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With the vast amount of information available on the web, I am curious why I have not seen any Batei Midrash equipped with a number of central computers that can access only "kosher" web sites geared for finding an answer quickly.

Often while studying Gemarrah, halacha, or some other topic in the Bet Midrash, it becomes challenging to find a quick answer to something. I may not know which sefer has the answer, and sometimes even if I do, the sefer is unavailable - someone else is using it, or I don't know where to locate it.

I asked one rav in a local Bet Midrash about the concept of "teching" the Bet Midrash. He felt uncomfortable and suggested that it would "ruin the spirit" of the Bet Midrash and detract from learning.

I'm not suggesting eliminating the sefarim. But, I think having access to the sources and getting answers more quickly can actually increase learning. If an answer can be more easily found by using web tools, what's wrong with that?

I understand concerns that someone may be browsing into other "unkosher" or unrelated sites, but there is technology to block such sites and limit access only to authorized sites.

Is there any halachic, philosophical or other reason why few places, if any, make computers available? Perhaps there are some locations, I guess in colleges or universities, that do this, but I haven't seen this in a typical yeshiva Bet Midrash. I don't know if Yeshiva Univ., for example, is doing this.

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I know at least one local beis medresh that has such a computer. They don't access the internet, rather Sefarim databases. The real problem is that you need mildly sophisticated IT to keep such a computer locked down. Many Yeshivas don't have that skill outside of the bochurim who would be policing themselves. –  Yishai Aug 19 at 18:14
    
I have seen this in different places. –  Double AA Aug 19 at 18:34
    
@Yishai If the computer screen faces the rest of the Beit Midrash, you're pretty much ok when people are around. –  Double AA Aug 19 at 18:48
    
The Mendel-Wiznitz beis medrash in Montreal has a locked-in off-line computer with Sefarim database. –  NBZ Aug 19 at 20:00
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It sounds like the spiritual rav you spoke to might have an interesting answer to this. Did you press him on it? –  WAF Aug 20 at 13:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Doesn't look like anyone would have a problem with an offline computer containing only Seforim.

Otzar HaHochma lists some of their customers. They include such "Chareidi" Yeshivas as:

  1. Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin
  2. ישיבת 'מיר', ירושלים- אוצר הספרים
  3. ישיבת 'קול תורה'
  4. ישיבות 'חברון גאולה' - אוצר הספרים
  5. ישיבת 'אור אלחנן', ירושלים

I know of some institutions using it not on their list such as

  1. Kollel Avreichim in Crown Heights
  2. Yagdil Torah in Crown Heights

NBZ said that Vizhnitz has a copy.

Hebrewbooks.org used to have a hard-drive, but they don't list their customers.

They wouldn't want an internet connected device (even with filters) since creating a perfect firewall is impossible, and these hard-drives contain most of what is available online anyways.

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They don't contain Mi Yodeya archives :) –  Double AA Aug 20 at 19:56
    
Thanks. Seems that there IS a "kosher" way to do it. I'll research if there are others in the NY area. –  DanF Aug 20 at 20:26

When I was in Ner Israel, the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Aharon Feldman, once gave a shmuess in which he lamented the use of reference sefarim, or "cheat" sefarim, which give you the rundown of the sources without having to look them up. Among the points with which he took issue, one of them was taking out an element of the physical effort involved in learning, which he felt is a significant point - to involve yourself with physical effort into your learning. He specifically mentioned the importance of getting up to get a sefer off the shelf, as opposed to having everything at your fingertips. He also was opposed to not having to search for an answer, suggesting that you won't appreciate your learning as much if it is always handed to you on a silver platter. You need to invest effort into furthering your learning.

We had a "post-game" discussion about how far this goes - should you poke out your left eye to make learning more strenuous? - but the basic attitude of the Rosh Yeshiva is pretty clear. He would certainly not be happy with this suggestion.

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Did he not use the Ein Mishpat?? –  Double AA Aug 20 at 22:09
    
How do you know where to look if you don't have his bekiyus? Take a look at Hapardes (a Rabbinic journal), there are many pilpulim there from great Rabbonim. How do you in which edition is your answer? –  Shmuel Brin Aug 20 at 22:12
    
@DoubleAA I think that is included in my "how far this goes" point. I think he uses the table of contents also. It's a question of how far it goes, but the sentiment, I think, is pretty straight-forward. –  YEZ Aug 21 at 2:23
    
I believe W.C. Fields added an important suffix to the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try try again." Fields added, "then quit, because there's no point being a darn fool about it." There's a limit to what would be considered sensible physical effort in using sefarim, but that also assumes that you know where to start. If you don't have that foundation, you can spend a lot of effort and still not get the answer. Not only is that frustrating, but it sounds foolish to me. If you have the right discipline, you use the computer as a start. At least, it will tell you where to look. –  DanF Aug 21 at 2:24
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@ShmuelBrin That's why it takes a long time to become a talmid chochom! In fact, one of his main points was responding to people who think they are scholars because they can perform Bar Ilan searches. You may not find your answer right away, and oh no! You'll have to live with a question for more than 8 minutes! What will the microwave generation do?! –  YEZ Aug 21 at 2:24

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This poster appears on the main road in the Bayit VeGan neighborhood in Jerusalem. It says:

Here we do not expel God's presence. Here there are no computers or other devices that can receive / display internet or movies.

This attitude is very strong among a certain segment of the Ultra-Orthodox population in Israel. Different subgroups have different levels of stringency, ranging from absolutely forbidden to permissible if it's necessary for work. So for example, I've seen computer smashing ceremonies for Baalai Tshuva, but on the other hand I've seen many UltraO. here with laptops and smart phones in their homes. It's still a very contentious issue, so for example most UltraO. schools here require that there not be a TV or computer in the home, and if they get wind of one the children will be expelled from school. Yet as I pointed out above there is also a recognition that for some people computers may be unavoidable due to their work. So for example ten years ago, my chiropractor, who is a UltraO. Rav, used to hide his computer in a closet in his office, and made sure to tell me not to mention it to anyone because his kids would be kicked out of school. Now he has a laptop on his secretary's desk because it's recognized as needed for work.

I'd like to take this beyond computer's. It used to be fairly common here that people in the UltraO. community would have radio's in their homes, which were modified to only receive UltraO. stations. And then there are the UltraO. newspapers which have Rabbinic review and supervision of their content, such as Yated and Mishpacha. Basically, there is an attitude that people don't want to be exposed to objectionable material, and that includes objectionable ideas or information, from the UltraO point of view.

So basically, the main stream attitude here is that computers are spiritually dangerous, but for many people are a necessary evil in order for them to earn a living. Beyond their potential for exposing one to visually immodest material, they are also a potential source of exposure to ideas and information which hasn't been vetted by the Rabbinic establishment. So that's one reason why you won't see them in most Betai Midrash even though it's technically possible to completely lock them down, and as Shmuel pointed out there exist collections of religious writings which have been fully vetted and had objectionable ideas or information removed from them.

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