Jewish School’s Facebook Ban: a Double Standard?

Chana Lerner, 15, works on her computer as her mother, Yocheved Lerner-Miller watches. The teen’s Chabad high school has barred girls from joining Facebook. (Photo By Naomi Zeveloff / Jewish Daily Forward)

As we we have noted, a Crown Heights girls high school associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has banned the use of Facebook among its students. At the same time, the Orthodox Jewish group has itself been extremely active online and on social media, The Jewish Daily Forward reported.

Chabad is likely the most Internet-savvy Orthodox group in the world. The sect, based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, regularly harnesses the power of the Web to reach out to less observant Jews and to promote its institutions, initiatives and events, and emissaries. So Chabad now finds itself in the unique predicament of embracing new technologies and at the same time attempting to shield its teenagers from them — lest sites like Facebook serve as secularizing influences.

“What they have said is, ‘We want to talk, but not to listen,’” said Clay Shirky, a New York University visiting professor who writes about the effect of the Internet on society.

A spokesman for Chabad denied this implication of a double standard:

Yet Chabad officials who spoke to the Forward see no contradiction between the movement’s robust online presence and an affiliated school’s efforts to keep its students off Facebook.

“Social media, like almost anything else, can be used for good or otherwise,” said Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch in New York. “In terms of building community, it can be an excellent way to connect with people.”

But he said that many parents and educators — both inside and outside the Orthodox world — may seek to curtail social media use because they “want to see their students focused on their studies and real-world extra-curricular activities at this stage in their lives.”

And an official from the Beis Rivkah High School put it more bluntly.

“It’s not a modest thing for a Jewish girl — woman, men or boy, gentleman — to be on,” Benzion Stock, Beth Rivkah administrator, told WPIX-TV in New York.“A school could have a rule, and the students in the school have to obey the rules of the school.”

The Jewish Week has reported that some parents and students have complained about the no-Facebook rule. But those quoted in the Forward article said they had no problem with the requirement that they unplug from Facebook.

Chana Lerner, a 15-year-old Beth Rivkah student, said that she will never use Facebook — not even when she is an adult. “I never have, never did, never will,” she said. “I can’t figure out how to work the site. It’s not modest enough or not safe enough.”

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