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Friday, 19 December 2014

Is the Shabbos App kosher?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 75

Recently, the YidTec company announced the release of the ‘Shabbos App.’ It’s a smartphone application that allows users to text on Shabbos.  The phone constantly stays on, operating with a continuous flow of energy.  In other words, you don’t need to switch the electricity on or off since the electrical charge is ever-present.

As things currently stand, they have yet to receive any rabbinic approbations.  But they are in the process of making modifications to their product to bring it up to an acceptable standard, because today there are many otherwise-observant teens that are already picking up their smartphones and texting on Shabbos. 

If they could make it halachically viable, would they solve the problem of teens who keep “Half-Shabbos”?

Concerning one who is impure, the Torah declares, “He shall not touch anything holy and he shall not come into the Sanctuary.”

The Gemara explains the juxtaposition of holiness and Sanctuary: Just like the Sanctuary is a matter involving the taking of the soul, so too holiness involves the taking of the soul.
Rashi explains: One who enters the Sanctuary in an impure state, his soul is spiritually taken.

Our Sages refer to the synagogue as a miniature Sanctuary, a microcosm of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  When you enter into the sanctuary of the synagogue, you feel spiritually uplifted.  Your soul is taken on a journey to greater spiritual heights.  But in Judaism, holiness doesn’t only take place inside the synagogue.  Communal prayer is but one part of your service of the Almighty.

Every little thing that you do in this world has the potential for holiness and the taking of your soul on a spiritual journey.  When you make a blessing before eating and then consume the kosher food with the intention of using the energy to serve G-d, you have transformed a mundane act into a holy act.   If you want to take your soul on a journey, simply eating kosher food is not sufficient.  You need both the proper performance of the mitzvah and the spirit that you are investing into it.

And that’s what’s missing with the concept of the Shabbos App.  While the jury’s still out on whether it’s halachically sound, even if it is, it misses the point of Shabbos.   The spirit of Shabbos is the gift the Almighty has bestowed upon us that has only truly become manifest in the twenty-first century.  We live in a non-stop world where every five seconds we get a text, feed, tweet, or email.  Only on Shabbos do we get to shut it all down and live a spiritual existence. 

When we find ways to get around the Shabbos proscriptions, while they might theoretically work, they have forgotten the spirit of the day.   Believe it or not, there were those who argued that operating electrical items should be permissible on Shabbos, because it’s not really like fire, especially with the advent of fluorescent lamps, which don’t burn a filament!  And Tzomet in Israel has a whole range of Shabbos products including a synagogue microphone!  But our Rabbis have decreed that the active use of electricity is at least problematic in terms of the spirit of Shabbos, if not outright prohibited.

That doesn’t mean that we should utterly outlaw the Shabbos App.  If people are anyway going to text on Shabbos, yasher koach to YidTec for working valiantly to find ways to assuage the transgression!  But the app should come with a description that encourages users to curb their texting activity on Shabbos with a goal to its eventual cessation.  Because it’s definitely not in the spirit of Shabbos.

You can’t judge others and their commitment.  Holiness and spirituality come more naturally to some than others.  Your soul may go on a spiritual journey every time you do a mitzvah.  For others, it feels more like the yoke of Heaven that they are assuming and they struggle to go through the motions.  Don’t knock them, at least they’re doing the mitzvah.  Instead, encourage them to invest their Judaism with spirituality and holiness and may you merit being the vehicle to take their soul on a spiritual journey with every mitzvah they do!

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