Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Half Shabbat Data: This Just In

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Dr. Scott Goldberg in The Jewish Week has weighed in with some data announcing that 17% of Modern Orthodox affiliated youth text, or should I say admit to texting, on shabbat. My last posting gave many reasons for why I considered this highly problematic. My friend, Aryeh Klapper, a well known scholar and educator, has a different take. Orthodoxy, in general, is ignoring the challenges of the digital century.  The ubiquitous necessity for electricity will make professions that require international travel very problematic. Once sensors are on all public sinks and toilets, once books are only available electronically, will the response be to retreat to professions that will not take us to China?  Will hotels be off limits, or will we be allowed to do our business with a shinui?  And what would that look like?

Given all the things teenagers could be doing, is contacting their friends the worst thing? He argues that there needs to be a revisiting of the prohibition in general given the way the world is changing.  He did concede that the moniker “half shabbos” does indicate a crisis of sorts.If students feel that they can pick and choose then shabbos for them at least is in trouble.

In a world where a satellite shoots an image every few seconds, where you walk by a house and a light goes on, where you walk in a room and lights go on, or off when you leave it, where is the coherent response in halacha on how to respond to these challenges? This is Aryeh’s larger point.  If such things will be permitted and by necessity they may have to be  in the future, then how does one rationalize prohibiting  battery operated cell phones? iPads don’t complete a circuit at all I’m told. Uh oh!

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  1. I feel like to the extent it signals a crisis, it’s the result of Shabbos these days being so completely and primarily defined as “no electricity.” With that as the overriding experience of Shabbat, I can completely see how teenagers would be unable to frame texting as anything other than an incomplete form of Shabbat observance. I think R. Klapper’s got a very good point….

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