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Ultra-Orthodox Jews Using WhatsApp to Defy Rabbis’ Internet Ban

For some, the Facebook-owned messaging app provides a window to the outside world and a forum for candid discussion.

Ramin Talaie / Getty Images

Like most people, Moshe spends a lot of his time messaging friends on his smartphone. Unlike most people, he can’t openly talk about it.

As a Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn, Moshe’s online activities are extremely limited. His ultra-orthodox sect has long banned Internet use, on the grounds that exposure to the secular world would lead to moral corruption, sexual promiscuity and infidelity. The insular community has allowed for some exceptions, acknowledging that smartphones and computers are now essential for business, though its leadership still requires members to install Web filters on their devices, blocking all social media services and all but a few whitelisted websites. Internet use among children remains strictly forbidden.

Moshe, like many other Hasidim, regularly skirts these rules with WhatsApp, the popular messaging application that Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. On his second, unfiltered smartphone, he uses the app to share news articles and local gossip across several group chats, some of which include more than 100 members.

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