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NEW YORK – Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men attended a rally Sunday at the New York Mets' stadium on the dangers of the Internet and how to use modern technology in a religiously responsible way.
Women were not permitted to attend the meeting at Citi Field in Queens. However, it was broadcast live to audiences of women in schools and event halls in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. The event garnered so much interest that organizers rented the nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium for the overflow crowd.
Eytan Kobre, a lawyer who is the spokesman for the event's organizers, said the rally's purpose was not to ban the Internet but to learn how to harness it.
"There is a very significant downside to the Internet," he said. "It does pose a challenge to us in various aspects of our lives."
He cited online pornography and gambling as well as the risk of social media undermining "our ability to pray uninterruptedly, to focus and to concentrate."
Television is banned or discouraged, but Kobre said many ultra-Orthodox Jews use the Internet either on computers or smartphones. "There's a spectrum of usage and there's a spectrum of how people are dealing with it," he said.
Shlomo Cohen of Toronto told The New York Times that he uses the Internet for shopping, business and staying in touch with friends, but that "desires are out there."
"We have to learn how to control ourselves," Cohen said.
The rally was organized by a rabbinical group called Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, which means Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. Published reports have put the cost at $1.5 million.
The organizers are leaders of ultra-Orthodox sects that reject many aspects of modern life. Women dress modestly and wear wigs after marriage, while men wear black hats and long beards. Children are educated in Jewish schools, and Yiddish is the first language for many.
A group urging more support for the victims of child sexual abuse inside the close-knit community held a counter-protest outside the stadium.