Monday, October 6, 2014

Shabbos App, lay off my Shabbos!

If you haven't heard about The Shabbos App yet, it's meant to modify the function of your smartphone to avert halachic problems involved in texting on Shabbat.

Here is the opening line of their "Who we are" paragraph:
We are a team of people including programmers, marketing professionals and Rabbis who want to make it easier to be Jewish and fully observant. Today, there are too many people leaving the fold because they find observant Judaism too cumbersome and outdated and it doesn't need to be.

It would be fun to discuss the ins-and-outs of their mechanisms, which are briefly described (sans important halachic details) on their website. Indeed, Rabbi Yisrael Rozen of Machon Tzomet has pointed out a gaping hole in their understanding of grama, here. But I am more interested in their premise: that people are leaving Judaism because halachah is cumbersome and outdated, as demonstrated by the inability to use a cell phone on Shabbos.

I can see ways in which the halachic system is lagging in dealing with new realities, but to me, turning off a cell phone for Shabbos does not demonstrate an outdated halachic system. Just the opposite, it demonstrates the need for the classic halachic system of Shabbos!

I think the Shabbos App is a terrible idea. Am I really the only Jew who was relieved to not answer a phone call or an email for three consecutive days on Rosh HaShanah and Shabbos? For me, if such a break did not exist, I would have to invent it - just as psychologists routinely recommend to their patients that they take time out from the demands of the world on a regular basis.

It's also important to walk away from the phone for a whole host of other reasons, beyond the scope of this post; take Louis CK's advice and turn off the phone!

So I find the "Shabbos App" idea most un-app-ealing. It's not what I want for myself, for my children, or for my environment. I shudder to think of spending Yom Kippur in shul, Succos lunch with friends, Simchas Torah dancing with the Torah or Shabbos afternoon at the park surrounded by texters. Please, please: lay off my Shabbos!


  1. Meanwhile, their alleged rabbinic support won't put their names on the project, and their Kickstarter hasn't even gone live yet. The domain "" is registered in Shanghai, and despite the text on the bottom about "registered and unregistered trademarks of The YidTech, Inc. its affiliates and others", the US registry database has no entries for YidTech or "Shabbos App". I have no indication that YidTech is even a "they" rather than a "he" with a dream.

    The whole reaction-counterreaction thing may be premature. All we're doing is creating a dialog about an untenable position, giving it more life in the community mindset than it deserves.

  2. Meanwhile, R' Yisrael Rosen of Machon Zomet also wonders if this isn't a hoax or a marketing experiment. See this article on Serugim. Although, R' Rosen blames Far-Left Orthodoxy for distorting halakhah, without going the obvious conclusion from his other point that there may not be a movement to blame for the project altogether.

  3. I agree - I don't know whether the Achronim of 100 years ago who ruled that electricity was forbidden on Shabbat could have foreseen the impact that ruling would have had, but a day every week free of electronic devices is one of the best things about being an observant Jew, and I sincerely hope that this Shabbos App is no more than a joke.

  4. There are more than enough permitted or encouraged Shabbat activities. Staying connected to the crazy outside culture is not one of them.

  5. R' Micha-
    I think the discussion is worthwhile, even if the app is someone's trial ballon.

    R' Michael-
    Indeed; I have heard a major contemporary posek say the same thing.

    Or even to our crazy internal culture...

  6. I'm wondering if the discussion is dangerous -- not that whether or not you carry the story would make or break the discussion.

    The project is absurd. The ignorant don't realize. All they hear and remember is that two sides debated. So, if the threat of actually producing a "Shabbos App" that would end up increasing chilul Shabbos is not real, we are needlessly setting them up as looking like they have a valid alternative position.

    FWIW, I said the same thing about the storm of responses to Zev Farber on I think the replies introduced far far more people to Document Hypothesis and the notion that it could be fit into Yahadus than prevented people from following Farber down the Conservative rabbit hole.

  7. The way to respond is to challenge the entire premise. To wit: what kind of people can't go 25 hours without using a cell phone? Are people really so addicted to texting that telling them they can't for 25 hours a week will cause them to leave Judaism? What does that say about them as opposed to halacha?
    And then we get into the whole Conservative argument. When the Conservatives first permitted driving on Shabbos they clearly only intended for people to drive to and from shul. Well look where they wound up. Can one really imagine a phone with a Shabbos app that will remain shomer Shabbos?

  8. This post is included in  the Shiloh Musings: After the Chaggim (Holidays) Havel Havelim, 5775.

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  9. (coming from Havel Havelim)
    My frei kids emailed me about this app. I wrote back that THANK G-d I have ONE day a week not enslaved to technology!