I highly doubt that the sites are more accessible than a rabbi.
Most rabbis are surprisingly accessible. However, people don't go to their rabbi, call their rabbi, e-mail their rabbi. Why?
In addition to what this survey says, I would bet that they would find that most people don't want to "inconvenience" their rabbi. They assume that the rabbi has much more important things to do than answer their phone to answer a question or help.
Also, as the survey reveals, some may fear their rabbi, assuming that the rabbi would judge them and see them as less religious than they should be if they didn't the a question (like our rabbis all think we are perfect or something. Get real!).
Some don't want to ask an "embarrassing" question.
The most common complaint I hear from rabbis is that people are turning to the internet or to the Shulchan Aruch, thinking they can figure out a halachic question on their own without talking to their rabbi.
Meanwhile, the rabbi sits, waiting for people to call, wanting people to ask, waiting for people to stop by--and finding out too late that people who didn't ask have now gotten themselves into a halachic conundrum when all they had to do was PICK UP THE PHONE!!
I think one of the best things a rabbi can do is set up an anonymous way for their members to contact them--for example a blog (easily to set up on e-blogs!)--and let their members ask via the anonymous "comment" posting available there. The rabbi can set up "moderate comments" so that the "comments" are not automatically posted, and the rabbi can answer the question anonymously--and even set up a blog entry dealing with the question in depth.
As far as "embarrassing" questions (usually dealing with family purity), most women don't know that they can call the rabbi's wife, ask if she would ask the rabbi a question without sharing who it is from, and call back with the answer. In this way the question can be handled female to female and privately from the rabbi. If you do this, I highly recommend that you hide your number when you make the call to the rabbi's wife, otherwise the rabbi will know who it is from even if the rabbi's wife doesn't say.
Remember, we are people of the book, but it is unwise to use the Shulchan Aruch or a website for finding answers. Why? Because, as it was explained to me once, each p'sk is like a prescription from a doctor. One who was suffering from a similar condition to their friend would not ask their friend to share the prescription they were given. It could be dangerous! The doctor is aware of specific health concerns that the patient has, and one person's prescription may not be used for another patient. Each specific condition must be looked at with the doctor's understanding of the patient and the drugs available.
Similarily, each P'sk must be made with the rabbi's understanding of the person and the laws available. Sometimes things which look cut-and-dried in one place in the Shulchan Aruch may be addressed completely differently in another place. It takes the experience and knowledge of a well trained rabbi to determine how each question should be answered.
In addition, the survey reveals that a lot of people don't want to be bound by the P'sk of their own rabbi, so they ask anonymously on the internet. This does not need to be done if one knows how to ask a question. If you do not want to be bound by a P'sk (i.e. you have an idea that you know what the rabbi will say, and you don't think you can do it), don't ask the question specifically because you will be bound by the answer. Instead, ask the question in a general way.
Here's an example:
Specific (you would be bound by answer): Rabbi, do I have to cover my hair after I am married, and how should I cover it?
General (You would not be bound by the answer): Rabbi, what are your thoughts about hair coverings? Do you think all women should cover their hair, and what do you think is the best way to cover it?
The difference is one is asking for a personal P'sk "Do I have to . . . " and the other is asking for a general opinion "What are your thoughts about . . . ."
Rising popularity in use of internet rabbis
Joint survey conducted by Ynet, Gesher reveals that 68% of surfers on Halachic Q&A sites say internet more accessible than rabbis
Published: 07.23.08, 08:17 / Israel Jewish Scene
The various Jewish section sites on the internet hold a collection of hundreds of thousands of Halachic (Jewish law) Questions and Answers. The rabbis supplying the answers justify the virtual communication between rabbis and the public and explain that for many, this is their only link.
However, there are those who warn about the loss of a personal connection between a rabbi and his community, saying the phenomenon “disrespects the Halacha.” What do the surfers have to say?
A survey conducted for Ynet Judaism and the Gesher organization revealed that most people turning to the Q&A sections do so for technical reasons like internet accessibility and lack of accessibility to rabbis.
Moreover, some choose the virtual option because they are embarrassed to face the rabbi or fear committing to his ruling.
The Ynet-Gesher survey was conducted by the Mutagim Institute and included 500 respondents representative of the Jewish, adult, Hebrew-speaking population in Israel. It was conducted before the third annual conference for Judaism, society and internet.
In the first part of the questionnaire, the participants were asked, “If you indeed ask Judaism-related questions on the internet why do you do so?” Seventy-nine percent said that they don’t tend to turn to rabbis in this manner and 21% seek rabbis’ counsel in this fashion for various reasons.
Amongst the surfers who use the relevant Q&As, 58% explained that the internet is more accessible to them than rabbis and 10% said that they do not have contact with any rabbi.
However, seven percent revealed that they are interested in clarifying a Halachic opinion without committing to act in accordance with it. Five percent said that they are embarrassed of asking questions in front of the rabbis because of the issue at hand.
None of those asked said they are embarrassed of meeting the rabbi himself and the rest refused to explain why they choose these Q&As.
The second question in the survey was, “do you use the internet for ‘Jewish purposes’ and if so, what are they?” Seventy-two percent answered that they do not surf sites which provide assistance on Jewish-related subjects, and the rest of the participants use the web for ‘Jewish purposes.’
Amongst the users of these sites, 28% said that they mainly clarify details regarding religious services or related information like the address of the local Rabbinate, a nearby mikveh (ritual bath) or a kosher restaurant.
Twenty-seven percent receive updates on these sites pertaining to what is happening in the Jewish world. Twenty-three percent study Jewish texts online and 16% turn to rabbis with Halachic and moral questions on the internet Q&As. The remaining interviewees refused to give details.
Removing religious boundaries
Amongst the different religious denominations, the survey revealed that ultra-Orthodox people study Jewish texts and are updated on Jewish news around the world, (50% for each option).
The religious and secular Israelis asked, search the Web mainly for Jewish information (39% and 27% respectively). Traditional Jews surf the Jewish news site as well, (31%)
Gesher Director Shoshi Becker said, “We see that people tend to turn to the internet as a source for answers or world Jewish news mainly because the internet provides more accessible information than people do. I have no doubt that the number of those turning to sites containing Jewish-related material will increase yearly.”
“The fact that the issue of Judaism is completely open to users and not branded to one stream of Judaism or another is the root of the internet’s strength.
“From my ‘Gesher’ perspective this is a wonderful tool which removes boundaries between religious, secular, traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jews and allows Jews around the world accessibility to Jewish contents.”
The editor-in-chief of the “Kipa” website said, “There is no doubt that as the years pass we are feeling the growth in the number of questions asked to rabbis on the internet. The fact that most of these people noted that they don’t have an accessible rabbi who will answer their questions, only proves the great need for virtual Q&As.”
“It is important to remember that the Q&A sections like that seen in ‘Kipa’ are responsible for quite a few changes occurring in the religious public and are providing rabbis a bi-directional relationship with their communities, a connection which unfortunately did not exist in the past.”