Yaakov Menken
Managing Director, Coalition for Jewish Values
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The Shabbos App is a Farce

Reasons why the most controversial tech issue to hit the Orthodox community in a long time may not even be real
Shabbos app screenshot (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Shabbos app screenshot (Photo credit: Courtesy)

It is true that the “Shabbos App” has attracted a great deal of attention and discussion. Personally, I am waiting for the prankster to come forward and explain that this was all designed to make Orthodox Jews look bad by demonstrating their focus on … what, precisely, I’m not sure. Probably that we care about the (traditional) Sabbath at all, and are distressed by those teens in some communities who are unable to set aside their phones when required by Jewish Law. But we’ll get to that eventually. The simple fact of the matter is that this whole thing is a farce, and of course we have yet to see anyone pony up $49.95 to get their (non-working) copy and prove me right or wrong. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. My friends, you’ve all been fooled.

Let’s look at the evidence, which falls into four basic categories: the announcement, the website, the video, and the backers.

The Announcement

  • They claim they’ll release it in February. If it takes that long to build this (which it shouldn’t), there’s no need to start marketing it so far in advance.
  • The promised final version will cost $49.95, which is extraordinarily high for an app, much less one purporting to be a public service (compare to the various apps for prayers, prayer times (which track the changing times for sunrise and sunset in each location), Jewish texts, and even finding a minyan).
  • As of two days ago, Oct. 5, there’s a “Shabbos App” on Google Play (now that it’s getting so much coverage, they suddenly realized they don’t need until February after all). It “does not function with all features listed,” but it still costs $49.95, enough to dissuade anyone from downloading it to see if it actually does anything at all. [It is trivial to create an expiring preview/trial.] Indeed, no one reports having seen or tried out this app, and Google Play lists the number of downloads as “1-5,” which would of course include the uploader himself.
  • It is called the “Shabbos App.” “Half Shabbat” seems to be more common than “Half Shabbos,” as in, it seems to be more common among Modern Orthodox teens than their compatriots in the Yeshivish and Chassidic communities. That will be more relevant below.

The Website

  • Its tag line is “Nisht shver tzu zein a Yid,” (it’s not difficult to be a Jew) which, of course, doesn’t speak to the Modern Orthodox teen observing “Half Shabbat” — who doesn’t understand Yiddish and has likely never heard the old saying on which this plays.
  • The site claims the above tag line is its registered mark, ®. It’s hard to imagine registering a Yiddish phrase as distinctly “yours” with the US Patent and Trademark Office, as required by law to use the ® symbol, nor does a trademark search turn up any results.
  • The site is not only peppered with Yiddish, foreign to most of those afflicted with “Half Shabbat,” but refers to “Toirah,” a spelling that is the exclusive province of those intending to mock or belittle Torah observance and/or observant Jews. [Don’t take my word for it.]
  • Ditto: Reboin’eh Shel Oi’lem, Koisaiv, Moichek, Poiskim.
  • “Who We Are” says they are “a team of ehrlich’e yidden” [straight, honest Jews]. I’ve said this before: observant Jews don’t call themselves good Jews, or ehrlich’e, or what-have-you that implies we’re doing what we should. We’ll call someone else ehrlich, but we’re not going to be Azei Panim [brazen] and say Tzadikim Anachnu v’lo Chatanu [we are righteous and have not sinned] (cf. Yom Kippur prayers).
  • Then, of course, there’s what the website doesn’t have. While the website claims their app provides “solutions” to the “Halachic issues,” there is no reference whatsoever to consultation with any Halachic [Jewish legal] authority from any circle. There are no approbations. There is no Rav anywhere who claims to have been consulted about this purported “solution” for observant Jews, much less to having agreed with any of its claims.

The Video

  • As a PR vehicle it is ludicrous, with needless repitition, and of course a hand writing most every word in the narration.
  • The observant community has any number of professional-quality radio / narration voices. Both narrators in this video have what could only be described as an exaggerated inability to pronounce basic terms, such as “Shabbos.”
  • In one panel, the male narrator mispronounces “Sha-bohs” with a hard “o” (as in the word “oh”) and in the next pronounces it more or less correctly (as pronounced, it sounds like “Shabbus”), but then he combines it with “Meh-NOO-Kah”
  • There are no real “interviews,” merely the narrators offering up poor imitations of Chassidic and Litvish accents.
  • In general, the narration is so stiff that one comment suggested these were computer voices. Listening carefully to the word emphasis, it’s clear that the narrators are, in fact, human — just (deliberately?) incapable of pronouncing the words correctly.
  • As compared to the narration, the text itself, like the website, exhibits intimate knowledge of things like a Chassid going to tisch and a Litvak (in a Fedora) reaching his chavrusa [study partner] — and even referencing the Chazon Ish [a well-known legal authority of the early to mid-20th Century CE] as a Da’as Yachid [single opinion, opposed to the consensus]. Anyone able to write such narration would certainly have recognized that a pair of gentile narrators were not appropriate for the material or audience.
  • One of the so-called “interviews” claims that the Rabbis who would prohibit the “Shabbos app” are “party poopers” who should “get a life.” Another claims that the Rabbis who would ban this App will “look stupid” as did those who stopped the “Big Event” with Lipa. [If you don’t know to what I refer, don’t bother. If you do, then you know that Lipa post that controversy is no longer known for “pushing the boundaries” of Jewish music, teaching Chassidic youth non-Jewish rock tunes as he did before, meaning that he respected leading Rabbis much more than the authors of this video.]

The Backers

  • YidTec is supposed to be a frum (Orthodox) outfit in Wilmington, DE. Anyone heard of them? Right.
  • That’s because in actuality, YidTec isn’t in Wilmington at all. In articles it claims the firm is in California. But it was incorporated by The Company Corporation in Delaware, yesterday, October 6.
  • The Facebook page for the Shabbos App (which has been around since September 22, several weeks longer than YidTec has been a company), as well as the Google Play page, both claim that the physical address of YidTec is that of Delaware Business Incorporators, a competitor of the Company Corporation also located in Wilmington.
  • The Facebook page “Ban the Shabbos App” was created on October 1, to claim the Shabbos App is “worse than 1000 Holocausts” [sic]. It uses similar Hebrew spellings (“oi”) to those I pointed out on shabbosapp.com, criticizes the Gedolim for not banning the app (yet), and refers to Rav Adlerstein’s post on Cross-Currents of yesterday as a “softie half-hearted ban-free screed about the Destroy-Shabbos App.”
  • The Kickstarter Facebook link doesn’t go to the page of YidTec or the Shabbos App, but of Yitz Appel, who doesn’t look overtly frum and has a very sparse presence, especially for someone claiming to be an app developer.
  • Yitz Appel with the same photo seems to have a similarly minimal and protected presence on Instagram, Houzz.com, and on Meetup.com as a member of Young Jewish Professionals of Santa Monica, CA. Nothing indicates any serious involvement with either Judaism or app development.
  • The other developer quoted in articles about this app, “Yossi Goldstein” from Colorado, is found only in these articles.

Oh, and last but not least, the app claims it will avoid problems of heating the phone due to overuse, by constantly consuming power, causing the battery to constantly be hot. In other words, the app offers to deliberately roast your phone.

To me, this builds an overwhelming case. I do not believe this is offered with serious intent at all, but rather to mock attempts by serious, committed Jews to face the new challenges presented by modern technology. As Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato wrote in Mesilas Yesharim, mockery is a tremendously destructive force, to the point that trying to reason with or guide a mocker is like trying to teach a drunk or one who is mentally ill. And I suspect that a psychologist would have a field day trying to understand the motives of the author of this scam, and trying to cure him of his underlying issues.

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, representing the voice of over 1000 traditional rabbis in matters of public policy. He is also the Director and Chief Architect of Project Genesis, creators of Torah.org and other leading web resources for Jewish outreach and education.
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