Is your iPhone sacred?
The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, The Dayton Jewish Observer
When it comes to the intersection of halacha (Jewish law) and mobile technology, some queries are quite serious. Others are posed with the tongue planted firmly in one’s cheek.
Q. Can I bring my iPhone into the bathroom?
A. This question was fielded by Rabbi Adam Schwartz, rabbinical counsel for Rustybrick.com, one of the leading creators of Jewish apps.
Holy Scriptures, such as a Torah scroll, have implicit holiness. Although text displayed on a LED screen is not considered a halachic text, it is not appropriate for one to have the text displayed in a restroom, for it may cause people to think about or say what they are reading, which is also prohibited in an unclean place.
However, since the text on the iPhone is stored internally on a flash memory drive, it’s not considered halachic writing — just electronically charged ones and zeros which has no sacred status whatsoever.
So, you may bring your iPhone into a restroom, just be careful not to read any of the content while there (http://bit.ly/jdigital5).
Q. Similarly, are you allowed to erase God’s name on a cellphone?
A. Relax. Most religious authorities rule that God’s “name written on a screen can be erased and they have no sanctity as the pixels which make up the letters on a computer screen are being refreshed many times a second and are considered to be more virtual than real (http://bit.ly/jdigital6).”
And the questions keep on coming. These, however, come from the site frumsatire.net:
• If your iPhone drops while you are using the Siddur (prayer book app), do you have to kiss it?
• Can one leyn (chant) from an iPad Torah?
• Can you use a smart phone application to check lettuce for bugs (http://bit.ly/jdigital7)?
One modern phenomenon tied to mobile platforms which is no laughing matter is a trend called “half Shabbat (or Shabbos),” in which teenagers who generally observe the day continue to send text messages on Shabbat.
For a very good overview of the halachic and social implications, I recommend two articles from the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action. Jonathan Rosenblum has written Half Shabbos is No Shabbos (http://bit.ly/jdigital8). And in Is Half-Shabbos Really No Shabbos? Rabbi Shalom Baum responds that, “We do not tell one who has tragically violated even several prohibited activities to throw in the towel with regard to observing the rest of Shabbat (http://bit.ly/jdigital9).”
In his essay, The Use of Electrical and Electronic Devices on Shabbat, Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary takes a break from examining the halachic intricacies to address the impact technology has on the spirit of the day. “Contemporary families spend much of their time together focused on individual electronic devices. Faces lit by glowing screens large and small, ears attached to headphones, they busily interact with friends and strangers across the world while making minimal contact with the people around them. Shabbat can and should be different (http://bit.ly/jdigital10).”
Nevins adds, “Shabbat can be a day to reclaim interactive entertainments occurring in real time without the mediation of technology. Focusing on the people around us rather than on communication with those far away creates a powerful sense of community which is not virtual.”
Mark Mietkiewicz may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.