letters to the editor

An Open Letter To The Guy Sitting Next To Me, Playing With His Smart Phone During Davening

By Pinchas Ben Shabbat

My Friend,

Why are you and I so obsessed with our cellphones?

It can’t just be about convenience, because if that were the case, we could easily do without them between those moments when we actually need them. The Amish, for example, place their telephones in a booth on their property, far away from their house.

Some cite our endless hunger for constant stimulation, whether intellectual or emotional, due to our inner boredom, our compromised inner lives, our inability to live in the moment. There’s a lot of truth to this.

But I believe there’s a third, misunderstood, dimension to our addiction: Our phones provide us with a sense of control over our lives. With a few taps of our fingers, or a voice command, we can execute a multi-million-dollar stock trade, put out a fire (and maybe even start a new one) at our company, or commit to cyberspace a brilliant approach to a coding problem that’s vexed you and your group for days. With a WhatsApp voice note, you can break up a fight between your children living on different continents, on a social media platform you can compose a quick message expressing your dismay at someone’s anti-Israel message, and even organize a Twitter mob against some ice cream shop in your neighborhood that’s not yet chalav Yisrael.

Even using your cellphone as a Siddur—when hard-copy Siddurim are readily available—gives you a sense of control over how and when you daven.

The list is endless, but it all boils down to the illusion of keeping everything in our lives under our command, 24/6/365.

Of course, deep down, we know that’s all nonsense, that so many good or not-so-good things happen to us, outside of our control, irrespective of our constant attention to our phones.

If so, this presents us with a grand opportunity: Consider the deeper meaning of leaving your cellphone, during davening, in your car, your house, a locker outside of shul. Effectively, you are waking yourself from your fantasy and surrendering that sense of control to where it belongs: in the hands and ratzon (will) of our Creator. A weekday Sabbath moment, if you will. Our tzaddikim speak of tefillah being a moment of bitul—absolute relinquishing to G-d—of our desires, our opinions, our wills. If so, by deliberately removing the graven object from our immediate reach, we can turn that phone into a mitzvah object.

So, my dear davening seatmate—for your sake, leave that phone outside of shul. With that simple gesture, you truly have the power in your hands to make a strong statement to yourself and to G-d about the real depth of your relationship with him. The light shining from that phone while you’re davening from a Siddur will be much greater than if you had just left the flashlight app on by mistake.

All the best,

Your (distracted) seatmate

Dor Yeshorim

Dear Editor,

The 5TJT’s January 6 edition (the week of parashas Vayechi) featured a Dor Yeshorim ad (page 24) as part of their advertising campaign titled “Community Alert—Hearing Loss in Newborns.” Dor Yeshorim has developed a comprehensive panel that tests for over 60 different genetic mutations that cause hearing loss “that will, with Hashem’s help, prevent most cases of recessive, genetically inherited hearing loss,” and recommend that everyone be screened.

With the amazing, miraculous advances in the treatment of hearing loss over the last 40 years, including cochlear implants and BAHAs, improved diagnostics (such as the newborn hearing screenings that Dor Yeshorim notes), Bluetooth technology, speech-to-text software, etc., that Hashem has bestowed upon, and the promising new technologies and treatments on the horizon, hearing loss is no longer the infirmity it used to be.

Our son was born with significant hearing loss in both ears; he has bilateral cochlear implants. With Hashem’s help, his hard work, and the love and attention of his parents, he has not only managed, but excelled, in mainstream yeshivos since he was a toddler. He was an honors student in middle school and is currently attending a top-notch mesivta high school. I am deaf in one ear (do you think it might be genetic?) but like to think I’ve done OK for myself, too.

If readers are interested, a clip of the first half of our son’s bar mitzvah speech can be found online under the title “Vayechi Bar Mitzva Speech—Deafness.” His bar mitzvah was parashas Vayechi, and he explains, based on R’ Chaim Shmulevitz’s Sichos Mussar, how Chushim’s deafness worked to his advantage in that he didn’t get sucked into the legal argument that the brothers did with Eisav over the right to bury Yaakov Avinu in Mearas HaMachpeilah and was able to perceive the situation more clearly.

Rabbi Yosef Eckstein, the founder of Dor Yeshorim, was quoted in Mishpacha magazine (Rachel Ginsberg, “The Gene Marker’s Promise,” Feb. 9, 2011) as follows: “We will only screen for extremely debilitating disorders like cystic fibrosis or Bloom Syndrome, or fatal diseases like Tay-Sachs and Canavan…. We are not looking for a ‘perfect’ gene pool. We used to test for Gaucher’s, but that has been dropped because it has been found to be often asymptomatic, and there is now a successful treatment protocol … when we started there was no treatment.”

Baruch Hashem, hearing loss in today’s day and age is neither debilitating nor life-threatening.

My message to your readers is that our son, and your child, may be born deaf, but the only thing limiting him or her is limiting beliefs.

Amitai Barth,

Baltimore, MD

Consideration In Trying Times

Dear Editor,

As someone among the too many recently in our community who just finished sitting shivah, I was taken aback, to say the least, by the letter to the editor in the December 30 issue of the newspaper.

As anyone who has been in this situation knows, it is a great comfort to have so many people come to be menachem avel, and that includes people who are close to the avel as well as casual acquaintances and unfamiliar faces. We in this club know that we don’t necessarily get to sit down to have a meal or even just a few minutes to relax, so in recent years the idea came up to have visiting hours. The reason is to accord some consideration to the avelim. It is by no means a guarantee that all visitors will follow the schedule, whether they’re unaware of it or just can’t come within the timeframe but want to pay a shivah call. For those who come outside the schedule, we’re grateful for their visit as well, but the schedule does help the avelim manage to feel a little more human at a very difficult time.

If the writer of the December 30 letter feels inconvenienced, then he or anyone else who feels the same shouldn’t take the time out of what must be a very busy schedule to pay a shivah call to someone who wants to have visitors but also needs to have a little breathing room. I, and others I’ve spoken to who have been in the same situation, certainly do not see it as “immaturity” or “me, me, me,” as was stated in the letter. On the contrary we see it as helpful to slightly ease the difficulty of the period of shivah.

And by the way, as to the comment about the rabbis putting a stop to it, leave the rabbis to focus on more pressing issues.

Ilana Snyder

Watching The Clock

Dear Editor,

A young guy in shul this morning who is visiting from Israel asked me what time we would get to Borchu. I know from experience that lots of my fellow Orthodox Jews keep a sharp eye on the clock while they are davening; in fact, the amud that the ba’al tefillah uses in my shul has an actual listing of the various times he should be reaching at various sections of the service.

I find this notion absolutely ridiculous! I told the young man, “I have no idea. When I’m davening I’m talking to Hashem, not looking at the clock.”

Why on earth are we so very obsessed with time during prayer when we should consider ourselves to be in a place beyond time and space? There is one guy in my shul who, after Minchah, announces how many minutes and seconds we have until Ma’ariv. This is amazingly stupid for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that in the days of the Gemara there was no such concept as seconds. They hadn’t been invented yet! And to imagine that G-d is standing in heaven with a stopwatch, timing us to see if we start the one precise and proper moment—and that it matters—is something that a small child should be embarrassed for thinking. When do we get smarter?

It reminds me of that pathetic joke: Someone asks a young Orthodox Jew whether he ever thinks about G-d. The young man responds, “Are you kidding? I get up in the morning, say my prayers, wash and get dressed, do daf yomi, then I’m off to Shacharis, then to yeshiva where I learn all day, then attend a series of shiurim, then there’s Minchah and Ma’ariv, and then the rav gives a class. When am I supposed to find time to think about G-d?”

Howard Riell

Henderson, NV

January 6

Dear Editor,

While a part of the text of your editorial “A Second Anniversary” (From the Editor, January 13, front page) sounds reasonable (not the fantasy that Trump was ever a good president nor the denial about President Biden’s many accomplishments), the derisiveness of the introduction actually proves the significance of the murderous seditionist domestic terrorism that took place on January 6, 2021.

From a numerical standpoint obviously, there was a greater loss of life on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor that no Democrat denies.

But the right-wingers who ignore the desecration of our Capitol by actual Camp Auschwitz-clad Nazis and fascist white supremacists fail to recognize the significance of the fact that while ALL Americans condemned the former two events nearly HALF of America was doing the equivalent of rooting for airplanes flown at the behest of Saudi terrorists or Tojo as brave officers shed their blood and sacrificed their lives as they prevented the overthrow of our democracy, a democracy that our anti-fascist soldiers bravely fought for during WWII.

That only one Republican member of Congress saw fit to honor the sacrifices of the Capitol Police on January 6, 2023, was a shonda.

Contrast that with ALL Democratic Members of Congress standing side-by-side with Republicans after the 9/11 attacks.

Late last Friday the Republican members further dishonored democracy by brawling on the House floor, then relied on the vote of a GOP member from LI, whose name we still are not sure of, to shamelessly elect a January 6 seditionist Speaker of the House.

I listened to a Sabbath service this Friday, as we began the study of Exodus (coincidentally during the King holiday weekend), where we heard how Elijah showed us how there is no time for hiding, even today, when every day can be January 6 where a significant number of Americans would deny other Americans the right to have their vote be counted.

How true that was two years ago.

How true that was last week.

How true that unfortunately remains today.

And that is the enduring tragedy that we can NEVER forget of an event you chose to trivialize.

David S Pecoraro

Former Vice President

Rosedale Jewish Center

Protecting Israel

Dear Editor,

The frenzied reaction by the Biden Administration to the recent electoral successes of the Israeli right was shocking, to say the least. I find Biden to be clueless on how to run the country as he is constantly taking naps and forgets to protect Israel as it belongs to the Jews for eternity, as the Torah is proof and a blueprint for the world laws regarding everything pertaining to Jewish matters across the board. Furthermore, while tradition has it that new governments might be welcomed by friends who wish them success and vow to work together, the Biden Administration was having none of that. From the get-go, even before Benjamin Netanyahu had a chance to pick a government all the Biden Administration did was talk about red lines in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the plan for a two-state solution and that United States would hold Israel to the fire.

Biden couldn’t care less what happened as long as he and his family retain their copious valuable diamond-encrusted jewelry vault and bank account, stock holdings, and other hidden treasures and secrets. Biden has no right to give any part of Israel away to any country for any reason because Israel belongs to the Jews, it always has, and it always will no matter what happened in the past or what will happen in the future. More troubling yet is that Biden is not in his right mind and Israel is getting the brunt of his policies along with the poor Americans. Why are the prices of groceries rising? Biden is fine with making mistakes on purpose. It’s time to protest outside the White House until Biden wakes from his slumber and sets policies that protect Israel and the Jews. He should also request the stores lower the prices so those unemployed can get a job.

Raquel Hanon


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