Ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe that the Internet threatens their way of life have rented the New York Mets' stadium for an unprecedented gathering on how to use modern technology in a religiously appropriate way.
More than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men plan to pack Citi Field for Sunday's gathering on the dangers of the Internet, and organizers have also rented the nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium for the overflow crowd.
"It's going to be inspiration and education about using technology responsibly in accordance with Jewish values," said Eytan Kobre, a lawyer who is the spokesman for the event's organizers.
Kobre said the rally's purpose is 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."
Women not permitted
The rally is being 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. Kobre would not confirm that amount, and he said the funders prefer to remain anonymous.
Spokesmen for the Mets and for the US Tennis Association did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking information about what the rally organizers were paying to rent the stadiums.
Women will not be permitted at either stadium but the meeting will be broadcast live to audiences of women in schools and event halls in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Kobre said live hookups are also being arranged elsewhere in the US and internationally.
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.
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.
Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written widely about ultra-Orthodox Jews, said community leaders are worried about "seepage of the outside world into their enclaves."
"The problem of course is that they can't keep it out because the Internet has become ubiquitous and also important for them," he said.
Heilman said many ultra-Orthodox Jews use the Internet for online trading or to run businesses from their homes.
But the "seemingly innocuous device of a telephone or a computer" provides an opening to the outside world that the ultra-Orthodox have long shunned, Heilman said.
"They think that that world is so seductive and so dangerous and so base, that that's the greatest danger," he said.
The lineup for Sunday's rally has not been announced. Kobre said prominent rabbis will speak in Yiddish and in English, with the Yiddish portions translated into English on Citi Field's big screen.