`Half Shabbos' Article Triggers Full Range Of Responses
06/24/2011 - 13:38
Gary Rosenblatt

There was nothing halfway about the response to our article this week on Orthodox teens who refer to their seeming addiction to Shabbat texting as keeping “Half Shabbos.”

Soon after it was posted online Tuesday evening and before the print edition was delivered, the story went viral, prompting dozens of comments on our website as well as many more on various blogs.

It’s the fault of pampered kids, indulgent parents, clueless teachers; you name it.

In part, the piece highlighted the gap between adults who don’t understand why youngsters seem unable to give up their cell phones for 25 hours a week, and teens who don’t understand why adults are so shocked about this habit.

The article also seemed to touch a raw nerve in an Orthodox community threatened by evolving forms of the “slippery slope” theory, in which seemingly minor infractions of halacha could lead to more serious ones.

This case is unusual on several levels, though.

While texting on Shabbat is as serious a religious prohibition as, say, driving a car, most of the teen texters would not even consider tooling around the neighborhood on Friday night (even if they were old enough). They either rationalize that texting isn’t so bad, or are so addicted that they simply can’t stop.

Surprisingly few if any adults in the community are denying that the situation is very real, with the head of the Orthodox youth group NCSY acknowledging “it’s a big problem.” Just what percentage of teens are offenders is up for debate, though.

And then there is the relatively low-key approach parents and school administrators seem to have in response to teen texting, recognizing that pushing too hard may find the youngsters turned off to observance altogether.

Difficult as it may be, discussion/debate is healthy because the deeper issues here relate to parental involvement in their teens’ lives (to which, they acknowledge they may be unaware), and making Shabbat a more active and positive experience, and not just a litany of prohibitions.

I know one precocious five-year-old from an observant home who wanted to draw pictures on Shabbat and, when gently reminded that “Hashem says we shouldn’t draw on Shabbat,” replied: “Hashem is the master of the universe; what does He care if I draw?”

Good question.

Do we have good answers?


view counter

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


You know its intresting that this has not reached Israel. You know maybe becuase of the honest nature of Children, they understand that living in Galut and forsaking the "Good Land" is a deep betrayal of the Torah and the Living God, who in his great mercy is allowing us to easily reutrn to the Land of Israel if we so choose. How can a child wake up every morning and daven and read every morning from Divre Hayamim "Forever remember His covenant that he commanded forever; That He made with Abraham and swore to Isaac; and confirmed to Jacob, a decree for Israel, as an eternal covenant; saying to You I will give the Land of Cannan (Israel) as your allotted heritage" and stay faithful? They know we mention Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim in about every bracha except for maybe asher yatzar, they know that ever ritual is zecher l’mikdash and that the entire Torah is geared towards Eretz Yisrael! The children know the entire thing is a farce, so they will have no problem picking up the phone. They only strengthen when they come to Eretz Yisrael, because they momentarily step out from the great lie.

I do not undersand, I grew up before cell phones, but we had tv, radio even nentendo came out when I was a kid, but we did not use it on shabbat. I never had an urge to watch TV on shabbat, my house growing up was filled with the joy of shabbat and as a I grew up (after getting a cell) I began to appreaciate being able to put down for 35 hours. It was refreshing. Put aside is it min hatorah, dirabanan or uvda lchol (I think the latter) at the end of the day our society runs on technology and if we were to use technology on shabbat, well there goes shabbat. Children have to be made to undertsand that.

I am one of the aforementioned texters. Most of my peers don't think anything of it, mainly because it is accepted. Driving on shabbat and eating treif, for example, are widely considered unacceptable, so are rarely done. But, do not think it is limited to texting - we are also surfing the Internet watching videos on shabbat, having physical relationships, eating things that are likely nonkosher, but not overtly treif, and the list goes on. These are all fairly inconspicuous, and therefore accepted and sans guilt. Many of us stop after going to Israel, and only a small % "progress" to less observance.
If anything, the issue isnt about what kids do. The issue is about what being jewish means to us, as Jews. And frankly, we don't think most of the orthodox community is in it for the devotion to hashem. We get the "beauty" of shabbat and appreciate the lifestyle observant jews lead, but it has little to do with god. Its about community and tradition, and the comfort that affords us, and that is what keeps us all going. Shabbat texting does nothing to remove that comfort, so we do it. Just like our parents have kiddish clubs, "loshin harah" gossip sessions during meals and all afternoon, devotion to $$ and status, and a plethora of other inconspicuous accepted practices that let them revel in the comforts of a cohesive, close community where God isn't really a forethought.
Thats why NCSY and the year in Israel works so well - you are surrounded by rabbis and leaders who are focused soley on God. There arent any goosip sessions, Lexuses, McMansions, Johnny Walker Blue label at kiddush clubs and other vestiges of mundane Godlessness.

So calm down about the texters. Focus on everyone.

The way 'us Orthodox' daven is the root of this (and many of our) evils.
The speedy davening, destroying kaddish-es,the talking, and in the sticks, yes the cellphones.
We are so very frum and so little erlicht.
And we disavow it all with the innumerable heterim for our tzibors,
or that every generation declines, it is inevitable, and
Moshiach will pull us out of it.

No hishtadlus for the adults, none from the kinder either.

We need to be a light unto ourselves before we can even hope to be a light unto the nations.

Actually, the halachic status of texting was never asked and never answered. It's just assumed by unreflective leaders and sheep-like followers that it is forbidden under the blanket of "electric" or "technology" and "writing". Perhaps some thoughtful leaders should take another look at the practices in question and permit them. For many teens and adults texting is akin to talking to a friend or waving at someone, certainly we would never try to stop people from communicating altogether in the name of sanctity of the sabbath day. It's time religious leaders try taking a look at what is permitted and positive in our lives and stop being so negative and prohibitive.

There are two things that bother me about the article about texting on Shabbas. The phrase "half Shabbas" seems to allow some non permitted activities on Shabbas. Do we use the term half kosher or half shomer ngiah?Texting is not permitted on Shabbas and therefore the term Mechallel Shabbas would be more appropriate. Secondly,what other melacha are teens that text on Shabbas doing? It would be hard to imagine that one that texts on Shabbas has three Shabbas meals, is in shul for three tefillot, and then in the afternoon is texting. When one does a survey on this topic, the more data and information received will be helpful in figuring out who is texting on Shabbas and why. As a parent of teens, and a Rebbe in a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva, we need to be good, religous role models for teens.

From a Halachic perspective, there is a significant difference between driving a car and texting on shabbat. Igniting a combustion engine is most certainly in violation of one of the 39 forbidden acts on shabbat--mavir--igniting. Texting on a cell-phone is arguably only a rabbinic prohibition, based on the rabbis extension of one or several of the 39 melachot, but not necessarily in direct violation.

Yes, it may be "only" a rabbinic prohibition. But we are forbidden from violating a rabbinic prohibition as well. The only real difference is that if we are "forced" to violate a prohibition due to a live-saving requirement, it is better to violate a rabbinic prohibition than a Torah prohibition. Otherwise, practically speaking, there is no difference. Rabbinic prohibitions are not optional!

Larry -

Perhaps teens are supposed to be "Spoiled, self centered teens... who find it difficult to interrupt a constant flow of superficial communication." Recent studies in teenage neurobiology seem to indicate that the teen years corresponds to a surge in neurological development that is connected to social interaction. If our teens are desperately exploring social networks (and texting is a huge new tool there), we are failing to find a way to bring G-d into that network.

When I was a teen, NCSY was a huge success (at least in the South where I grew up) at inspiring teens to love shabbos as an intense, socially stimulating day of the week - singing, groups, and all sorts of activities - some weekly, some more intense at shabbatons. Many nominally religious families had their shabbos reinvigorated by their NSCY teen.

Not NCSY specifically, but perhaps our teens could benefit from something a bit more inspirational than what we offer them now.

Please don't be so uptight. There is nothing wrong with using a cell phone on Shabbat. It runs on batteries.