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.

(SEE IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW 4 CORRESPONDENCES BETWEEN MYSELF AND THE APP DEVELOPERS)

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It’s time to rethink Slichot!

I’ve always found Slichot (Penitential Prayers) difficult for a variety of reasons: the poetic (and archaic) language of the Piyutim, the speed in which they are usually said, the rote recitation of something intended to be contemplative and even the challenging hours of when they are traditionally said. I’ve always felt there was a bit of a charade going on during Slichot, with a false sense of piety replacing the individual self reflection which the Slichot are meant to express and evoke.

This year, my uneasiness with the Slichot – as it is commonly practiced – has become even greater after deciding to take a closer look at the Piyutim. Though the most important component of Slichot is the recitation of “the 13 attributes of mercy” the Piyutim have come to play an important role as well. Written primarily between the 11th and 14th century, the Piyutim focus on sin and confession, remorse and punishment as well as hope for forgiveness and redemption. Many of them combine ‘scenes’ from Tanach, Misdrah as well as references to historical events. Seemingly, these are perfect features to be focusing on as interludes between the 13 attributes, as they confront us with a picture of ourselves – as individuals and a community – and what is lacking. Even if the language and rhyming are difficult to understand, one can still hopefully get the general idea. And even if one doesn’t, I believe there is (or can be) value in the ceremony for the sake of the ceremony – continuing a long standing tradition, and the feeling of additional spiritual effort as individuals and a community.

Until I started reading the Piyutim and not just saying them in a mantra-like fashion. Just a few, of many, examples (the translations are my own): On the first night we say: “מאז ועד עתה אנו נידחים נהרגים נשחטים ונטבחים. שורדנו מתי מעט בין קוצים כסוחים, עיננו כלות בלי מצוא רווחים”-“And from then until now we are dispersed, murdered, slaughtered, and butchered. In small numbers we have survived among dead thorns (the nations) our eyes yearn without finding any relief”.

On the second night we say: זעם כרגע ועתה להיפוך זרי קודש עתה לשיפוך חביבת רע כקרן הפוך חשובה עזובה כקורעת בפוך – “A moments anger is now reversed (to longstanding anger) holly crowns are now spilled (the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship are now desecrated). A beloved friend (Am Yisrael) like a ‘vessel of beauty’, now considered as one who is deserted and ‘rips their clothes’ (as a prostitute)”.

On the third night: “כל היום עליך הרוגים לכפרה אין אנו משיגים” – “the entire day we are killed on you(r name because) we have not achieved atonement”. The following Piyut states: “פחודים הם מכל צרות ממחרפיהם ומלוחציהם” – “they are afraid of all calamities, of those who curse and oppress them”.1919 June Brit Jews march vs Polish pogroms

On the fourth night: “איה כל נפלאותיך הגדולות והנוראות אשר ספרו לנו אבותנו ה’ צבאות”  – “where are all your great and terrible wonders(!) which our forefathers told us about Hashem of Hosts”. A few stanzas later: “מעת לעת צרתי מרובה” – “from day to day our plight increases”.

On the fifth night: “איויתיך קיויתיך מארץ מרחקים” – “I yearn and hope for you from a distant land”. In the following Piyut: “והם שחים ומושפלים עד מאד מהר יקדמונו רחמיך כי דלונו מאד” – “and they are exceedingly lowly and disgraced, may your mercy come hastily because we are dwindled (and cannot bare the hardship of exile)”.

On the sixth night: “ארכו הימים ודבר חזון ארמון נוטש וחדל פרזון” – “Lengthened are the days (of exile) and (lack of fulfillment of) words of redemption. The palace-deserted (Beit Hamikdash) and open cities (of Israel) – have ceased”.

On the seventh day: “מתי תחיינו ומתהומות תעלנו” – “When will you revive us and bring us up (to the land) from the depths (of exile”.

On Erev Rosh Hashana: “העיר הקודש והמחוזות היו לחרפה ולביזות וכל מחמדיה טבועות וגנוזות ואין שיור רק התורה הזאת” – “The holy city and its suburbs have been disgraced, all its treasures sunk and hidden and there is nothing left but this Torah”.

The common thread to all these quotes (and there are many more) is this: how can they possibly be uttered in today’s day and age? how are they not the gravest of insults and show of ungratefulness towards Hashem, who has – in this generation -brought us back to the Land of Israel, to sovereignty, to military and economic self sufficiency, to the flourishing of agriculture, Torah scholarship and technological advances? in short – to redemption? These statements are not being said in past tense. They are being said in the same fashion in which they were written – as a reflection of the current state of the Jewish People. As if nothing has changed. Is there a greater חוצפה כלפי שמיא than that? How can the denial of Hashem’s Chessed be expected to serve as a tool of self reflection and repentance? How can one hope to get close to Hashem through ingratitude?

סמל מדינת ישראל=ויקיפדיה---

Of course it is important to always remember the hardships we experiences and their causes. Of course not everything has been rectified but – on Pesach, would we consider for even a second saying עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים (we were slaves in Egypt) without adding ויוציאנו ה’ אלוהנו משם ביד חזקה (and Hashem our God took us out of there with a strong arm)? Would we fathom to only discuss the terrible slavery without the redemption that followed? We are not talking about formal Tfilot and prayers which have strict rules and warnings about change (although I most definitely do not recite the traditional version of נחם on Tisha B’av but that is a topic for a separate post), rather on Piyutim, which are not the central part of Slichot which in itself does not have nearly the status of formal Tfila (even if it is fashioned after its model).

The are 2 possibilities I can think of for how people can continue saying these Piyutim, or at least sentences of these sort in the Piyutim:

Option 1 – People don’t pay attention, or mean, what they say in Tfila, let alone in Slichot.

Option 2 – People choose (knowingly or not) to stay in a state of perpetual trauma. A psychosis, in which ghosts of the past are conjured into their perception reality. (Why would people do this? is it an escape mechanism for not having to deal with the truth and the obligations that would bring with it? is it an emotional inability to process the truth with its challenge of the familiar? maybe a topic for a different post).

Either way – neither of these possibilities bode well for us as we enter The Days of Awe, days which require sincerity towards ourselves and sincerity towards Hashem, days, during which we spend hours in Tfila, speaking to Hashem and to ourselves about what is true and what is false about our past, present and future.

 

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What a Jewish Commander sounds like!

Colonel Ofer Winter was recently appointed the commander of the Givati infantry Brigade. On July 9th he issued the below command to the commanders and soldiers of the entire brigade.

Reading it makes we proud beyond description that we have commanders issuing such statements and entire brigades accepting and being motivated by them. Blessed are the people who these are their commanders and blessed are the people who these are their soldiers!

Shabbat Shalom to all of Am Yisrael, The soldiers of the IDF, the Givati Brigade and Colonel Ofer Winter!

(Below is a photo of the Hebrew original. Any mistakes and inaccuracies in the translation are mine alone – I did my best, though some of the “heart” of the phrasings are lost in translation!)


 

11 Tamuz 5774     Givati Symbol

July 9 2014

              Commander’s Message for Battle

Operation Protective Edge

 

Dear commanders and soldiers,

 

A tremendous merit has befallen us to command and serve in the Givati brigade at this time.

History has chosen us to serve as the spearhead of this battle against the Gazian terrorist enemy who curse, taunt and scorn the ‘God of the battles of Israel’. We have prepared and readied ourselves for this moment and we accept this mission upon ourselves with a sense of complete humility and Shlichut and with the readiness to endanger ourselves and give our lives to protect our families, our nation and our homeland.

 

Together, we will operate with determination and might, initiative and strategy, we will drive to contact with the enemy. We will do everything to fulfill our mission, to destroy the enemy and to remove the threat from The Jewish People. By us, we “do not return without completing the mission”.

We will operate and do everything to return our boys home safely. Through use of all our available resources and any necessary force.

 

I trust you, every single one of you, to operate in this spirit, the spirit of Israeli warriors who go forward ahead of the camp. “The spirit whose name is Givati”. I raise my eyes to heaven. And call with you “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elohenu Hashem Echad”. Hashem, God of Israel, succeed our ways which we are about to impart on to fight for the sake of your people Israel against an enemy who defiles your name.

In the name of the fighters of the IDF and specifically the fighters of the brigade and the commanders. Make it so the words of the verse will come true for us: “For Hashem, your God, is the One Who goes with you to fight for you with your enemies, to save you”, and we will say Amen.

 “Together, and only together, we will win”

Ofer Winter, Colonel

Commander of the Givati Brigade


 

Here’s a word version of the translation Colonel Ofer Winter English

And here’s a copy of the original in Hebrew:

 

OferWinterHebrew

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Ideas for a creative Sedder

Not cSedderontent with the simple rote recitation of The Hagadah? Want to make it an actual multi-generational Jewish learning/growth experience? Want to have a Sedder which will stimulate and excite your children?

There are a lot of ideas out there but here are some of my favorites which I’ve actually tried:

1. Start again. After everyone is finally situated in their designated seat, Head of Sedder (HOS) goes to the front door, opens it and urgently calls everyone to quickly come outside to see something. When they  arrive HOS says : “Imagine that right now we would get up and just leave our houses. Leave to go to Israel/Jerusalem/Har HaBayit. Just grab our suitcases and go. Everywhere in the world, right now, all Jews are sitting down to remember when The Jewish People left Egypt. Let’s do the same. Everyone head back in; We’re now ready to start our Sedder”.

 

2. Move Maggid away from the dining room to the living room. Children sit on the carpet or mattresses in center while adults sit on the sofas/armchairs. You will be amazed how this can transform the Maggid from a ritual to an actual family discussion/activity (Make sure to bring your cup of wine with you).

 

3. Encourage questioning. Throughout the Sedder every question (or answer) said by a child – awards them a chocolate chip to be placed in small baggie. Kids may eat them throughout Maggid, but whoever has the most chips by the end- gets a prize. (Other options are tiny marshmallows or, small notes that say “Good Job”).

 

4. Q-cards. Under each plate place a card which has on it information to be used at variant times during the Sedder. Examples:

1) An individual “special” word – whenever this word is recited in the reading, the person needs to yell out: “Pesach, Matzah and Maror!”

2) A character from the Pesach story – when there is a lul in the story, pick random participant, who needs to either act out his character, or answer 21 questions until the other participants guess his identity (don’t forget all the animal characters from חד גדיא!)

 

5. Experience slavery. Immediately after מה נשתנה, bring out blocks and tell the kids to each build a building to a certain height. As they build, Head of the Seder (HOS) makes suggestions of improvements. Upon completion, HOS instructs to ruin and re-do better. When they start re-building, HOS takes a more aggressive attitude, bossing them around about how to build the building. After the kids get upset (or even cry) HOS stops and explains that this is similar to what happened in מצרים, it started off mild and gradually changed into slavery. Continue with עבדים היינו.

 

6. Four sons.

1)     Ask each participant to identify which son they are and why (can be both a serious as well as a bit of a silly conversation). Adults can share which kind of “son” they were when they were kids…

2)     The 4 sons through the ages. Download and print out enough versions of The Four Sons collectioFour sonsn, based on which you can have many fascinating discussion with participants, of all ages. Sample questions:

i. Identify who is each son in the various depictions of the four sons. How do you know?

ii.  What are some of the differences between the various depictions of the various sons? (for adults – what do these differences mean?)

iii. Which depiction is you favorite? Why?

iv. Which depiction best describes our family?

v. (For adults:

– What is common to all the depictions on the 3rd page?  A: they carry strong ideological statements – Zionist, anti-enlightenment and anti-socialist

– What is common to all the depictions on the last page?            A: they depict whole families, not only sons

7. The Plagues

1) Each child acts out 2 pre-assigned plagues and the other kids have to guess what it is.

2) Blood – Ask for “Jewish” and “Egyptian” volunteers to demonstrate the plague of Blood. Prepare 2 non see-through cups, one of which should have at the bottom red food coloring. Make a spectacle of pouring clear water from same jar into the “Jewish cup” and then the “Egyptian cup”, hand to them and ask them to describe what they see. HOS explains that the same water stayed water for us but when was used by the Egyptians- became blood.

3) Darkness. Split kids into “Jews” and “Egyptians”. Blindfold “Egyptians”, who need to protect their chocolate chips from the “Jews”, who want to “borrow” them. HOS explains that this is what happened in מצרים- the Egyptians couldn’t see anything and the Jews could. The Jews went into the Egyptians homes to take treasures as compensation for their hard work.

 

8. Elijah’s cup. Have someone sneak out of the room a couple of minutes before Elijahs cup. This person leaves house and stands outside the door with his head covered with a Tallit. When children open the door – Elijah walks in, walks silently (remaining hooded) to the table, bends down enough to fool that he is drinking (while making sure to spill some of it) and then leaves.

 

Word to the wise:

1. Different activities are appropriate for different ages

2. Change the activity to fit your “clientele”

3. If you find one that the kids love – do it again. It’s worth the time

4. Choose wisely how many “special” activities to do. You don’t want overkill. I recommend choosing the 3 or four you think will work best.

5. These ideas are not meant to replace the traditional Sedder, rather to enhance it; to evoke more interest and engagement in the readings and observances.

 

Chag Same’ach VeKasher!

(Feel free to add in things you’ve actually done and seen succeed)

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An Agnostic Rabbi?

agnosticismThis post will focus on the difference between what we mean when we say “God” and what we mean when we say “Hashem”. I will explain why when it comes to ‘God’, as refereed to in popular culture, literature and conversation – I am an agnostic, which is less a dramatic statement than it may seem. In the middle, I will touch upon Passover’s evil son as well as ‘the most important idea in the Torah’.

‘What we mean when we say God’
If you were to ask most people, including most Jews what they mean when they say “God”, they would most probably answer – “a higher power”, “the creator”, “supreme being” or even “original cause”. It is this God that most proofs for God’s existence discuss and it is this God that I am, personally, unsure about. Over the years I’ve read hundreds, possibly thousands, of pages on proofs and counter proofs for the existence of God and can summarize them by saying this – it was a very interesting read. An enjoyable intellectual endeavour. No less but also no more. A day I was intellectually stimulated by a strong “pro God” argument was no different than the day I understood how Imanuel Kant pulled the rug from beneath all metaphysics, including the possibility of proofs for God’s existence. With regard to this God, I could quite possibly define myself as an agnostic (“a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not”). This is because there really do seem to be excellent arguments to both sides. Besides, even if I were to say that I do believe in this “prime changer/designer/causer/intelligence/ truth/concept of perfection/omnipotent being, I’m really not sure what it would mean, other than an intellectual leaning towards the arguments supporting that phrasing. This is a God whom people have to search for, speculate and make deductions about and will therefore be no more than an accidental possibility. It is not what Jews (should) mean when they say ‘God’.

What we mean when we say ‘Hashem’
Consider this: Never does Hashem introduce himself as The Creator, rather, as the God of our fathers or the one who took us out of Egypt. This is true when he introduces himself to Yitzchak (Bereshit 26:24), to Yakov (Bereshit 28:13) to Moshe (Shmot 3:6), to Am Yisrael in Har Sinai (Shmot 20:2), to the generation entering Israel (Shoftim 2:1) and to Gideon (Shoftim 6:13). Similarly, that is how he is described to others: by Moshe to Pharaoh (Shmot 5:3), by Shmuel to Am Yisrael (Shmuel 1, 12:6), Natan the prophet to David (Shmuel 2, 7:6), David to Hashem (Shmuel 2, 7:23) and Shlomo Hamelech (Melachim 1, 8:16 and 8:53).
Yehudah HaleviBased on this and more in depth analysis, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, in his famous book The Kuzari, makes a distinction between “The God of Abraham” and what he calls “The God of Aristotle”. The God of Aristotle is the Creator, the God of nature, the ’cause of causes’. A.K.A – Elohim/אלוהים – plural, the master of all forces. It is more a concept than anything else. And a philosophical concept – as interesting as it may be to those who can grasp it – holds minimal real meaning and cannot truly motivate, inspire or transform. As put so well by Albert Camus: “‘I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument.Galileo, who held a scientific truth of great importance, abjured it with the greatest ease as soon as it endangered his life”. The God of Abraham’ – Hashem – on the other hand, is described by the rabbi of the Kuzari in the following way: “I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, etc…”. ‘Hashem’ is not a concept, rather, that which we identify as the foundational element of our national (and therefore also individual) existence. That which we recognize from our historical experiences; from The Exodus and the events of Tanach all the way through the monumental events of the past century. This is not a God to speculate about, rather always present as part of our self awareness and conversation about ourselves, our destiny, our communal and private lives.

The most important idea in the Torah
Another way to present this is as follows: The most central idea in the Torah is not that God exists, that he created the world or that he controls nature. These ideas appear on almost an occasional basis, if at all. The most central concept in Tanach is the most common verse in Tanach – “Hashem spoke to… saying”. The fact that Hashem communicates directly with us, the Jewish People, that he has a unique relationship with us as revealed through his communication with us through prophecy and our historical happenings. These are not proofs of His existence, rather, this is what we mean when we say Hashem; “He who has been at the center of our historical existence and events since our national inception”. “The ‘object’ around which Jewish Existence defines itself”. “The identity in relation to which The Jewish People define their collective existence and occurrences”.

This also explains the strange attitude towards the evil son in the Passover Hagaddah: “because he removed himself from the collective – he denied the fundamental truth (of God)”. Why is the disassociation from the Jewish Collective mean he is a heretic? This is because, as Rambam states in one of his central chapters in The Guide to The Perplexed: “Emunah is not that which is uttered by the lips, rather that which is pictured in the Nefesh”. Meaning, forget about what people say they do and don’t believe. People have all kinds of silly notions of what they think they understand and believe. Don’t look at what his mouth is saying, look at what his life is saying; what kind of life is he leading? one which is consistent with the ideals, truths and behaviours of the divine, or not? and being part of the Jewish collective is just that – a life centered around the eternal relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael.

To summarize: “Does God exist?”, is not a Jewish questions and is asking a question which, even if answered, has very little real significance. “What do we mean when we say the word Hashem”, on the other hand, is a very Jewish question and its answer makes all the difference in the world as it changes how you understand who you are – as an individual and as a member of a larger entity called The Jewish People.
And what of my agnosticism and doubt regarding The Creator? well, turns out Hashem has solved this issue for me; after presenting himself to us at Har Sinai, identifying himself as the one took us out of Egypt, etc… he mentions, almost incidentally (in the context of Shabbat) that he created the Heavens and the Earth. Nu, good to know.

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