Tyler Clementi’s death: A Jewish perspective
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Tyler Clementi’s death: A Jewish perspective

Last week, in synagogues across the world, Jews rewound to the beginning of the Torah scroll and the reading of the book of Genesis, the creation narrative, and the lives of Adam and Eve.

In chapter three of Genesis, God asks Adam, “Where are you?” (In Hebrew, Ayeka?) If God is omnipotent and omnipresent wouldn’t God already know Adam’s whereabouts?

After eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam immediately senses, in his understanding of morality and ethics, good and bad, that he is naked. Instead of answering God undressed, Adam hides and seeks a moment of privacy, a value for which the technology-obsessed of our world are losing a profound appreciation.

Tyler Clementi, a shy, talented, and innocent 18-year-old first-year student at Rutgers University, requested a few hours of privacy in his dorm room from his roommate. Instead of being afforded this privacy, his roommate spied on Tyler and videotaped by webcam Clementi’s personal, intimate encounter with another person and then shared the encounter with countless voyeurs through the medium of Twitter.

A person requests privacy, a right afforded him as an American, an ethic afforded him as a descendant of Adam, a human being. Instead his rights were violated, his ethics robbed. He was humiliated, dishonored, and hurt. Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge. His lifeless body was pulled from the Hudson River last week.

The cause of death was more than 18-year-old pranksters. The mischievous boy and girl who disgraced Clementi are victims too, though not of humiliation. They are victims, rather, of playing with technology and being unaware of its dangers.

Make no mistake: I don’t defend these two kids who instigated this cruel, hurtful, and stupid incident, taking away another’s privacy. They were wrong and should be punished accordingly. However, I do question what business such technology has in these young, immature hands.

Around the United States, people can get a driver’s license after they take driving and road safety classes and a battery of examinations and reach a certain age. Each driver is told of the dangers a vehicle could cause. “It is a weapon if not used correctly,” I was told by my parents. I was given strict instructions and guidelines on how to drive that car, where I could go with it, and who could be with me when behind the wheel. I was not permitted to have distractions and I was responsible for all that happened in and to that car.

Fast forward to 2010. Kids are driving different vehicles at a younger age and there are no classes or lessons and few demands put upon them before using these vehicles. Children today are getting webcams, using Blackberries with BBM (an instant messaging application). They are instant messaging with their thumbs in a new form of shorthand faster than most adults can type on a keyboard in longhand. Twitter and Facebook are their oxygen, the lifeline to their social and interactive lives. With all of these programs and technologies, I have found no required classes or licenses in order to use them. From Twitter to BBM, to webcams and more, each is a vehicle that if used improperly could cause one to invade another’s privacy, cross boundaries, inflict emotional pain, and even, in some cases, cause people enough hurt to take their own lives.

The technological world we live in is faster than the maturation process of our children. Their moral speedometers do not keep pace with the mach speed of technological devices that, if used improperly, can hurt, emotionally maim, and even kill. What are we doing about this danger?

Tyler Clementi is not the first to die of such a misuse of technology. In the last year alone, two young girls, one 13 and one 18, each took her own life over “sexting” incidents where compromising and revealing photos were disseminated from a camera phone to a large group of people, causing the subject to be humiliated and shamed. Both girls killed themselves from the pain of having their privacy stripped from them.

As parents, community leaders, and concerned citizens, are we going to continue to put these technologies in the hands of young, quick-thinking, consequence-free kids? Or do we have a responsibility to educate our children about the dangers of the technologies they have daily access to? And if we find our kids too immature to appreciate such a discussion or the dangers of misused technologies, are we prepared to take the webcams and cellphones and cameras and instant messengers away from them until they reach a level of maturity and sense of morality?

I do not want to get on the road with drivers who are not aware or ready to be behind the wheel of a car. Likewise, I do not want to be on the cyber-highway with those who cannot appreciate my and my neighbor’s right to privacy.

Privacy is a moral right we are afforded since the time of Adam. Any violation of that right is not only a civil breach but a religious one. Let us make sure that our kids understand that before we give them dangerous tools that could violate our boundaries and, God forbid, take more lives.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Clementi family.

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