Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Embracing Shabbos- The real issue in discussing the Shabbos App

“LOL. My rabbi just misquoted a pasuk in his derasha.”

“Nisht Shabbos Geret. Are we going out later?”

“No one better say the score in the Alabama-LSU game. I recorded it and am watching it after Shabbos.”

When it comes to the new Shabbos App that will allow people to “halachically use a smartphone on Shabbos”, much more than halacha is really coming into play. Even if it can be argued that the app will avoid all Torah and rabbinical prohibitions (although I’m not sure why the concepts of “Zilzul Shabbos” and “Uvda D’chol” are being ignored), the narrowing of the discussion to purely halachic terms, and narrow ones at that, is dangerous, and, I would argue, contrary to the spirit of Torah.

Despite what Yeshayahu Leibowitz argued,Judaism is about  more than purely legal concepts. One does not have to wait until the Neviim Acharonim to see that there are theoretical and moral concepts that are discussed in the Torah in the narrative sections, as well as in many parts of Devarim. Indeed, the very concept of muktzeh is based, at least partially, on the idea of keeping Shabbos from being treated like every other day. Shabbos is about much more than an avoidance of melacha.

The developers of the app can certainly be applauded for trying to minimize chilul Shabbos, but I take issue with the idea that this app is in fact protecting Shabbos. To my mind, it plays into a mindset that sees Shabbos and indeed halacha itself, as a series of restrictions with which we must put up, and even then, only when we can not find a way out of there observance.

Many within the Modern Orthodox world, including myself, applaud the thinking of those like Rav Eliezer Berkowits and those who follow in his footsteps, in suggesting that halacha continues to be fresh and vibrant and, more importantly, alive. This is used to suggest a more activist role when it comes to interpreting Jewish law, suggesting changes that would permit more things, and give voice to the disenfranchised. It would be hypocritical to suggest that concepts and values can be used only to permit and never to prohibit. In other words, even if it was only Chazal who could technically establish something as a derabbonon, conceptually it should be possible by later halachic consensus.

Of course, I’m not sure which should need to use such terms. In the end of the day, chipping away at the atmosphere of Shabbos comes with a price, one that we already see when it comes to those who are using these phones already without any “permissible” app. It seems to me that rather than chip away at things to make Shabbos “easier”, it is time to focus educationally and communally on the spirit of Shabbos, so that Shabbos will be embraced, rather than being  merely tolerated, or worse.

1 comment:

  1. Precisely! While growing up, we didn't use a Shabbos Elevator because it "wasn't shabbos'dik", while acknowledging that older people, or those who lived on the 15th Floor on the West Side, were fully entitled to make use of it, Ditto for the "grama-phone" for doctors. (Okay, so we didn't listen to the refrigerator to make sure it was on before opening it, despite there being a good chance the motor would soon come on if we rummaged around in there, since the motor starting was only a grama. The iceman was out of business by that time, and spoiled food is decidedly un-Shabbosdik...)
    I also heard in the name of a great man (possibly Rav Gustman) that part of the reason we do things like make tea in a "kli sheni", or put the water in first before the tea, etc., is simply to do things differently on Shabbos in recognition of Shabbos being different. (Similar to what you're mentioning about an underlying reason of muktza.) "Ve'Chibadeto maiAsos Derachecha..."
    I'm also not sure that one can have "menucha" if their phone keeps buzzing. Can they ever have that feeling of peace one feels when Shabbos descends over Yerushalayim, or other enclaves in Eretz Yisroel? I recall one Ba'al Teshuva describing his first Shabbat as a "mountaintop experience" - for these teenagers, it'll be a "corner in mid-Manhattan experience" instead... Appy, appy, appy!
    Rest your thumbs for 1 day, guys!