Is the Shabbat Smartphone app Kosher?

My students approached me asking for my opinion on the so called “Shabbat App” which – according to the developers – “allows you to Halachically use a Smartphone on Shabbos”.Shabbos app
After reading the material on their website, I discussed it in class. Below is a summery of my opinion, followed by 4 correspondences between myself and the app developers.

1. The foundational logic of it is false and very disturbing:

Currently, using a Smartphone on Shabbos is prohibited. Unfortunately, this does not stop many otherwise observant Jews from using their devices on Shabbos, and can make Shabbos harder for the more adherent observer that do not use a Smartphone. The Shabbos App will give us all a way to keep shabbos with all the stringencies and still take full advantage of the wonderful technology the world has to offer.

As I told the students, it would be like saying – since there are so many people who aren’t Shomer Negi’a (and/or “find it difficult to not be”), let’s come up with rules of how to minimize the חיבה (affection) aspect of touching – only through clothing, only after stipulating that it isn’t affectionate touching, etc… As one of the students said – “that’s ridiculous. No one who touches girls would care about any of those things”. Exactly. I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is texting on Shabbat but at the same time is stringent with Brachot before and after eating. Meaning, people who are texting on Shabbat do not do so because they find it difficult to manage without cell phones.
They do so because they do not care enough about Shabbat and are violating other איסורי (prohibitions) of Shabbat as well. There is a concept in Halacha called הלעיטהו לרשע וימות – we do not have a responsibility to minimize an איסור for people who intentionally violate Halacha. Furthermore, if we did do this – it would serve as a destructive blow to Shabbat as it would open the door for other people – who wouldn’t otherwise dream of using their phones on Shabbat – to start doing so.

2. In their list of possible issues that using the phone on Shabbat entails, the writers miss the biggest issue. They list possible איסורים (prohibitions) – Mav’ir, Boneh, Kotev, השמעת קול, etc… but say nothing of the main issue – ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – from which מוקצה and other איסורי דרבנן (Rabbinical prohibitions) come, of differentiating Shabbat from weekdays. For many Poskim this is also the reason we do not use many electrical appliances on Shabbat and not because there is any actual איסור מלאכה. Throughout history our rabbis made sure to maintain the unique distinction between Shabbat and weekdays, making sure that during Shabbat people not only not create but also not be engaged – in action or thought – in weekday endeavors. I can think of fewer things that would empty Shabbat from all that is beautiful about it. Think of the quiet of Shabbat, the quality time with family and friends, the Shabbat meals and songs, the special atmosphere in and outside Shul, the Drashot, classes and lectures and the long hours of rest. How much of that would continue if cell phones – the instrument which most isolates us from our immediate surroundings – were permitted on Shabbat?

3. The possible מלאכות and ways they are “fixed” through the supposed app are riddled with mistakes. To name two of them:
– The idea that a battery heating up is אסור משום הבערת אש is very childish. Fire is not an issue of heat. Like most Melachot, it’s an issue of (יצירה) creation.
– In the “solutions” it mentions that a גרמא (causation) system will allow typing to be delayed and random. This idea is one most well known from the Tzomet solutions. The obvious difference being that Tzomet comes up with solutions because there is:
A. An actual Halachik need to violate Shabbat such as for sick people, for security and safety and other similar situations.
B. An extreme loss of Oneg/Kvod Shabbat, such as disabled people and the like.
In order so people who have to violate Shabbat or cannot function normatively on Shabbat the Halacha has a solution: The Mishna says that גרם כיבוי is מותר, the רמ”א conditioned that this can be used only במקום הפסד (in a place where there is loss) and the Poskim of our generation have said that security and health needs qualify as מקום הפסד. Equating cell phone use to any of these is nothing short of a gross abuse of Halacha.

It was a great discCellphone on Shabbatussion with my students. Though they didn’t agree with everything, they understood the logic I presented as well as my claim that whoever is behind this is not coming at it will pure intentions by any means as they are completely disregarding the most problematic aspect of the question.

And if you need further proof that this has little to do with concern for Shmirat Shabbat and are wondering what is really behind it one may not have to look much further than the price of the app – 50 USD.



Filed under Education, Halacha, Torah

29 responses to “Is the Shabbat Smartphone app Kosher?

  1. Yitz Appel, who presents himself as one of the developers, wrote me a response. To which i responded back.

    His response was:

    Rabbi Yair Spitz,
    With all due respect, we (including associated poskim and developers) at Shabbos App humbly disagree with your post.
    To start with, let’s address the foundation of why we making this app. The fact is that today most (more than 50%) of orthodox youth are texting on Shabbos. Once someone feels that they are doing an averah already – i.e. texting on Shabbos, it is easier to start doing more averyos and slip away from observance – just ask anyone who works with youth who will corroborate this.
    This does not mean that we should go about permitting things that are prohibited. However, if something is currently a derabonon at worst, then to devise a way to make it permissible is a mitzvah, as people are doing it anyways! Furthermore, and most importantly, it will allow people who currently feel they are breaking Shabbos or “keeping half Shabbos” and thereby keep them from the averyra goreres aveyra syndrome.
    It would probably be a good idea to go over with your class R’ Shlolo Zalman Aurbach’s tsuvah on electricity in Minchas Shlomo. Explain his opinion and show where he says that using electricity on Shabbos for non ma’avir items is ok, he even matirs using a telephone ON SHABBOS! Then came along the Chazon Ish and came up with this theory that it is boneh and soser.
    As unfortunately what happens lots of times is the fanatics take over – and want that Judaism should comply with every single opinion that is out there, and even though the Chazon Ish was a das yochid, his psak stood – and is considered accepted today. However, one important fact to keep in minds is that before R’ SZ retracted his psak in deference to the Chazon Ish, he has no problem that using a phone on Shabbos was zilzul Shabbos – he felt it wasn’t – because it was muttar!
    Add in that the Oruch Hashulcan was initially matir turning lights on and of on Yom Tov, he did not see a zilzul problem either!
    With regard to ma’avir not being heat we disagree. If one were to create light from static electricity, there is absolutely no issur whatsoever – even though you are creating light. The issur is when there is heat – i.e aish.

    I responded back the following:

    With all due respect, I find your response to me more revealing and far more problematic than everything else I’ve seen about the app so far:
    1. How dare you say that over 50% of Orthodox teens text on Shabbat? This is הוצאת שם רע of the worst kind. I have been working with Orthodox teens – in Israel, the US and Canada – for over 20 years. My students have open conversations with me about what they, and their friends, do and do not observe. This number is a gross and malicious lie. Is it possible that for the mere sake of marketing a product you would have us believe the absolute worst about our children and youth? If I had to guess why – I’d say it has less to do with the number 50% and more to do with the number $50.

    2. You claim that if someone is doing an Issur (what difference does it make if it is an איסור דאורייתא or an איסור דרבנן? Have we become Kararites suddenly?) it is a Mitzvah to make it permissible. Interesting חידוש. I’ve never heard this before. I’d love to hear where you took this from.
    If that were true I have some other great ideas:
    – Many teens don’t put on Tfilin every day when on vacation. This is a Bitul Aseh. Let’s tell them to make sure to have an area on their body which is very dirty, or even a bit smelly. They will be פטור from putting on Tfillin until it is removed as you are not permitted to put on Tfillin with an unclean body.
    – A lot of teens don’t like going to Minyan in the morning. They wake up and don’t go to Shul. Let’s advise them to go to sleep really late at night but to make sure to go to sleep before the beginning of the day and only wake up after Zman Tfila. Their missing Davenning is no longer an Issur as they never became חיב in Tfila.
    – A lot of people find Brachot tedious and complicated, even though Birkat Hamazon is דאורייתא. Let’s advise people of how to eat in big enough intervals in such away that they are not חייב in saying the Bracha.
    – Some teens have pre-marital sex. This involves several Issurim but the worst of them, by far, is ביאת נידה. Let’s advise young women to go to the Mikveh first. Although they will be עובר on a תקנה that single women shouldn’t do Tvila, we would be saving them from an איסור כרת.
    All of these are far better ways for avoiding an Issur than your suggestion (as you haven’t avoided the main issue – see below). There are only 2 problems with my suggestions:
    A. If people are not putting on Tfillin, not Davenning, not Benching and sleeping around but “love Judaism” – what exactly are they loving?
    B. You can’t charge people money for any of them…

    3. I fear you didn’t understand what I wrote. You misquoted and misrepresented several of the opinions you brought but I won’t correct them as they have little to do with what I wrote. I specifically wrote that you are completely disregarding the main problem with your suggestion which IS NOT the actual use or manipulation of electricity, rather ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר. I even wrote that that is the source for the Issur of using most electrical appliances – according to what I consider the prevalent opinion – that of Rav Shlomo Zalman Oierbach. My students and I discussed this at length about a month ago.
    Your response to me did not respond to any of this. This is not an issue of זלזול in Shabbat. ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר, which originates from the נביאים was Paskened as Halacha and serves as the root of so many of the Halachot that are part and parcel of our Shabbat observance – מוקצה, אמירה לנוכרי, wearing special clothing, הכנה and many of the שבותים, to name a few.
    To try and convince people that what stands behind this initiative is concern for their relationship with Torah and Mitzvot is, I’m sorry to say, sinister. More likely, what stands behind it is what stands behind every other app in the world – personal gain (fame and or fortune).

  2. Follow up response by the app people:

    Rabbi Spitz,
    Please see this article about Orthodox teens texting on Shabbos, perhaps you are unaware of how common it is

    I answered:

    1. Interesting that out of the many, many articles out there on the topic you chose to reference the one that states the highest percentages and is based on anecdotes and concludes that “some say half of Modern Orthodox teens text on Shabbat”. You choose not to quote the empirical research done by professors Goldberg and Pelcovitz from the Azrieli Graduate School of Education who, based on a 1200 teen survey, put the number at 12.2%. That’s less than 1 out of 8 kids (
    Not great but by no means any greater than the number of Orthodox teens who do not wear Tzitzit or put on Tfillin every day. Far less than the number who are not Shomer Negi’a. Meaning, the focus on this seems to be more sensational than anything else and in our case – economically driven.

    2. I’m eager to hear any kind of response to the main point I raised – that the biggest issue here is not Issurei Melacha, rather, ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – removing a fundamental distinction between Shabbat and weekdays which is from the נביאים, then the Rishonim and at the root of so many of Hilchot Shabbat.

  3. I think the Shabbos app is a great idea — but only for doctors and others for whom rabbinic prohibitions (gerama) can be overridden.

    Meanwhile, they are solving problems I don’t think are real: LED backlighting shouldn’t be any more prohibited than electricity in general. (No glowing filaments.) Battery drain is invisible, so I don’t think that’s a problem either. Nor is writing to memory, the prohibition for writing is letter shapes — only the letters on the screen would matter.

  4. Nathan

    If all of Yair Spitz’s personal attacks were taken off this page, there would be very little content left.

  5. Yossi responded:

    Rabbi Spitz,
    With regard to ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר this is an opinion based matter, and not defined in halacha. A similar issue was raised regarding Shabbos Clocks by R’ Moshe Feinstein which most people seem to completely disregard.
    A very important proof: When R’ Sholozo Zalmen allowed using a telephone on Shabbos (before retracting in deference to the Chazon Ish), dont you think he though of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר Was NOT the reason he retracted his psak. I think we can gather that if R’ Shlomo Zalmen had no problem of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר with someone using a telephone as usual on Shabbos then a smartphone would be no different with respect to ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר.

    I responded:

    A. I apologize for the need to be so blunt but you are very obviously not truly familiar with the sources you are referencing. Rav Shlomo Zalman Oirbach did not מתיר using a phone on Shabbat in any way shape or form. You are either misunderstanding or misquoting partial sentences from a lengthy and complex Halachik discussion. It can be super summarized (and superficially so) in the following way:
    In the context of arguing with the Beit Yitzchak, RSZ says there is no problem of מוליד in a telephone. Even so, he says it is absolutely forbidden to use a phone on Shabbat as people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need. An example of such a dire need that he mentions later on is that he gave a Psak that his mother can use an electrical hearing aid. Later, when he learned of the Chazon Ish’s ruling that using an electrical appliances is a מלאכה because of בונה and סותר, he said he regretted permitting this to his mother.
    Now you tell me – how did you get from that to the fact that “R’ Sholozo Zalmen allowed using a telephone on Shabbos before retracting in deference to the Chazon Ish?”.

    B. This is not opinion based. ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר is from the prophets. It is true that it is up to the Poskim of every generation to recognize what does and does not fall into this category but none the less, this has been one of the most important aspects and protectors of Shabbat throughout our history. Your indifference to it is very revealing.
    With regards to the parallel you drew from Rav Moshe’s discussion about a Shabbat clock – it is not at all similar:
    A. All of the actions to do with the Shabbat clock are done BEFORE Shabbat. On Shabbat you are not doing anything other than enjoying the result of an action done before Shabbat.
    B. The extent of what the Shabbat clock does is minimal – instead of reading to the light of lamps until 11pm you can now read to the light of electricity until 2am. Instead of eating slightly warm food that has been sitting in a closed oven – you can have hot food. None of these touch upon the core experience of Shabbat. All the things for which we use a Shabbat clock just enhance the things we are already doing/not doing. You are talking about breaking down one of the few barriers that still exist between Shabbat and weekdays. That is exactly whatממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר is – that Shabbat is to be unique and distinct.
    The reason this Mitzvah exists and used so prevalently in Halacha is exactly because Shabbat is not just about what is אסור and מותר as part of the 39 מלאכות.
    This part of Shabbat seems completely absent from any of your discussions and materials. And for that – I am truly sorry for you.

  6. Sam

    Dear Yair Spitz,

    Your way of reasoning seems way worse than the potential financial reasons the creators have for arguing the way they do. You argue out of a backward and outdated position, unfortunately with the same mindset they used to argue in shtetls where controversy and superstition were more rampant than anything else, and the only thing that counts is up keeping the whole ‘holier than thou’ image to seem more perfect even when there is no reason to be.

    The main argument of ממצוא חפצך לדבר דבר you keep falling back on, and the only real defensible argument you have could be so easily put aside. If all this would hold true still today and people were taking it seriously, why are almost all synagogues still haggling with (virtual) money on shabbat when selling aliyot. Shabbat lamps are cute and all, but while you’re not manipulating the electricity and just closing off the lamp, you are oiver about as much aveira (according to you), as you will when using the smartphone with the shabbos app, namely nothing. Same thing with the ovens and a million other things you could find that people do or use on shabbat that would be considered weekly actions but no one says anything against it. Were not in the dark ages anymore, time to grow out of the medieval mindset.

    • Jason

      Sam, I would disagree greatly with your opinion. Turning on a lamp, and leaving it on, is in no way similar to texting and using a smartphone on Shabbos. Texting and introducing potentially other things like emoticons and pictures etc.. on Shabbos, can and most certainly would lead to discussions and issues which take away from the spirit of shabbos. Having a light on Shabbos only adds to a person ability to function as a normal person, while keeping the spirit of Shabbos.

      Also, what happens if I use the shabbos app and text my friend who does not, who also happens to be Jewish. He responds and is thus committing a sin, which I caused him to do. Now both of us are in trouble. This is a bad way to introduce technology into modern Jewish culture. I am also the same person that argues that eventually we will have to make certain accomodations, because in 50 years, it will be hard to even find a printed book… but with Organic flexible paper displays, maybe the Rabbi’s of that time will allow their use.

  7. americanjew6320278

    i’m going to have to strongly agree that the personal and belittling attacks in the comments above are more harmful to the cause than they’re worth and border on chillul hashem. this is the week between rosh hashana and yom kippur, right? machlokes is all fine and dandy and there were some good arguments in there, but comments laced with allegations about financial, other motives, and pot-shots (such as “your arguments are revealing,” and “This part of Shabbat seems completely lost on you. And for that – I am truly sorry for you.”), are damaging. as this forum is public as well, you should be concerned also about how your comments influence others [especially those less observant] reading. does your lashon make others respect you and want to be observant, or will they see the observant community as something else??

    personally, i don’t see this app as solving the root problem here and anyways don’t think it’s worth all the talk which serves more to promote the app. i feel actually holding and texting on a phone is a pretty big – no, huge – step in terms of breaking off the mainstream, at least for someone who grew up within a strong jewish community. i’m not so sure they’ll care so much to use this app unless it’s just to ward off comments by others.

    now if someone had a monitor mounted on the wall like those digital picture frames, with buttons/controls out of reach, with an open Skype connection to their friends or family abroad [started before Shabbos], i think that could be more of an issue to discuss. i’m still kinda surprised about the spread of digital frames in homes and screens in shuls. Skype isn’t much of a stretch from that, so where do you draw the line on what denigrates and what does not?

    • Elon Weintraub

      Thank you Rav Spitz for commenting on this in a dignified manner. The site is cavalier in the extreme, their knowledge of the halakhot and fixes are unconvincing and Yitz Appel’s reply is almost more disconcerting than the app.

      Having siblings who have recently been teens, I can also say that you are absolutely right that 50% is a gross overstatement. I also agree that if the issue is addiction to phones or lack of connection to Shabbat, or both as it is, encouraging people to use phones in a “permitted” way is a horrible precedent.

      As for the response citing Rav Auerbach, it is revealing that neither the problems cited, nor the “gerama solutions” are in the slightest bit aligned with his teshubot on the subject of the listed melakhot or his definition of gerama.

      And whatever belittling people do of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר, either way, the point is that the app does not actually do anything.

  8. First of all, I’d like to applaud Rabbi Spitz for the stance he’s taking here. The Lashon he uses in his arguments is completely appropriate in this context. In order to argue with a Poretz Geder, one must bite like a snake to make one’s point (הפורץ גדר ישכנו נחש). People must understand that such breaches in halacha – especially in our traditional observance of Shabbat – should not be taken lightly. Initiatives such as these must be forcefully countered, and Rabbi Spitz has done an excellent job at doing so.

    Re: Sam above, who asks why synagogues sell Mitzvot if we have a law of ממצוא חפצך, the answer to this is explicit and obvious. The Derasha goes: חפציך and not חפצי שמים. When done for a Mitzva, ממצוא חפצך is not an issue. One would be hard-pressed to convince me that texting on Shabbat would be of the same category.

    In addition, Rabbi Spitz’s comparison of this app to advising single women to use the Mikveh is a comparison I used myself in an email exchange. ברוך שכוונתי.

    Finally, the website selling this app contains a “Who are we” section that is so irksome to anyone with a ריח תורה that I cannot believe that no one brought that up yet in discussions. Read it and weep. May complete Teshuva be had by all this Yom Kippur.

    • Sam

      Wow, just wow. This is firstly hardly a ‘poretz geder’ and even if they were, those personal attacks on their ‘financial’ gains are inappropriate and are none of his business in my opinion. Being a computer and software engineer myself, I actually DO know how much it costs to produce qualitative and advanced apps, and let me tell you, that they neither come cheap, nor are they easy to make. And yes, maybe they want to monetize it…so what? The shabbat lamp got monetized under the careful guise of ‘helping religious people’. Didn’t see you bleating there.

      Second, near as I can tell, the mitzvah is the aliyot themselves. I highly doubt the action of ‘selling’ the aliyot can at ALL be counted as a mitzvah.

      The only real and perhaps reasonable argument here, was brought by JASON: “what happens if I use the shabbos app and text my friend who does not, who also happens to be Jewish. He responds and is thus committing a sin, which I caused him to do. Now both of us are in trouble.”
      Even with this reasoning (which I can at least understand and see as reasonable), you can still argue that the other person is not necessarily you who can be blamed for, and either way that would still leave room for using a smartphone on shabbat for mitzva purposes and for talking with people who also have the app…

      • Elon Weintraub

        You do realize selling aliyot is basically soliciting donations so that the synagogue can continue supporting the community.

        The real and reasonable argument is that the app does nothing and is tentatively priced at five to ten times that of far more useful apps.

      • sukenik

        in response to the comment that the pricing for this application is far higher than that of more useful applications I would share the following thought. The cost in software is on the development. Once the development has been done, the marginal cost per subscriber or per licensee of the product is minimal. As such if I expect to have 5 million users of my application I can charge a much smaller amount per user then if I only expect to have a few thousand users of my application.

      • Sam

        “The app does nothing”, you would be a joke in the app-developing community, that’s for sure. That ‘doing-nothing’ you’re referring to actually requires thousands of lines of codes

      • This is firstly hardly a ‘poretz geder’…

        This is the epitome of Poretz Geder. I can pretty much assure you that 99.999% of Orthodox rabbis will not allow this app to be used in non-Piku’ah Nefesh situations. Anyone not abiding by the will of the חכמים is a Poretz Geder. Period. A token rabbi or 2 means nothing.

        Re: your rant that he has no right to personally attack the monetization of the product, I very much disagree. If, for example, someone were producing an app that can produce a list of ways one can cheat the government on taxes – and decided to charge $50.00 for it – the price gouging of that product is fair game along with the misguided motive of “helping people out”. I don’t care how much it costs to produce.

        Second, near as I can tell, the mitzvah is the aliyot themselves. I highly doubt the action of ‘selling’ the aliyot can at ALL be counted as a mitzvah.

        That’s where you’re wrong … again. See, for example, Rav Yitzhak Yosef Shlit”a’s Yalkut Yosef here: in סעיף ז.

        Re: Jason’s argument, which you at least considered reasonable, but rejected since “you couldn’t be blamed for it”, have you heard of לפני עור?

        It doesn’t leave the smartphone for Mitzva purposes either since ממצוא חפציך is hardly the only problem here.

      • Elon Weintraub

        Even worse, Sam. Because using thousands of lines of code to accomplish nothing is a waste of thousands of lines of code. If you do not understand the problem, it hardly does to write a solution and sell it for 50 bucks. It’s not just ממצוא חפצך. They don’t know what the issurim of Shabbat actually are. What the different rabbis who wrote over the last century actually held. They just copied stuff out of Tzomet’s Shabbat elevator pamphlet and blindly applied it.

        I have my doubts on whether the app is ever meant to come to fruition and to whether you are just a random commenter, and not someone in on it. But either way, apps are not judged by how complicated they are, but by whether they work.

  9. sukenik

    Personally, I welcome my shabbat breaks from my cell phone. But I would take issue with how hung up you are about the $50 price tag.
    This is not an app that would bring in money from ad revenue and no VC would have any interest in funding it. You may or may not agree with the product but what is wrong with putting a price tag to offset developer costs (saliries, software licence, server rental) and to make a profit?
    Were you this critical of the car salesman who sold you your car or the owner of your local supermarket that he is only interested in making money from suckers who want a head of lettuce?

  10. David Mescheloff

    Rabbi Spitz, I think you – and your readers – may enjoy the following halakhic presentation:

  11. Yosi wrote:
    Rabbi Spitz,

    I’m going to use your last post to demonstrate very clearly for everyone how you are being intellectually dishonest. Here are your words “Even so, he says it is absolutely forbidden to use a phone on Shabbat as people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need.”

    Now, when someone says “ people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted..” the ineluctable conclusion is that a telephone is mutar while lights are assur, and we do not want people mixing up telephones and lights”

    Additionally, to quote “therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need.” Now, we don’t ever allow people to violate any issur for a צורך גדול. Therefore, clearly, once again, the inescapable conclusion is that using a telephone is not not an issur, but rather a sensitivity,likely, to the Chazon Ish.

    It is our intention to let people decide for themselves, as Boruch Hashem today laymen have much more information available to be able to make informed decisions

    Last, I want to bring to your attention that in the kol koreh against Rabbi Moshe Heinemann signed by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Nisim Karelitz, Rav Shmuel Wozner, and many others, it says “In our opinion, use of “Sabbath Mode” to change the temperature of an oven on Yom Tov represents an assault on the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov and will lead to deterioration in their observance. We hereby declare that one may not rely on “Sabbath Mode” operation to adjust oven temperatures on Yom Tov despite the presence of a Hechsher on these ovens.” Now, we all know that Rabbi Moshe Heinemann is a fine upstanding talmud chacham of the highest caliber.

    Sometimes, people paskin with their emotions, not the real and accurate halacha. That needs to change, and it is our intention to let people decide for themselves, as Boruch HaShem today laymen have much more information available to be able to make informed decisions.

    I wrote:

    You are – again – misquoting RSZ. You are saying the exact opposite of what he wrote. You cannot quote a half sentence – that there is no Issur Melacha in using a phone – and not continue his quote, which is: אך חושבני שהמון העם אינו יודע כלל להבחין בכך ויכול לטעות ע”י זה לומר שמותר גם להדליק ולכבות את החשמל בשבת, ולכן אף לדידן אין להתיר דבר זה כי אם במקום צורך גדול (his final words translate as – therefore, even according to me it should not be permitted unless in a place of dire need). Let the readers of these back and forth comments decide whether RSZ did or did not permit using electricity on Shabbat. His ruling – even before the Chazon Ish’s discussion was part of the picture – was that it is forbidden (except in dire need). Period. Any other claim is a lie.
    At the end of the day, even though RSZ did not attach the Issur of using electricity to any of the 39 Melachot, he forbade it – Halachically – as Hilchot Shabbat extend beyond the question of which of the 39 Melachot does it fall under.
    This brings me back to the concept of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר and to the fact that you keep on diverting the conversation to the wrong area.

    There are 2 different perspectives of Torah & Mitzvot being represented here. One which views Torah as a list of rules and regulations – that’s it. If it doesn’t fall under the category of one of the 39 Melachot – there is no problem with it.
    This is the approach you seem to be advocating. Using this approach one could “get away” with a lot more than using a cell phone on Shabbat: leave your TV on all Shabbat and watch a game or a movie (you could even take the batteries out of the remote and disable the volume and on/off buttons – just to be sure), you can program your radio to go on to hear the news, you can get out of the obligation of Davenning and wearing Tfillin (as I demonstrated in an earlier comment). I can come up with 50 other examples of how one can get away without doing any Issur. This is the understanding you seem to have of what Torah and Mitzvot are. In which case – I don’t blame you for trying to find ways to use your phones on Shabbat. In fact, with that approach I find it hard to understand why you would keep Mitzvot at all. Honestly. If Torah and Mitzvot and if Shabbat are just a long list of what you can and can’t do – I understand the distaste for it and the constant search for ‘what can we get away with’. (To be clear – I am not trying to be sarcastic in any way right now. I really think that would be the logical conclusion).
    The other approach, though, is one which knows that Torah is much more than a list of “dos and don’ts”, rather that all the “dos and don’ts” are part of something bigger. The proof that – at least in the context of this discussion – this approach is the correct one is ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר.
    Why did Yeshayahu Hanavi (through נבואה from Hashem) add the concept of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? why weren’t the 39 Melachot that were given to us in the desert enough? The answer is because the realities had changed and the 39 Melachot were no longer sufficient to fulfill the purpose of Shabbat – תשבותו/ למען ינוח / וזכרת, etc…
    This is why this category is the one that has been used throughout history to make sure Shabbat remains Shabbat – no matter what social and technological changes take place – to have special clothes for Shabbat, not preparing or speaking about certain things, אמירה לנכרי, Muktzeh and many other aspects of Shabbat.
    This is an approach that does not view the “dos and don’ts” as restrictive, rather, as gateways into the essence which is Shabbat – the basic covenant between Am Yisrael and Hashem – a fundamental of Jewish life as well as one of the greatest gifts Am Yisrael has given the world.

    Now you tell me – which one of these perspectives does your app promote and fit in to?

    • Elon Weintraub

      Their argument doesn’t even make sense, because if they take R’ Shelomo Zalman’s argument and then, pardon me here, say he was a coward and should have stuck to his guns and permitted phones, then cell phones are permitted without their app. There is no molid, no boneh and soter, no nitzutzot, no kotev or anything else they don’t solve. The app is extraneous.

      • RSZA would have been talking about a wall phone; remember what the word “phone” meant before 1993 (the year of his passing). No issues of writing, lights, plugging in.. The issues they address all arise since his passing.

        But aside from that, RSZA prohibits leaving a radio on all Shabbos (barring significant need) because it is a sound-making device. Ashkenazim hold that all sound making devices are prohibited under the law against musical instruments.

        That said, they entirely misunderstood RSZA on electricity. They almost certainly got their opinion of his position from Rabbis Broyde and Jachter’s article on electricity in the RJJ Journal rather than the original responsum. See hereHe holds that electricity is prohibited. Not just because people might be confused. But because the universal consensus of rabbis is as real of a rabbinic legislation as if the Sanhedrin had met, voted, and passed the law. He calls the common practice “derabbanan”, not “minhag Yisrael” (universal minhag). By eliminating all the usual explanations and yet insisting the halakhah is as accepted, he made the problem insurmountable. It’s not about what you do with electricity (a few, glowing filaments and the like, he does consider additional prohibitions), how you obtain the electricity, or what happens (pesiq reishei) when you use it — use of electricity has itself become prohibited. The RJJ article’s section 2.G is a partial quote of RSZA’s position; it talks about how he concludes that electricity does not inherently involve any melakhah, but it doesn’t mention the bit about his considering it prohibited anyway. And the included parenthetic about his worries of making a mistake make it more misleading. The rest of section the section after the quote, not the quote itself, is more in line with his position.

      • Elon Weintraub

        I am aware of his actual position and also what he wrote on other issues. I was talking about their distorted one.

  12. Igor B

    Thanks for your writing. I think you have a different impression of the people you are dealing with, meaning the app makers. I would venture that he is Orthodox from a more modern background than you imagine, and it could be he is well meaning from his perspective. Keep up the good work of trying to explain the issues but try to keep it respectful.

    Be well!

  13. Regarding the tone of some of my responses, I have indeed debated with myself about it. Regretfully, I do not believe the intentions of the people involved in the development are pure. If you go through their website carefully you will see that there basic attitude towards Halacha, in general and Rabbinical authority in particular, is dismissive at best if not subversive.
    I have been discussing this with my high school students – for whom these issues are extremely relevant – on a daily basis. They and hundreds, if not thousands, of other teens are following these discussions. I do not want them getting the incorrect impression that the discussion is being had on equal footing. It is important they know that the sources and names being quoted by the developers are being done in a skewed and/or unknowledgeable way.
    This is not a Halachik argument between 2 legitimate approaches. It is an argument between a Halachik approach presented from within the framework of Halacha and software developers who are trying to market and sell a product. I think the motivation of each side is essential to the core discussion.

    I am aware that I may be alienating some people with some of the things I’ve said but I can tell you for a fact that it has had the desired affect on many readers and followers of the debate. They have gone from being all excited about this to saying – ‘these guys aren’t serious guys and don’t really know what they are talking about. They are just trying to get teens who text on Shabbat to buy their app’.
    I’m willing to ruffle a few feathers for an outcome like that.

    Wishing all of Am Yisrael a Gmar Chatima Tova and may Yom Kippur serve as a day of true reflection, atonement and forgiveness.

    • Hanlon’s Razor:
      “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

      (I would have said “ignorance”.)

      Or as Goethe put it:
      “…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.”

      And Bernard Ingram wrote in the Otago Daily Times (New Zealand, 1985):
      “Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”

      The problem with the fact that dan lekaf zekhus doesnt’ apply to resha’im is that one had to establish that the person is a rasha BEFORE deciding the rule doesn’t apply. It can only work with second and subsequent sins. Even an explicit incriminating statement is of limited value for establishing that someone is a rasha, because ein adam meisim atzmo rasha.

  14. Roni

    Rabbi Spitz wins. All other arguments are valid, but less valid. Long live YOC.

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