back, there were already a few ‘regulars’ who seemed to have the whole start-up / internet entrepreneur thing sussed.

Their conversations were full of impressive-sounding strategies for how to use Twitter, and how to reach people by paying writers to pretend to be fake people using their products on Fakebook, and how to optimise opportunities via Amazon Associates etc etc

Despite myself, I was secretly impressed – and not so secretly thrown for a loop. I mean, they sounded so with-it and sorted, they were surely making millions already…

And me? Well, I’m still waiting for my ship to come in and my efforts to pay off.

Somewhere deep down, I started to think that maybe I had to start playing the game a whole lot more, if I really wanted to get somewhere online.

Maybe, I’d have to start investing a huge amount of effort in Twitter…Maybe, I’d have to hold my nose and start a Facebook account…Maybe, I’d have to waste huge chunks of time making stupid comments on other people’s posts to ‘maintain visibility’…

I’ll be honest: I started a Twitter account for JEMI; I started a Facebook page (purely business) for Talk to God. And after a couple of weeks, this is what I realised:

It’s all a crock!

God really doesn’t need me to waste my time trying to garner likes, retweets or comments in order to do something useful with my life.

Meanwhile, back at the hub, the wheels were starting to come off a lot of the bright, shiny ‘internet entrepreneurs’. They aren’t all going bonkers (yet…) but there are some definite signs of wear and tear on even the most bullish and optimistic ones.

As I watched them get more and more stressed, and angry, and less and less friendly and even plain nice, this is what I realised:

Being on the internet too much is literally driving people insane.

There’s many reasons for this.

1) It makes you waste a lot of time on things that appear to be useful, which are anything but.

Then, you get to the end of the day wondering where all that effort and investment went, and you have nothing to show for it.

2) It gives you a false sense of connection, that actually just leaves you feeling incredibly empty as soon as you power-off.

The first few weeks of doing things like Linked In, or writing articles for Ezine, I was thrilled to be back in the ‘real world’ again, and connecting to people. Then, I realised how lonely I felt after I’d sent another email monologue, or read through a few other people’s posts.

It was like trying to connect to a statue, or a ghost. There was an impression or illusion of a relationship there, but actually nothing underneath. I imagine regular users of Facebook must feel the emptiness in their real lives even more acutely.

3) It literally saps your strength and energy.

This is a whole big post for another time, but I could feel enormous differences in my mood and my energy levels when I was working on a computer that was connected to the internet, and when I wasn’t.

To put it simply, the electrical frequency that things like WiFi are operating on completely fry out the human electrical system that’s part of the miraculous way that God operates the human body. It’s like having all your circuits scrambled – it literally drains you of energy, changes your mood, and puts you into a type of hypnotic trance.

(BTW, this is also a big part of the reason why internet use is actually physically addictive, but I’ll talk about that another time.)

4) It blurs the line between real and unreal

More than anything else, watching the erstwhile internet entrepreneurs literally waste hours of their precious time pipe dreaming about the online businesses they were building, and the online audiences they are capturing, has taught me a very profound lesson about how the yetzer hara can use our power of imagination against us.

In internet make believe land:

  • You HAVE to have a dotcom for anyone to take you seriously…
  • Your website has to have a beta model, take 6 months to put together, and cost a minimum of $10k…
  • You have to be working Twitter and Facebook all day and all night – even creating a slew of fake people, to help you promote your product…

In reality:

  • No-one really gives a monkeys about how your email address ends.
  • You can do a very nice website (or 5) on DIY sites like Weebly for a few bucks’ a month, and no-one will ever know the difference.
  • Twitter and Facebook are a complete waste of time – everyone is churning it out, but no-one is really paying attention to what anyone else is saying.

Once I realised all this (and it took me a few good weeks to really see through the illusion), I stopped taking all the internet and social media stuff seriously. I got back in touch with my belief that God is running the world – even crazy places like pretend internet entrepreneur land – and I cut back my visits to the hub to maximum 2 or 3 times a week.

The last thing I did is take up knitting. It may not sound as impressive as sending tweets to 800 people every day, but it’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable and productive.

Recently, I decided to come back online after a 7 year hiatus from the ‘real world’: You know, that place where appearances count for almost everything, and where you have to be very careful to play the game, if you want others to take you and your ideas seriously.

I have another book coming out shortly and after my last couple pretty much sunk without a trace, because there was no online marketing or presence to back them up, I decided that this time round, I had to at least make an effort to get a bit more out there, somehow.

There was just one problem: the online world is a pretty untznius place to be, if we define tznius in terms of trying to avoid attracting attention. You can see the problem already, can’t you? On the one hand, pretty much the only point of doing anything online is to attract attention. On the other, attracting attention is the classic definition of ‘untznius behaviour’.

So I’ve been sticking my toe into these murky waters very cautiously indeed, to try and feel out the least untznius ways of participating in the fundamentally untznius process of getting noticed on the web.

As a writer, I hit my first real big bump in the road when one of the sites I’d contacted about doing posts for turned round and asked me for a full frontal picture, to accompany my pieces.

10 years’ ago when I lived and worked in the UK, this wouldn’t even have crossed my radar as a potential spiritual problem. When you’re regularly shaking hands with a load of Toms, Dicks and Harrys every single day, it’s just not an issue in the same way.

But now? Now, I’d spent seven years living in Israel and trying to refine my behaviour. Now, I didn’t shake hands with strange men, and I did my best to avoid getting into unnecessary conversations with the opposite sex. I came off Facebook almost a decade ago, for Heaven’s sake!

So now, being asked for a full face photo was actually a big deal. I ummed, I ahhed, I tried to find a way around it, like obscuring most of my face behind a huge gerbera – and the editor who asked me for the picture was seriously unimpressed.

That opportunity vanished into thin air.

I’ve been continuing to fudge the issue with my woman-cum-gerbera picture for a few months’ now, until God sent me a brainwave to get a cartoon picture done. It’s still a fudge, I know. It’s still not really ‘tznius’, I know, (what is, on the internet?), but given my impossible requirement to attract as much attention as possible in the most tznius way, it ticks a lot of boxes.

Another area where I’m struggling, tzniusly-speaking, is being in contact with members of the opposite sex. For the last few years’, I’ve been out of the workforce, and I could pick and choose who I was interacting with.

Online, I can’t.

I’m still trying, in whatever small way, to keep any necessary emails with men I’m not related to short and to-the-point, but I know I’m fluffing it up sometimes. I know it’s not ideal. I know that God is not shlepping nachas from me ‘linking in’ to a bunch of strange blokes.

But I don’t really know what to do about it all.

And then, there’s the coup de grace of untznius online behaviour, and that’s Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. How I hate it. How I’ve done my best to avoid it all costs the last 10 years, and how distressing I found it to have to bow to the inevitable, and sign up for a new account.

Facebook for me is purely business. I’m not ‘friending’ anyone I already know, I’m not spending any time ogling other people’s cute kids pictures. I’m just making the bare minimum effort I need to make to get noticed online, to give my book a chance of selling.

But my heart still sinks everytime I have to log-on to try and promote my Facebook page. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that so many people are wasting so much of their time and energy generally commenting and liking and posting, or that so few people are currently doing that on my page.

The thought that I’m actively encouraging more people to waste more of their life in my direction is profoundly disturbing.

But I don’t know what to do about it all.

I spent years praying for God to show me a more tznius way of getting my stuff noticed, without really getting anywhere.

So now, let me open up the floor to the other frum people out there, who are trying to maintain their standards of tznius online.

What’s working for you? How are you managing to attract attention in the most modest ways? What tips or ideas can you share with me, for maintaining my spiritual decorum while still trying to build a platform, online?

Is that even really possible, or am I deluding myself? I’d love to hear your experiences and feedback.

In the meantime, I’m consoling myself with the thought that there really is no perfection in the world until Moshiach comes. When he shows up, even the internet will have to clean up its act, and it will be possible once again to sell books about talking to God even if you don’t do Twitter or Facebook.

Last week, my husband decided he needed to get a phone that would let him send texts (but nothing else…) which sparked off a frantic round of ‘musical mobile phones’ in my family.

When the music stopped, I’d ended up with my daughter’s old phone, she got my husband’s old phone, and everyone was happy. Then that particular daughter started popping off to her room for ‘quiet’ time with alarming regularity.

I thought to myself: ‘Maybe she’s stressing out about the end of year play….Maybe she’s overwhelmed by all the bat mitzvah prep…Maybe one of her teachers is giving her a hard time…’ Then one morning, I went to wake her up – and she was already awake, playing on her new phone.

The penny dropped.

Turns out, there’s some really cool zoo game on my husband’s old (apparently not as kosher as it looked) phone, where you have to keep feeding the animals every day, or they die.

My kid was hooked on feeding the electronic gorillas.

Now, I’ve learned enough to know:

 

1) Confiscating the phone is only going to backfire

2) God is using the gorillas to show me something about me and my life

3) I HATE how slimy modern technology actually is.

 

I explained to my daughter that she was addicted to her phone, and she agreed.

“But if I don’t feed the gorillas, they’re going to die!” she told me plaintively.

In the meantime, she’d been so caught up in feeding the gorillas she’d forgotten to feed her real life hamster for a week, and it was looking a little peaky, to put it mildly. But I digress.

I left my daughter, and made my way back to the laptop, that’s been consuming a bit too much of my life this past week. As I plugged in the internet stick for the 4th time that day, my husband raised a quizzical eyebrow at me (I had huge internet addictions 8 years’ ago, and that’s one of the reasons I got it out of the house.)

“I have to check my emails,” I explained plaintively.

Then it hit me: I sounded just like my daughter, caught up in the fantasy land of feeding pretend gorillas.

Maybe the excuse was a bit more convincing, but I could see it was exactly the same stupid principle at play: If I don’t check my emails every few hours, all my online opportunities and connections are going to die….

But really? They’re not. And if that does actually happen, then they were probably as genuinely useful and real as my daughter’s gorillas.