The Cartel Has Been Broken

in retrospect, the phenomenon of Internet-trained Rabbis serving in Conservative and Reform congregations was bound to happen.

For decades, the liberal movements have tightly managed their Rabbinic placements. The size of each class at HUC or JTS (plus Ziegler in LA) is limited, and each years’ graduates band together as an informal cartel, setting acceptable starting salaries for congregations of different sizes. While this has made it difficult or impossible for smaller congregations to afford a Rabbi, it has also ensured that the Rabbis are able to quickly repay the roughly $100,000 they spent for five years of training — and make quite a decent living from then on.

I recall over a decade ago that there was some controversy when new, “non-denominational” Rabbinic schools were founded. But now, these “non-movement” schools constitute a movement of their own, churning out new rabbis at an impressive rate, and some of those rabbis are, says the Forward, claiming Conservative and Reform pulpits. All you have to do is commit two or three hours a week (and $8000), and write a 2000 word paper at the end on “any Jewish topic” to prove you’ve learned something, and that’s it, you’re ready to be called Rabbi.

Of course, what I find most intriguing about this article is the opening line: “Rabbi Eli Kavon’s colleagues don’t consider him a Rabbi.” All of a sudden, the liberal movements claim to have a standard! For over 200 years, they have insisted that their clergy should be recognized by Orthodox Rabbis as valid equals, despite the Orthodox carping about their piddling “standards” — items such as knowledge of Talmud and Jewish Law, or the belief that things like the Exodus actually took place. But now that the poor fellow who invested $100,000 in his JTS diploma can be replaced by a, wait for it, “nontraditional” Rabbi from Rabbinical Seminary International, Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, or even Mesifta Adath Wolkowisk — well now, that can’t be tolerated.

All of which begs the question: by what criteria are these graduates ineligible to be recognized, or to join a board of rabbis? Having long since declared that individual autonomy is the supreme value of Reform Judaism, how are they able to declare these individuals pasul?

The fallacy inherent in the liberal argument against these rabbis is obvious. As Irving Pomerantz, a member of the board of the synagogue that hired Eli Kavon, put it, “He may know Talmud, I don’t know. We don’t have Talmud questions.” Kavon’s sermons are, according to Pomerantz, the best he has heard, and apparently he does a good job teaching the Torah portion.

The problem is that the Reform movement dismissed the Talmud hundreds of years ago, the Conservative movement has, despite claims to the contrary, followed suit, and now they have no standard by which to claim that these “nontraditional” rabbis (the irony of that term is just priceless…) are not suited for the job.

Furthermore, there is little evidence to support the idea that those who invested $100,000 are truly better informed about Jewish traditions and practices than their online replacements. Just a week later, the Forward published an opinion piece from a fourth-year rabbinical student at JTS insisting that we should learn to love… Chrismukkah. This promising young rabbinical candidate informs us that to him, the most moving spiritual moments of the year include the beginning of ma’ariv on Rosh Hashanah, the smell of latkes, and the “rum-pum-pum-pum” of “The Little Drummer Boy.” I think it’s obvious I didn’t make this up; my imagination could never have even reached for the latkes in this context.

But accompanying an appalling ignorance of the many and diverse truly inspirational moments on the Jewish calendar, we should not be surprised to learn, is a willingness to ignore what little he has learned of our history in order to create new concepts that turn that history on its head. For example, he cites the fact that the victory of Chanukah included a fight against those Jews who built a Greek gymnasium in the holy city, but then uses that element to support his claim that Chanukah “was largely about assimilating various external ritual traditions into the Jewish fold.” Anyone reading his source document (the Book of Maccabees) already knows that Chanukah celebrated the victory of those who rejected that very idea, but, “rum-pum-pum-pum,” he is that anxious to justify the “Hannukah Bush” in the modern Jewish home that he will lead those who know no better down a path to oblivion.

When this is what $100,000 and a five-year full-time investment buys you, is it any wonder that the Irving Pomerantz’s of the world will be quite happy with the lower salary demanded by the products of the $8000 online ordination?

Finding Happiness

When Yaakov blesses Yehudah, he says that Yehudah will be “red-eyed from wine, and white-toothed from milk.” [49:12]

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan offers a homiletic interpretation of this verse. [Kesubos 111b]. He says that one who smiles graciously at his friend is even greater than one who gives him physical nourishment — a change of a vowel turns “white toothed” to “whitens his teeth,” which is “from”, or greater than, milk. One of the greatest things we can do for a person, he says, is to help him or her to be happy.

Last year I spoke about spreading happiness. But what is happiness, anyways? We think we know, but consider the following.

In our day, we are “blessed” with an industry whose sole purpose is to make us happy: entertainment. The dictionary tells us that entertainment is “something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement,” and people clamor for the opportunity to work in an industry where their job boils down to making others happy — whether through acting, singing, professional sports, acrobatics or anything else that people will pay in order to come and be entertained.

There is also an industry whose practitioners seem chronically unable to be happy. An extraordinary number of them escape into drugs or even suicide. They are unlikely to maintain stable relationships. They often entertain themselves with unhealthy, harmful and illegal activities. And what industry is that? Why, the same one: entertainment.

You might also have thought that I was speaking of psychologists, because many of these things are true of them as well. The very therapists that people see when they are unhappy are themselves “at least as troubled as the general population.” People pay thousands of dollars for therapy to help them be happy, yet the practitioners themselves are miserable.

Does this make sense?

Yaakov said that Yehudah will be able to share happiness. I believe this is tied not merely to recognition of Yehudah’s leadership, but in the way it was expressed. When Yaakov prepared his family to descend to Egypt, he sent Yehudah on ahead “to guide the way to Goshen,” [46:28] which the Medrash explains to mean that he sent Yehudah to establish a House of Study.

Karl Marx wasn’t entirely wrong when he said that religion “is the opiate of the masses.” It does make people happier, but that happiness isn’t a drug or an escape. Recognizing that we are not alone, and rejoicing in our connection to G-d, makes us happier — but in the healthiest of ways. King David said it first: “were it not for your Torah, my consolation, I would be lost in my sorrows” [Psalms 119:92].

If a person has a true psychological issue, then indeed, a professional therapist can help. But if a person is just feeling a general malaise, then an escape into movies, books, and performances is of far less value than a visit to the House of Study. And by that, I don’t mean (only) eternal value, I mean what will be most helpful and enduring in the here and now.

Where We Must Work

In this week’s reading, the time for Yosef’s redemption finally arrives. Pharoah has dreams, his sommelier (wine butler) suddenly remembers Yosef, and Yosef is hastily pulled from jail, given a haircut, and sent to interpret the dreams of Pharoah.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about the need to make our own efforts, while knowing that in the end it is G-d who determines the results. But I closed with a question: what was wrong with Joseph’s efforts? Why was he punished for asking the sommelier to remember him?

It’s clear that that is what happened. Last week’s reading concludes with the verse, “and the sommelier did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki explains that he did not remember him that day, and forgot him afterwards — because Yosef had placed his trust in the sommelier rather than G-d. That is a startling indictment of the only one of Yaakov’s sons who was the forefather of two tribes. For someone of his exalted standard, we are told, what Yosef did was wrong. But why — what was wrong with trying?

I saw an interesting explanation attributed to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a world-renowned religious leader who passed away barely 25 years ago. He said that Yosef’s high standard was very much part of the issue. Yosef, being who he was, should have recognized immediately that the peculiar circumstance of his being imprisoned together with Pharoah’s personal sommelier and baker, and them having dreams, and him knowing exactly what to tell them — all of that was clearly not coincidence. It should have been obvious to him that G-d’s Plan was already in motion. As we see this week, he was rushed from prison to tell Pharoah that fat cows mean times of plenty, and starving cows mean times of starvation, and was instantly appointed second in command over the whole country. With “20/20 hindsight” it’s obvious that this was all planned out — and enough signs were there that Yosef should have seen it coming.

But we, alas, are not Yosef. Very rarely could we be confident that we are in a situation where our efforts aren’t needed, before the gift of hindsight. We always have to do our best. When should we be idle? When we have done everything humanly possible.

And among the fascinating comments which I received, I would like to respond to the one from Esty who said it is difficult to understand how much effort a person needs to put in, especially in terms of self growth. To her I would say, this is the area where our efforts are actually most crucial! The Talmud says that everything is in the hands of Heaven — except fear of Heaven. This is the exception to the rule that we make our effort, but G-d determines whether there will be success. In this particular area, when we make an effort, G-d will give us success. “Open for me an opening like the eye of a needle, and I will open it for you the size of a hall.” There is truly no limit to the effort a person should put in, when it comes to self-growth towards G-d.

We are now in the closing days of Chanukah, when the miracle of the burning oil testified to the miracle of the recapture and rededication of the Holy Temple. This is when G-d brought extra light to the world, and as the verse says — “the Commandment is a candle, and the Torah is the light.” This is an ideal time for us to increase our efforts to attach ourselves to G-d and Torah.

No Blind Faith

I remember, more years ago than I care to disclose, traveling to Israel for a summer program of study in a yeshiva (rabbinical school) for the first time. I planned the trip carefully; given that the university I was attending ended its year later than most, there were some logistics to enable me to get the group rate discount on my travel expenses.

When I arrived at Ben-Gurion airport, I met an individual who turned out to be headed to the same school. But instead of signing up for a summer program, he had done little more than confirm that he would be able to study there and purchased a ticket. Unlike me, he had no idea what transportation would meet him at the airport. He simply knew that “G-d would provide.”

Now admittedly, it wasn’t such a dramatic “leap of faith” to determine that he was likely to find transportation. But I, quite new to international travel, found his attitude quite disconcerting.

If we look in this week’s reading, we learn that we are not expected to simply utilize blind faith as a substitute for our best efforts. Yaakov does not simply prepare himself for his fateful meeting with his brother Esav — who had presumably harbored hatred against him during all their years of separation — by praying. On the contrary, he sent gifts to his brother, and prepared for war, which included dividing the camp into two parts in case one was lost. He did not simply trust that “everything would be okay.”

To invest our own energy to ensure the success of an effort, while remaining cognizant that what results will be only in accordance with G-d’s wishes, is part of the challenge of living in this world. We are required to make the necessary efforts to provide for our financial security, while knowing that the amount of money each person will have is determined by G-d. We must seek out the best medical advice, while knowing that doctors ultimately do not determine when a person’s time has come.

To make this more interesting, I will point out a somewhat contradictory passage at the end of next week’s reading. Yosef, in jail, interprets the dream of the wine butler, determines that he will be returned to his post, and requests that the wine butler remember him. The sages say that the reason why the butler thoroughly forgot Yosef was because Yosef went out of his way to ask for help. He should have relied upon G-d.

What, then, is the difference? As I begin my research into this topic, I encourage you to please share your thoughts and what you have read or heard, in the comments!

Credit Where Due

During the election cycle, many of us, myself included, contrasted Obama’s distance from Israel with Romney’s clear belief in Israel’s right to self-defense and the Palestinian’s lack of interest in true peace. We were not wrong; Obama did want to place “daylight” between the United States and Israel, and pursue a more pro-Arab and pro-European foreign policy. Now that he has won his last election, he is free to pursue the course that he feels correct. And the Israelis, by engaging in their first open conflict with Hamas since Obama took office (Operation Cast Lead having ended with a cease-fire on January 18, 2009), handed him a golden opportunity to pursue a different course from that of George W. Bush.

That course was offered to him by U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon, who called on “Israel to exercise maximum restraint” and enact an “immediate de-escalation of tensions.” Ban had little to say when Hamas, the duly installed governing authority in the Gaza Strip, was raining missiles down upon Israeli civilians. But now that Israel is finally forced to respond, it’s time for “maximum restraint” and a “de-escalation” of the war initiated by those missile attacks.

Leftists in this country, like The Nation’s Phyllis Bennis, ignored the missile attacks and called the assassination of Arch-terrorist Al-Jabari a “major escalation” of Israel’s Gaza Attack — which, of course, did not exist before the assassination. Her colleague Robert Dreyfuss called hundreds of missiles aimed at civilians, at women and children, terrorizing them on a daily basis, “pinpricks” — simply because Israel has a regular army. [Is he an anti-Semitic Jew or simply a buffoon?]

The Obama administration would have none of it, placing 100% of the blame where it belongs. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the following:

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to de-escalate.

In … conversations [with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi], the president reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense. President Obama also urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near-daily basis does nothing to help the Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self-determination.

We certainly hope the Administration continues to sing the same chorus during the difficult weeks ahead, both publicly and privately. But this is an auspicious beginning, and credit must be given where it is most surely due.

The Light Within

When Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]

In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.

We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.

Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.

Another Chance to Change

Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, gave us a chance to reflect upon the past, and perhaps make some New Year’s resolutions for the future. So why do we celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, ten days later?

First and foremost, our Sages teach us that the Judgments made on Rosh Hashanah are not finalized until Yom Kippur. G-d is waiting, as it were, to see if we will give up our misdeeds and change course.

There is another idea, related to repentance itself. Sometimes the full measure of regret is only possible once we have improved our habits. Only after we have done better for a while can we look over our shoulders and say, “I should’ve done this a long time ago! Look what I missed because I didn’t!” So on Yom Kippur, having attempted to be on “our best behavior” for ten days, we express our regrets with a more complete understanding of the opportunities we missed along the way.

And there is yet another thought – that human nature being what it is, sometimes we make resolutions and find that all too soon we have failed to keep them. At that point a person can conclude that he or she can never improve, and give up hope.

The Chassidic Masters teach that that feeling of hopelessness is itself a terrible thing, to be avoided at all cost. The Evil Inclination’s ultimate goal, they say, isn’t merely that we sin, that we diverge from the path that G-d has set out for us. It is that we give up hope! Once there is no hope, not only will the past be repeated, but new misdeeds will be added as well.

Yom Kippur drives home the message that even the Day of Judgment isn’t final, that we always have the opportunity to truly put the past behind us. Yom Kippur gives us the power to go back and change the verdict. We are taught that the sanctity of the day itself absolves us from some minor transgressions; that is how powerful the day is, and that power is given to every one of us.

So what do we do with those resolutions which we made on Rosh Hashanah, only to break afterwards? We pick them back up, and try again. We do not give up hope, we don’t say that we simply can’t improve. On the contrary — we add new ones, we take the additional day to do an accounting and find paths to change ourselves for the better.

May we all be sealed into the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness and growth!

A Moment of Thanks

With the presidential race now so prominent in the collective American consciousness, the following story is especially apropos. In the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there was an elderly native of the city who prayed with the Yeshiva each morning. On the morning following the presidential election in the United States, before prayers began, he went to one of the American boys and asked him who had won.

I don’t know if the young student knew the answer, but he was struck by the question. Why would an old man from Jerusalem care about the elections, so much so that he would go out of his way to ask about the results before prayers? Doesn’t G-d come first?

Asked for an explanation, the man replied that he was about to say a blessing thanking G-d for giving him the opportunity to be part of the Jewish People. Although everyone is created in the image of G-d and every righteous person has a share in the World to Come, to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments is unique privilege. And when making that blessing, he wanted to think about the greatest and most powerful non-Jew in the world!

To give the story a bit of deeper insight, consider that this elderly gentleman lived in poverty in a small Jerusalem apartment. If I’m not mistaken, the protagonist used to sit in the back of the Bais Medrash (study hall), tying Tzitzis (fringes on the corners of garments) for a living while he reviewed the Babylonian Talmud by heart. He was quite poor, yet considered himself blessed beyond the most powerful man in the world.

Every one of us has our own individual set of challenges and opportunities placed before us. Our Sages tell us that we must say, “the entire world was created for me.” Whatever our situation, we have incredible blessings which we often take for granted. Most of us have legs to walk on, are able to breathe the air around us, and are able to marvel at a sunset. But even those who are not able to do all those things have many others for which to be thankful.

Rabbi Asher Z Rubenstein of Jerusalem offers another parable, related to the Commandment of Bikurim, bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem. After bringing Bikurim, we are told: “and you shall rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger among you” [Deut 26:11].

Imagine a farmer who owns a few acres of land, works that land for a year, sees it produce enough food to feed his family, and happily packs a portion of his small crop to bring up to Jerusalem. But when he reaches the main road to Jerusalem, it is blocked by one carriage after another — each carriage laden with a different item, each offering as large as the farmer’s entire crop. And in the middle of it all sits one wealthy man in a gleaming carriage, the owner of all this bounty, produced off his land by hired help while he sat in the lap of luxury.

Suddenly, the farmer isn’t so happy anymore. Nothing has changed — except his heart. He feels inadequate, even jealous. That is the moment where the farmer must remind himself to “rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given to you and your house.”

Today, our world is filled with opportunities for us to feel that inadequacy. In the middle of an economy in which so many are unemployed or underemployed, we can now explore the lifestyles of billionaires as never before. There’s even a website for the “rich kids of instagram,” which features photos of wealthy young men and women (apparently taken from the Instagram photo-sharing site) enjoying their mansions, fancy cars and 12-course meals prepared by their private chef.

Your world was created for you, and no other. Hashem wants you to appreciate the blessings that you have, even among the challenges unique to your situation. That is the message of our reading. We should be thankful for what we have, and ask G-d to fulfill our needs — not those of our current or next president, nor those of a young man overwhelmed by wealth. We have something much more valuable, if we only recognize it — a world tailor-made just for us!

Sign of a True Leader

In this week’s reading, G-d explains to Moshe how his successors will be chosen. Hashem Himself will choose the leader, “who will go out in front of them, and who will come in before them, and they will go out and come in, and the congregation of G-d will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

If you ask most people what they think is the ideal form of government, they will probably choose democracy. When compared to communism, dictatorships, monarchies and oligarchies, we see their point. But is it really such a great choice? In the United States, tens of millions of dollars will be wasted this year to convince millions of people, most of them woefully ignorant of the candidates, issues, and policy choices, to pull one lever versus another — based entirely upon advertisements which willfully distort the opponent’s record and glorify the candidate’s own, and “news” reports whose partiality is obvious. If that is insufficient to give you second thoughts, one word: Egypt. That’s the country that just selected the Muslim Brotherhood, a “suspected” supporter of terrorism according to the US, to lead it. Gaza similarly elected Hamas, a murderous gang unquestionably in the same category. And for that matter, Hitler ysv”z was elected democratically as well.

Interestingly enough, the Mishnah [Sotah 9:15] says that one of the signs of the “footsteps of the Messiah” is that “the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog.” There are many explanations as to what this means, but one of them is that the leadership will lead in the manner that a dog leads its owner. The dog bounds ahead, but is limited, leashed by the owner. When they come to a street corner, the dog may choose to go in one direction, only to find the owner choosing a different one. Moments later, where is the dog? Out in front of its owner once again, “leading” in the new direction. That’s what democracy looks like!

The Avnei Azel explains that in order to be a true leader one must lead, rather than being driven by polls. The Jewish Nation must be a meritocracy, with a leader capable of uplifting the people, rather than being dragged down by them. He must “go before them” and lead the congregation, rather than looking over his shoulder to see which way people want to go, and then fulfilling their desires. Look how much abuse Moshe had to put up with because he wouldn’t do whatever the congregation wanted! And that’s what made him, although he was “the most humble of men,” also an unparalleled leader.

Think the Internet isn’t all that Dangerous? Think Again.

In the lead-up to the Internet Asifa, Rav Aharon Feldman wrote that the problems associated with the Internet do not begin and end with inappropriate content, and thus filters alone are not a solution. Rather, he explained, the Internet affects the way we think, our ability to focus, and the way that we interact.

As far as I know, HaRav Feldman has not even used e-mail. So how does he know something that Newsweek has now documented after exhaustive studies? “New research says the Internet can make us lonely and depressed — and may even create more extreme forms of mental illness.”

The answer, truthfully, is that this isn’t even a revelation of Rav Feldman’s gifted mind. Only the blind could question Rav Feldman’s statement in this regard… but of course, even a cursory examination of “Orthodox” blogs will remind you that the world is filled with blind pundits. Gedolei Torah have warned us about the Internet for over a decade, and those who wish to mock the Gedolim have demonstrated their own foolishness (not to use any of a number of less charitable adjectives) in their haste to attack. As I put it in 2000, when Israeli Gedolim first warned against the harm of unfiltered home Internet, “secular Israeli ferocity pitted itself against plain American clumsiness to see who could provide the furthest approximation from intelligent coverage.”

In 2000, though, Internet use was not so constant and so intrusive (and there were no blogs on which to find ferocity and clumsiness so neatly packaged together). The idea that someone might get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and then check his or her email before going back to sleep, was considered funny. [Today, Newsweek asserts that “more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.”] So twelve years ago, it wasn’t as obvious as today that the Internet can do even more insidious — and just as damaging — harm.

Newsweek begins its coverage with the anecdote of a young man who created a documentary of the crimes of an African warlord, and publicized it via the Internet in an attempt to stop those crimes. But when the video got 70 million views in less than a week, the sudden exposure to digital “kudos and criticisms” overwhelmed the young producer. After a week of decreasingly-coherent Twitter updates, he “went to the corner of a busy intersection near his home in San Diego, where he repeatedly slapped the concrete with both palms and ranted about the devil.” The “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention” drove him insane. Oh, and just for good measure, someone filmed his meltdown and stuck it up on YouTube.

The full article is certainly worth reading, but essentially, those questioning the need to warn people about the Internet (e.g. many who mocked the Asifa) deserve all of the same respect and consideration as those who question the need to warn people about using crack. Some quotes:

The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.

Research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just” another delivery system… The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages — and even promotes — insanity.”

China, Taiwan, and Korea… [now treat] problematic Web use as a grave national health crisis. In those countries, where tens of millions of people (and as much as 30 percent of teens) are considered Internet-addicted, mostly to gaming, virtual reality, and social media, the story is sensational front-page news. One young couple neglected its infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online. A young man fatally bludgeoned his mother for suggesting he log off (and then used her credit card to rack up more hours). At least 10 ultra-Web users, serviced by one-click noodle delivery, have died of blood clots from sitting too long.

Then there was the University of Maryland’s 2010 “Unplugged” experiment that asked 200 undergrads to forgo all Web and mobile technologies for a day and to keep a diary of their feelings. “I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” reported one student in the study. “Media is my drug,” wrote another. At least two other schools haven’t even been able to get such an experiment off the ground for lack of participants. “Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable, to be without their media links to the world,” the University of Maryland concluded.

Recently it became possible to watch this kind of Web use rewire the brain… The brains of Internet addicts, it turns out, look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.

A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University… published what they believe are the first documented cases of “Internet-related psychosis.” The qualities of online communication are capable of generating “true psychotic phenomena,” the authors conclude, before putting the medical community on warning. “The spiraling use of the Internet and its potential involvement in psychopathology are new consequences of our times.”

Interestingly, the article persists in claiming that “blaming the television for kids these days” is “silly and naive” — despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of passive viewing on developing brains. Will they never learn?