Smartphones On Shabbos? How App-alling!

Dear Editor,
The “Shabbos app” is scheduled to be released by early 2015. It has already caused quite an uproar in the Jewish community. One good thing I can say about this Shabbos app is that I’ll have the opportunity to feel makpid (i.e., stringent) in my observance for once–a rare treat for an easygoing “Modern Orthodox” type like me.
If it can deliver on the halachically compliant features it promises (and that’s a very big “if”), the Shabbos app sounds like it could be just the thing for emergency use–perfect for Hatzalah volunteers, frum doctors, or even pregnant women and their husbands. For all those who would technically be permitted to break Shabbos for the sake of saving a life, these workarounds could prevent them the aggravation of having to violate any laws. But for mundane everyday text messaging? It’s just not Shabbosdik. Is it theoretically possible that something like the Shabbos app could allow us to use our phones in a way that doesn’t technically break any rules? Sure. And technically, I could leave my TV on all Friday night (or, better still, set it on a timer beforehand), and sit down to my favorite programs after Kiddush and a nice dinner–but that doesn’t mean I should! [The Gemara (Shabbos 18a) quotes Rava as ruling that it is prohibited to add wheat on Friday to a watermill that will run automatically on Shabbos, as the noise it would produce denigrates the Sabbath. Evidently some authorities have ruled based on this that leaving a television or radio on is forbidden.]
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Torah Law is the essential core of Judaism. And there is such a thing as the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. One who follows the letter of the law without its spirit is a hypocrite.
During this High Holy Day season, let us remember that the Jewish way of life is about acknowledging that G‑d is the One in charge, and let’s endeavor to live our lives accordingly. Torah observance might not be an all-or-nothing proposition, but Torah acceptance absolutely is. To put it another way, we should all be in a constant state of teshuvah, in a never-ceasing quest to improve and bring ourselves closer to the Creator, may He be blessed. But the minute someone decides that what Hashem has forbidden is somehow okay for him, that this time she is right and the Torah is wrong, he or she is no longer practicing Judaism. They’re practicing Bob-ism, Laura-ism, or Shmulie-ism.
The developers of the Shabbos app claim that some 50% of Orthodox Jewish teens use their smartphones on Shabbos. Alarming, if true. But does that mean that the proper way to keep them from going “off the derech” entirely is to compromise the sanctity of Shabbos to accommodate whatever aberration is currently the “in” thing?
Bottom line: A kosher-for-Shabbos cell phone might be the lesser of two evils, but it’s still an evil when used for in-app-ropriate purposes. If viewing Shabbos as a day of rest and an opportunity to unplug from the appliances that bind us in our day-to-day lives somehow makes a Jew backward or primitive (as I see some of the app’s supporters implying, or declaring outright, on my Facebook feed), then by all means count me among the savages!

Daniel Perez

Daniel Perez is a freelance writer and media consultant based in New York City. He can be reached at

A Bidding Friendship

Dear Editor,
I’d like to share with your readership a most amazing occurrence from this past Yom Kippur that brings to mind the Gemara Rosh Hashanah 17b on the pasuk “noseh avon v’over al pesha” (Michah 7:18).
The usual pre-Kol Nidrei selling of aliyos in our shul had proceeded uneventfully until we got to the last kibbud–pesichah l’Neilah. A few men began bidding, and slowly dropped out as the numbers began to increase. It soon became clear that two ba’alei batim were vying for this kibbud and neither was prepared to back down. “Reuven” is relatively new to our kehillah, so this was his first real interaction with “Shimon.” The proceedings continued with mounting drama–even tension–as the bidding became an all-out war. The numbers began climbing to figures we’ve never before seen in our shul. It was clear that both men were determined to acquire this kibbud and were willing to take this as far as they needed. Finally, Shimon called out quite a high sum. After a moment, to the shock of the entire shul, Reuven outbid him by $200. Then it was silent. Shimon stopped and the bidding came to an end with the gabbai’s announcement, “zacha lo!” Reuven now possessed the kibbud for pesichah l’Neilah. End of story . . . or not.
On Yom Kippur afternoon, Reuven approached his bidding “opponent,” Shimon. “I’m the person who outbid you last night,” he said. “Do it together with me.” Then, for the second time in 24 hours, the men began to negotiate. Shimon would only agree to the offer if he could pay half. This time, Shimon won, and the two approached the gabbai, who sent them to speak with me to iron out the details. (The halachic ramifications of this agreement are a separate discussion.) Until right now, with the exception of a few members of the kehillah no one knows this story.
I have had the z’chus to be in rabbanus for close to four decades. I cannot remember a time I was as overcome with emotion as I was at that moment as I watched these two men, virtual strangers until then, approach the aron kodesh together and open the aron kodesh together. The selflessness of Reuven, who obviously wanted that pesichah so badly and rightfully earned the kibbud “fair and square,” is just mind-boggling; he had no chiyuv whatsoever to be mevatter in any way. At the eis ne’ilas sha’ar, as we stood trembling, begging for one last chance for that z’chus that would bring true kapparah for ourselves, our kehillah, our community, and Klal Yisrael–at that moment I was exhilarated with the thought that these two men standing before the aron kodesh were, without doubt, causing all sorts of commotion in Shamayim. It was awe-inspiring. Only in Shamayim do they really know what impact it had, but without a doubt it had to be powerful.
What made this all the more inspiring was Reuven’s reaction when I spoke to him about it after Ma’ariv. While I found this so stirring, to him it was matter-of-fact. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!
I write this with the intent to magnify the z’chuyos so that we can all learn from this to aspire to think and feel as Reuven does. Surely we all encounter moments when we can apply such a lesson and garner z’chuyos. Even if not with an expensive kibbud, surely elsewhere in our daily lives: A parking space, perhaps? Our place in line to a person who looks rushed or harried? The sky is the limit, but we must be looking for the opportunities, as they are surely there, waiting for us to grab them.
Wishing all of us g’mar tov, a year of geulos v’yeshuos.

Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns

Thinking  Of William Morris

“Thinking of William Morris” (by Irwin Benjamin, October 3) was one of the most moving essays I’ve ever read. Moving because of its honesty and simplicity–nakedly revealing, without excuse or apology or whitewash, every emotion that a little boy would have felt in confronting a terribly injured friend. It is very appropriate for the New Year, a time to confront change, face fears and uncertainty, and examine our lives.
I could feel the quivering of the little boy as he mounted the stairs and his later regrets that he might have acted differently. In a way, the visitor saw that the accident might have happened to him–survivors do feel terrible guilt–and wondered where his own road might take him. It’s taken you here–a mature man able to fully feel the heartbeats of a child. All of this is commentary, of course, and the essay, beautiful as it is, stands alone.
Thanks to the author for mining for gold and sharing the nuggets of his memories.

Gerald Lebowitz


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