Digital conundrums

Mark Mietkiewicz
Mark Mietkiewicz

The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Rabbis have long grappled with how to apply halacha (Jewish law) to modern situations. But sometimes questions come along that make our scholars scratch their heads. Here is a look at some Jewish digital conundrums — and possible solutions. Please remember that any rulings should be discussed with an authority who is well-versed on the situation and the halachic issues involved.

If you like rabbis who get to the point, you’ll love Shlomo Aviner. His tweet-length responses address a wide variety of halachic queries, including tech-related ones. A sampling:

Q: Is it permissible to try on shoes in a store to know the right size so that I can order them on the Internet?
A: You should request permission in the store.

Q: Is it possible to sell chametz over the Internet?
A: Yes. It is a form of appointing an agent.

Q: My wife caught me looking at immodest sites on the Internet and feels that I have betrayed her. What should I do?
A: She is right. You must pacify her. This will take time. It is similar to a broken arm which requires both a cast and time to heal.

Q: Is it permissible to download things from the Internet for free when they are for sale elsewhere?
A: It is forbidden because of copyright laws.

In fairness, the rabbi does address some topics at length such as the previous question in an essay titled, Don’t Copy (

Many of the contemporary questions at focus on the Internet. For example, if it’s not Shabbat where you are located and you want to check out a website located where it is the day of rest, are you permitted? The response: it depends. If the website is automated and is not staffed by Jews, there’s no problem. However, if you are benefitting from the efforts of Jews who are working on Shabbat, you should stay clear.

Check out for its take on webcams, downloads and online financial transactions which take place on Shabbat (

Judaism values prayer in a minyan (quorum). But if you’re alone, can you have a virtual reality minyan with other worshippers all praying simultaneously? The Ohr Somayach rabbi quotes from the Shulchan Aruch, a 16th-century codification of Jewish law: “We require that all 10 be in one place and the shliach tzibbur (prayer leader) must be with them.” So if you want to be counted, you’ve got to show up. However, the rabbi mentions that if due to extenuating circumstances someone is not able to attend an “already existing minyan,” there is an established tradition of attempting to pray at the same time as the group. The lone worshipper could take advantage of technology to align himself with a local congregation (

Mi Yodeya (Who Knows) is more of a clearinghouse for discussion and debate about the intersection between halacha and technology. The answers aren’t definitive and the back-and-forth arguments seem reminiscent of traditional Jewish disputations. Here are some topics:

• If your neighbor has Wi-Fi, can you connect into it? Is there an issue of stealing?

• What are the halachot of identity theft or misrepresentation online?

• Is participating on a teacher rating site a violation of lashon hora (laws of derogatory speech)?

• If a corporation responds to your complaint, can you publish their response online?

• Is it acceptable to use software that blocks ads?

• Can you Skype /phone  text your future spouse during the week before the wedding when you are not supposed to see each other face-to-face (

Next time: is your iPhone sacred?

To see the complete January 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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