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Orthodoxy: Net Not Kosher

Leading ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis have banned their followers from using the Internet out of concern that Web links may lead them into the profane.

The ban was initiated by leaders of the influential Belz Hasidic sect in October, and in recent weeks has been endorsed by the leader of virtually every ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect.

"The rabbis met recently and started off with the proposition that they ban computers," Yaakov Eichler, a journalist at the ultra-Orthodox Hamahaneh Haharedi weekly, said Sunday. His paper is one of several that published notices of the ban late last week.

That was going too far, the rabbis decided computers have proved valuable in teaching the Bible and in running businesses. But the Internet, with its proliferation of links to pornography sites, was ruled out of bounds.

The ruling would presumably affect most of Israel's more than a half million ultra-Orthodox Jews, as they consider the word of a rabbinical leader to be final.

In addition to newspapers, the ruling was posted on walls in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, an ancient and still-common method of communication among the strictly religious Jews.

The agreement was rare: Often a ruling by a rabbi in one sect on how to deal with an aspect of modernity will be ignored by others. It was the easy access to obscene sites that led to the agreement among the leaders of the communities.

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