The Internet: Halachic Guidelines
One of the great issues facing Orthodox Jews today is the Internet dilemma.
On the one hand, Internet use has taken over our society as no other medium
has. It is everywhere – to the degree that it is extremely difficult to live
without it. And if present trends continue, in just a few short years all of
our business activities, government interaction and general communication
will be solely through the Internet. There just does not seem to be a way to
avoid its use, certainly not altogether, and certainly not for the vast
majority of people.
On the other hand, it is a tremendous danger, both spiritually and
physically. The Internet is filled with immoral and decadent sites which
have the capability of destroying one’s yiraas shomayim and tzenius rapidly,
before one even realizes how entrapped he is in their tentacles. It exerts a
powerful force over many people that - if left unregulated - has the
potential to destroy the fabric of the Jewish home. There are countless
horror stories about young people falling prey to online seducers and the
tragic consequences of their encounters. There is no need to repeat here
that which is well known and documented.
So, in a perfect world, the Internet should be banned altogether. At this
point, there are still many people who are able to do that, and hopefully
they will be able to continue doing so. Unfortunately, many people are
unable to live their lives without some type of Internet connection, and it
is those people who must follow the guidelines established here so that they
may protect themselves and their families from inevitable harm.
Question: Is there a halachic obligation to install a filter on a computer
with Internet access?
Discussion: It is a strict Torah prohibition for a man to gaze – even glance
- at a woman who is immodestly dressed, and one is required to do whatever
is humanly possible in order to avoid this prohibition. The Talmud says that
it is even forbidden for a man to go about his daily affairs in a setting
where peritzus is present if there is “an alternative route” available. A
man who chooses a “peritzus route” when he has a kosher alternative, is
described by the Talmud as a rasha, even if he does not intend to glance at
the peritzus violations, and even if he closes his eyes during the entire
Since it is well known that the Internet is – to say the least – a medium
beset by horrible peritzus, one who uses the Internet to go about his
business must take every precaution to avoid peritzus. Even a person who has
no intention of viewing immodest or indecent material is subject to such
sight as a result of an accidental click or a surprise popup advertisement.
Therefore, installing an effective filter that could block such peritzus on
each and every computer one uses, at home, office, notebook or laptop, is
mandatory, and in keeping with the Talmud’s requirement of choosing “an
alternative route” to go about one’s business. Thus it is an halachic
obligation to install a filter on any and all computers that one uses for
his needs. One who fails to do so has chosen to reach his destination via
“the peritzus route,” and to incur the Talmud’s epithet for a person who
makes that choice.
There are many different filters - some of them free of charge - that can be
installed, and one should do research to find the most effective one for his
computer. Regardless of the filter being used, however, it is highly
recommended to have someone else install the filter in the computer, protect
the filter with a password, and keep the password hidden from the user. This
way, the user can not be tempted to uninstall the filter in a moment of
Question: Are women obligated to install a filter in computers used
exclusively by them?
Discussion: Women, too, are obligated to install a filter on the
computers that they use. While most poskim are of the opinion that there is
no specific prohibition for women to gaze at men, all poskim agree that it
is forbidden for a woman to gaze or glance at pictures or stories of immoral
conduct. Since there is no lack of such sites on the Internet, women are
required to protect themselves by installing a filter on their personal
computers. Failure to do so means that they have chosen to go about their
business via “the peritzus route.”
In addition to all of the above, there is another reason why all computer
users – men and women - are required to install computer filters: We are
commanded by the Torah to not only refrain from sin, but also to make sure
that our fellow Jews, and especially our own family members, do so as well.
Any computer with unrestricted Internet access is an open invitation for
others to use it. One’s children or grandchildren, the children’s or
grandchildren’s friends, the babysitter, the occasional guest, are just some
of the people who may be using your computer without your knowledge or
consent. Having an unfiltered Internet available to all is similar to
placing a stumbling block before the blind, which the Talmud expands to
include those who cause others to sin.
People also need to be made aware that an unsecured Internet connection (DSL
line) can be tapped into by others in the vicinity, and is another potential
stumbling block which can be easily avoided by securing one’s Internet access.
Question: Secure servers such as YeshivaNet and Jnet cost
significantly more than the standard providers. Is one obligated to spend
more money on these security upgrades?
Discussion: As mentioned earlier, every computer must be guarded with
a filter and a password. If set up properly, those filters will be enough to
fulfill the requirement of pursuing the “alternative route” discussed
previously and one is not required to spend money on additional security
upgrades for protection.
There are, however, some situations when a password and a filter are not
sufficient. Primarily, this would apply when one’s computer is used by other
people, e.g., one’s children or their friends. Some people, especially young
people who may be more computer savvy than the computer’s owner, are adept
at deciphering even the most advanced passwords and breaking through some of
the best filters available. It is also important to know that even a
computer which is filtered and password protected can be bypassed by
plugging the Internet access directly into a laptop. If this is a
possibility, one may have no choice but to switch to a more expensive
provider which has the ability to block indecent sites from ever reaching
the computer and which is much more difficult to bypass.
Question: A highly effective tool to protect users from Internet
dangers is a computer monitoring system [such as WebChaver] which alerts an
appointed monitor of any inappropriate sites visited by the user, thus
creating a strong deterrent. If, in fact, the monitor receives reports of
consistent inappropriate activity by the user, may he inform the user’s rav
of his findings?
Discussion: At the time that the user and the monitor make their
arrangements, they must decide what will take place if the monitor discovers
that the user has visited forbidden sites: Does the monitor have permission
to share this information with the user’s wife, husband, rav/rosh yeshivah,
etc., or not?
If, according to the terms agreed upon, the monitor does not have permission
to divulge any information, it is questionable whether or not he may do so.
Although speaking lashon ha-ra for a worthwhile purpose is permitted, and
discussing the matter with a third party who may help the user overcome his
addiction could certainly be beneficial and therefore permitted (and indeed
a mitzvah), in our case it might be more harmful than beneficial to divulge
the information ; for if the monitor were to break his word and divulge his
secret information, the user will likely be angered by the breach of trust
and be unwilling to accept rebuke or help.
However, since not all cases are alike, a rav should be consulted.
Certainly, if the monitor discovers that the user is placing himself in
physical danger through his Internet use, he may do whatever is necessary to
protect him from harm.
Question: Is an employer required to notify his employees that he is
planning to install a monitoring system on their personal computers so that
he will be able to track their activities?
Discussion: This will depend on the common practice in the specific
industry or business. If it is common practice to install a monitoring
system on employees’ computers, then the employer need not notify his
employees that he is doing so. If, however, this practice is generally not
followed and the employer is doing something unexpected by the employees,
then he must notify his employees before monitoring them.
Question: Are parents halachically required to follow school rules
which forbid or restrict Internet use in their home?
Discussion: When parents register their child at a school of their
choice, they obligate themselves to adhere to the school’s rules. Parents
who deceive the administration by deliberately defying those rules are
transgressing the prohibition against gneivas da’as, which is a form of
stealing via deception, and is forbidden min ha-Torah. Possibly, they are
guilty of monetary theft as well, since the school’s administration is
empowered by its donors to run the school as they see fit; parents who
benefit from the school while violating the school’s rules, are misusing the
donors’ money, a possible violation of the prohibition against stealing.
It is important to add that parents are obligated to know what their
children are doing in their free time. If they suspect that a child may be
visiting a neighbor who has unrestricted Internet use, the parents must put
an immediate stop to it – even if doing so will cause a strain in the
relationship with their neighbors. The important concept of darchei shalom,
which includes maintaining a friendly relationship with one’s neighbors,
should not be a factor when it comes to protecting one’s children from
spiritual and physical dangers.
Question: Is it permitted to visit the so-called frum news websites
or blogs which often contain lashon ha-ra and rechilus, or offensive
material about Torah ideals or Torah scholars?
Discussion: Obviously, it is forbidden for one to read forbidden
material such as those enumerated above. Certainly, if one did come across
such material, he is not allowed to accept the information at face value.
Still, not all frum websites are created equal: some are more careful than
others in the halachos of lashon ha-ra, etc. Sometimes, too, there may be
some benefit to the information being published. It is imperative,
therefore, that each frum website employ a rav who will be available to rule
on questionable material – whether it may, or should, be published. A frum
website that does not engage a rav to rule on these questions is, by
definition, not frum, and therefore should not be patronized by frum people.
Certainly, anyone who advertises or supports frum websites that do not
follow Halachah is guilty of aiding and abetting transgressors - clearly
forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch.
It is important to add another point: A cursory review of the popular frum
websites reveals that most of the forbidden material is found not in the
presentation of the news itself, but rather in the readers’comments attached
to the news item. The comments, which are written anonymously and without
acceptable restriction or censorship, range from sheer, blatant kefirah to
outright lashon ha-ra and degradation of all that is holy in yiddishkeit.
Any site which allows comments such as these to appear on its website is not
worthy of being allowed into a Jewish home.
Question: Is there a problem with utilizing a neighbor’s Wi-Fi
(wireless network) without his express permission?
Discussion: Accessing another person’s wireless network without his
permission may be forbidden on both halachic and legal grounds. Private
individuals with an Internet connection pay monthly for a subscription to an
Internet Service Provider (ISP), entitling them to a limited amount of
access (“bandwidth”) to the Internet. The speed of the access and the
strength of the data signal will depend on the amount of available
bandwidth; the wider the bandwidth the faster and better the service. When
someone else shares that bandwidth space, even if he is merely checking his
E-mail, he diminishes the available bandwidth albeit slightly. If he is
downloading a large (multi-media) file, then the reduction in available
bandwidth can be quite substantial. Either way, the subscriber is being
denied total and full access to the bandwidth he is paying for and thus
suffers a financial loss. This is considered stealing and is forbidden on
On legal grounds, too, this may be forbidden, at least in some states. The
Florida Statute known as the “Florida Computer Crimes Act” reads: “Whoever
willfully, knowingly, and without authorization: Accesses or causes to be
accessed any computer, computer system, or computer network; commits an
offense against computer users.” A similar law exists in Pennsylvania and in
others states. Wherever an activity is illegal, engaging in it may also be a
transgression of dina demalchusa dina. If there is a possibility of causing
a chilul Hashem, then the prohibition is magnified many times over.
Question: Is it permitted to read Email intended for others which
mistakenly ended up in your inbox?
Discussion: It is well known that R. Gershom along with his
colleagues in the tenth century instituted a number of “takanos” (Halachic
rulings), enforcing some of them with a cherem, a strict ban which is a form
of excommunication. One of the bans was directed at protecting the privacy
of communication between individuals, forbidding one from reading private
mail intended for another person. There does not seem to be any
justification for differentiating between a letter sealed in an envelope and
intended for the eyes of the recipient only, and an electronic communication
intended for the recipient only; in both cases it is forbidden for one to
read another person’s mail.
There are, however, situations where it may be permitted – or even required
- to open another person’s E mail. A parent or principal who suspects his
child/student of communicating with undesirable persons, or an employer who
suspects an employee of theft, are just some examples of people who may be
permitted to search through personal Emails in order to either confirm their
suspicions or to exonerate the innocent. Still, the decision to violate a
cherem – even for a compelling reason - is a serious issue which should not
be undertaken without consulting da’as Torah.
1.“Immodestly dressed” means that that her legs from the knee and above, her
sleeves from the elbows and up, or her neckline from the collarbone and down
are not completely covered.
2.A modern-day example would be shopping in a store where the checkout lanes
are staffed by clerks who are immodestly dressed. If a kosher alternative
exists, one is required to avoid the “peritzus route.”
3.Bava Basra 57b, as explained by Rashbam. See explanation in Shemiras
ha-Lashon 6:5, Be’er Mayim Chayim 14, Igros Moshe, E.H. 1:56 and Chut Shani,
4.For more information on the various filters available, call The Technology
Awareness Group: 267-295-1954.
5.An even greater deterrent is having a monitoring system set up where
reports of inappropriate sites visited are sent to another person (whom one
appoints as his monitor).
6.See Igros Moshe, E.H. 1:69 and Chut Shani, E.H. 21:3.
9.See Shemiras ha-Lashon 10:2 for the details involved in this halchah.
10.Ritva, Chullin 94a. Some Rishonim maintain that gnevias da’as is
11.In Halachic terms, the school’s administration is the equivalent of a
gizbar of hekdesh who has the authority to administer hekdesh as he sees
fit; see Ketzos ha-Choshen 276:2.
12.See Shach, Y.D. 151:6.
13.Even if the amount being stolen may be less that a shaveh perutah, it is
still forbidden to do so min ha-Torah; C.M. 348:1 and Sma 1. In reality,
however, the theft in our case could be much more than a shaveh perutah.
14.It makes no difference if the individual with the Internet connection is
a Jew or a non-Jew; either way, stealing from him is forbidden min ha-Torah;
C.M. 348:1,Shach 2 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 1.
15.Chapter 815.06 (1) (a).
16.See Igros Moshe, C.M. 2:62.
17.See Tosefta, Bava Kama 10:8.
18.The laws concerning a person who is in cherem are discussed in Y.D. 334.
19.This ban, among others, is mentioned by Be’er ha-Golah, Y.D. 334:48. He
adds that once the letter has been discarded, the ban is no longer applicable.
20.See Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 334:21 who questions whether or not it is
permitted to read a postcard addressed to someone else, since the writer
made no effort to hide the contents of the postcard. But even if we rule
that it is permitted to read a postcard, it would not permit the reading of
Email which is supposed to be a secure way of communicating.
21.See Maharik, Shoresh 184: Whoever violates a cherem is as one who
violates a law in the Torah.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635.