Yeshivah World News is reporting that R’ Kanievsky, widely regarded by everyone as a holy man and Talmid Chacham of the highest order, has issued an order banning the internet to the extent of יהרג ועל יעבור. Now, we have not seen this advice written explicitly and it should, therefore, be ignored as purporting to be R’ Kanievsky’s view until such time as R’ Kanievsky writes and signs his opinion in his own clear sentences.
But we don’t need Yeshivah World News to report such things (via the internet) to be convinced that there are and will continue to be eminent Rabbis who issue blanket bans on various modes of modern technology, such as the internet. What does this mean for the בעל הבית? I’m not referring to someone who does business via the internet. I’d be surprised if there was even a single Rav of stature who would issue a ban on business activities using the internet. I’m referring to the rest of us: we who use the internet to interact with family and friends; we who use the internet to read and pass on articles of interest; we who use the internet to find out what is happening in the world; we who use the internet to have a laugh; and we who use the internet to discover Torah in an unprecedented manner.
I heard R’ Schachter speak last week. He amusingly pointed out that the Yekkes (Frankfurters vs Hamburgers) have a מחלוקת about what פרשה one should speak about on מוצאי שבת. One group holds that until Tuesday you speak about last week’s Parsha, and the other group opines that from מוצאי שבת you speak about next week’s Parsha. In order to satisfy both opinions, he spoke about both חיי שרה and תולדות.
R’ Schachter noted that finding yourself a Rabbi very much depended on where you were at a particular stage of your life. When younger and learning in a seminary, it is natural and correct that the Rabbi is your Rosh Yeshivah. That Rabbi, like R’ Kanievsky, lives in a particular world, a refined idealistic world. They live in the world of the Yeshivah where consideration of halachic questions is inherently contextual. While spending formative years in a בית המדרש, it may very well be halachically correct to not interact with the internet. One’s interaction should be solely with our holy texts. One is able to learn תורה לשמה with relative ease, coupled with והגית בו יומם ולילה. Eventually, one leaves this environment. Some may return to חוץ לארץ others to their homes in Israel, but most assume and are consumed by a new and changing environment together with different challenges and expectations.
R’ Schachter asks: should that Rosh Yeshivah still be your Rebbe? He answers, probably not. The Rosh Yeshivah lives in a different world. It is not your world. Psak and halachic advice requires the Posek to appreciate and understand your new context. Some do and others don’t. Certainly, it might have been correct to Pasken one way when addressing a Yeshivah or Seminary student. Certainly, it is correct to Pasken in a particular way for certain types of towns, environments and shielded cities. That Psak may, however, no longer be relevant to someone’s new situation and challenges and expectations. R’ Schachter mentions that we find that the Malochim of חוץ לארץ departed and were replaced by the Malochim of ארץ ישראל. They served different roles in different contexts. They weren’t mixed. יצחק אבינו was not אברהם אבינו. He was מקודש by virtue of the עקידה and he was the only one of the אבות who was commanded not to leave ארץ ישראל and descend to the context of the טומאה of חוץ לארץ.
I’d like to suggest that we look at certain Piskei Din, such as those bandied around the internet as דעת תורה in the same light. A strict ban may well be appropriate for certain people at a certain place and in certain times. Such a Psak, however, can be entirely misplaced for someone in a different place in a different environment and facing another reality. Does this make the R’ Kanievsky’s of this world any less authoritative? Certainly not. He is and remains a holy man, one of the giants of our generation. Does it mean that one is ignoring דעת תורה? I would also say certainly not. So called, דעת תורה is what your Rebbe or Rav tells you today, for you, in your time, and in your place, and in your environment.
The bottom line is that you should respect these Psakim but understand their context.
עשה לך רב.