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40K Orthodox Jews Rail Against the Internet

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Over 40,000 people packed into Citi Field stadium in Flushing, Queens on Sunday night. No, it’s not what you think. The Mets didn’t finally sell out a game. When it comes to filling the seats at the Citigroup (C)-owned ballpark, baseball apparently doesn’t cut the mustard.

In fact, this event was bigger than the capacity of Citi Field. The nearby home of the US Open, the 20,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, also had to be rented as a simulcast space to accommodate the thousands of overflow ticket holders.

So what is drawing muti-arena-sized crowds these days? The internet. Or, rather, a protest of it.

Rallying against what they perceive to be a pernicious and unwanted influence on their community, ultra-Orthodox Jews took aim at the web and, specifically, the sexually explicit material therein.

“[Online pornography] is an assault on human dignity, eating away the fabric of society,” said event spokesman Eytan Kobre. “It debases and objectifies women, at times leading to violence against women, and the break-up of marriages.

A female perspective, however, was not included in the discussion. Adhering to the Hasidic tradition of keeping the sexes separate, women were barred from the event. Instead, they hosted viewing parties in area neighborhoods where they watched it offsite.

Some Orthodox Jews who don’t necessarily buy the evils-of-the-Internet argument held a counter-protest outside Citi Field. Carrying signs that read “The Internet Is Not the Problem,” the dissidents claimed the event was a scapegoat for the real problems facing victims of sexual abuse -- including children, who become ostracized from the community if they report the crimes to police.

The $1.5 million Sunday night pow-wow was funded by the Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp, a rabbinical group affiliated with a software company that sells Internet filtering software to Orthodox Jews. “All community members will be urged to adopt as a minimal base line of protection the installation of a filter on every computer at home and the workplace,” said Kobre.

While hearing about the “trail of casualties” left in the wake of Internet use, attendees were given leaflets advertising apps like the Kosher Restaurants GPS for iPhone (AAPL) and Android (GOOG) phones.
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