ISRAEL'S leading orthodox rabbis have issued a ruling banning the internet from Jewish homes, arguing that it is "1,000 times more dangerous than television" and threatens the survival of the country.
The ruling, issued by the Council of Torah Sages, is an attempt by the rabbis to halt the infiltration of "sin and abomination" from the internet into the homes of the ultra-orthodox, whose children have hitherto been shielded from the temptations of the modern world.
The rabbis recalled that they had banned television 30 years ago, and said that the dangers from the internet were even greater. They said it "puts the future generations of Israel in grave danger in a way that no other threat has since Israel became a nation."
The newspaper of Degel Hatorah, one of the strictest of the religious parties in Israel, said the internet was "the world's leading cause of temptation, it incites and encourages sin and abomination of the worst kind."
The majority of Israelis, who are secular, will ignore the ruling. But it is likely to deprive young members of the ultra-orthodox community - those who wear the black hats and long coats of the European ghetto - of a window on the secular world. Religious leaders are worried about a growing number of youths who break out of their closed communities in search of a secular life - a development that is partly blamed on the arrival of the computer in their homes, giving them the chance to join discussion groups, hear forbidden music and read about life outside.
The ruling follows a sharp debate in the ultra-orthodox community about the role of computers. Some have seen them as a blessing, enabling men and women to earn money as computer programmers - a skill that many in these strict communities believe they excel in thanks to years of studying the intricacies of Jewish religious texts.
But other rabbis have argued that the computer is a Trojan Horse of secular filth.
The Torah Sages recommended that those who make a living in computers should be allowed to use them only at the work place. Those who do not have rabbinical permission to use a computer are called on to delete the web browser, which makes it impossible to surf the net.
The newspaper Haaretz pointed out that while the most extreme sects banned all uses of the internet, even for business, as a "deadly poison which burns souls," there are many web sites designed as aids to studying the Torah. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel, has his own website.
Earlier this week, a 17-year-old student from Hertfordshire announced plans to float his Jewish community web site on the London Stock Exchange. Benjamin Cohen could become a millionaire with the popular site which includes business news, a dating agency and a `cyber rabbi.'