The App-Out

Full disclosure:

After my smartphone died last week I scrambled to get a replacement phone from a friend. Newer, sleeker, smarter.

Like many people today, I have become dependent on that small little know-it-all that glows so well in the palm of my hand. I use it to learn, I use it to fact check, and I use it to check e-mails. On the odd occasion I even use it to stay in touch with people.

Over Yom Kippur I most definitely struck my chest for having tapped away on its bright screen in the middle of various lectures and field trips – boring and fascinating alike.

I don’t want to get rid of my smart phone. I recognize the value of these devices, and I understand that gnawing craving that many people have. That fixation of the hand to hold a phone at all times.

Just as my phone was dying, two interesting phone focused Kickstarter campaigns began floating around my facebook feed.

The first – “No Phone” pitched itself as the  cell-phone addicts’ e-cigarettes. Something to hold onto when you need to settle that urge to text, without actually giving into the distraction. It seems like a joke- but it’s already garnered nearly $9,000 in pledges.

At about the same time, the “Shabbos App” began making the rounds. The strange promotional video, rife with poor Chassidic imitations and misspelled Jewish words (their use of “Pasha” instead of “Parsha” conjures images of turban clad Torah scrolls sitting on thrones and makes me giggle), and its claim to be the permissible cure for the use of modern technology on the Sabbath led people to wonder if this too was a joke.

As detailed by the Times of Israel, it doesn’t seem to be.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. The guys over at “Shabbos App” have some guts and gumption.

I am tempted to shake their hands. This is a brilliant exercise in Jewish law, a junction where Halacha (Jewish religious law) and modern technology meet to bring the Oral Law into this world; to make the Torah accessible for modern times, and offer a solution that will allow any who crave facebook on Shabbat the option to tap away without violating any Sabbatical prohibitions.

Yossi Goldstein and his friends are looking to keep kids “within the fold of observant Jews.” And on some level should be applauded.

But on a deeper level, Goldstein and company are just so wrong. Their app isn’t a solution. It’s a band-aid on a bullet wound.

The Shabbos App is an “app-out.” Our generation’s smart-phone inspired version of a cop-out.

The question that we are facing is not if the phone is acceptable according to Jewish law. Nor is it to what ends do we go to keep kids in the fold. I would challenge that it isn’t even about keeping the spirit of Shabbat as Rabbi Yair Spitz argues (correctly, in my humble opinion) in the Times article.

The real question is this:

What kind of people we are turning into?

When people can’t go 24 hours without sending a text, updating a status, or hash-tagging – we have a problem.

When our quality time with friends and family is being replaced with cute Instagram pictures and video chats – we have a problem.

And when cell phones seem to be violating both the halachic and spiritual aspects of Shabbat, and the only answer that we can come up with is another app for said violator – we have a problem.

My cell phone is buzzing from incoming WhatsApps as I type. I fully believe that there is a place for technology within the realm of Judaism.

And I think that the Shabbos App should hold an important place within that realm: a wake-up call for the Jewish world to start dealing with a problem affecting the whole world.

I admire the ingenuity, and even envy the knowledge of the Shabbos App team. But if you really feel that you need a Sabbath appropriate phone to soothe the phantom pains in the clutch of your hands, then do us all a favor and buy a “No Phone.”

About the Author
Yoni Zierler moved to Israel in 2004, for his last year of high-school, and officially made aliyah a couple of years later. He is a licensed Israeli tour guide, who loves connecting others to the beauty and history of the land. Yoni is a proud alumnus of the StandWithUs fellowship, who loves reading, music, and playing harmonica in his spare time.
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