The iPhones must burn, ultra-Orthodox rabbi decrees

JERUSALEM — An influential ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbi ordered his followers this week to burn their iPhones, the latest move in a campaign by the insular community to encourage its members to keep the outside world — and specifically the Internet — at bay.

The decree by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 84, came ahead of Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur, which begins Tuesday. It said that it was forbidden to own the smartphone, and those who already had one must burn theirs.

The religious Yated Neeman newspaper published the ban on its front page this week, as mainstream Israeli newspapers were gushing about Apple Inc.’s eagerly anticipated new smartphone, the iPhone 5.

Israel’s growing ultra-Orthodox minority tenaciously guards its traditional way of life against the influence of the secular majority. Many shun TVs and computers to avoid images that break their standards of modesty and values.

The iPhone prohibition comes amid a push in recent months by ultra-religious Jewish leaders around the world to steer their flock away from the temptations of the Internet. Tens of thousands of black-suited Jewish men gathered in a New York stadium in May to hear some of the community’s most famed rabbis lecture on the dangers of what they deemed immoral content accessible via computers and smartphone. The rally was broadcast live to other crowds in stadiums in London and Jerusalem.

After this week’s decree, large posters sprang up throughout Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, calling iPhones “an abomination 24 hours a day.” They called on community members to kick iPhone owners out of religious seminaries, and warned them to keep their children away from the children of iPhone users.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have stepped up their campaigns against smartphones in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, a period of religious introspection.

At the entrance to Jerusalem’s outdoor vegetable market, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in traditional long black coats and black fedoras showed off their “kosher” cell phones — simple devices with Internet access and video capabilities blocked, stamped with a seal of approval by a rabbinical council. They said iPhones are dangerous.

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