The Shmooze

Brooklyn Yeshiva Plays Big Brother

By Lauren F. Friedman

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At Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel, an all-boys yeshiva in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, everything — food, behavior, clothing — must be kosher. If school officials get their way, they’ll soon be adding one more thing to that list: at-home Internet browsing.

“We are following the dictates of our [rabbis] — that as human beings, we cannot trust ourselves,” said a letter sent out to parents, according to an August 22 article in the New York Post that outlined the school’s demand.

Administrators are asking not just that parents spy on their children’s Web habits (no problem there), but also that families install WebChaver, a software package that tracks the Internet activity of each person who uses a particular computer. A detailed log of browsing history, with sites ranked by likelihood of objectionability, is then e-mailed regularly to an external watchman — or “chaver.” (With chaverim like those….)

WebChaver’s mission is outlined on webchaver.org: “WebChaver is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing Internet accountability to the greater Torah community.”

Staff members at Covenant Eyes — the monitoring software used by the WebChaver package — offered some background. “The online environment can be dangerous,” Kevin Maginity, a representative of the company, told the Forward. “We provide an over-the-shoulder experience.”

Bernie Leslie, who leads new business development, worked with the team at WebChaver to launch the account. “They want to protect their communities, and we think it’s wonderful,” Leslie explained. “We wish more folks in more communities would do the same thing.”

But not everyone is so enthusiastic. The Post quoted one Tiferes Yisroel father: “I’m not paying $60 a year so they can monitor me. I don’t go to that school — my kids do.”

So why should the Tiferes Yisroel community cave in to the administration’s demands? Leslie offered her understanding of the relevant Halacha: “It’s because of the talmudic laws,” she said. “A man cannot be alone with a woman — even if the woman is on a screen.”


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