Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I answer the iPhone question Part 1

ReA reader asks: Was I right to use my iPhone on Shabbos?

Dear Letter Writer:

I agree with you about some things, but ultimately I think you were wrong to use your iPhone on Shabbos.

First, our points of agreement:

(1) You do have the right to make decisions for yourself based on what seems to matter to you at the time. This is how every human being makes decisions. The person who decides to refrain from using his iPhone on shabbos is making his decision on that basis*. You should not be denied the same privilege.

* Think about it. Those of you who keep shabbos laws do so because something about keeping those laws matters to you. It might be that you're afraid of God, or your wife, or your neighbors; or it might be because you're convinced keeping shabbos will make your life better in this world and/or the next; or it might be because you have a sense of loyalty to your upbringing on to your ancestors; or it might be something else altogether. The point, though, is that some thing, or combination of things, matters to you, and that thing - whatever it is - outweighs all the other considerations. The guy who used his iPhone on shabbos used the exact same criteria to make his decision. Getting to shul before borchu, and avoiding conflict with his wife mattered to him more than the other considerations.  The process he followed for making his decision was the same that any of us use. He got a different/unOrthodox outcome than you or I may have gotten because his values are different, but so long as no one gets hurt that's not any of our business. He's allowed to think getting to shul and pleasing his wife is more important than following the technical letter of the shabbos laws.  He;s allowed to think that having a good shabbos and a good davening matter more than refraining from operating an electronic device in private,. You don't have to agree with him about this, but he's not "wrong" -- especially because his action is victimless and private. 

(2) It's not heretical or sinful to rely on unpopular or defeated rabbinical opinions. I don't know a thing about the electricity debates of the last century, but if there was a big name who said it was OK to use electricity on shabbos, that's a legitimate halachic opinion**  You can't encourage people to follow it and perhaps you can't follow it in public or on a regular basis, but I don't see anything wrong in a cosmic or metaphysical sense with privately following a legitimate, but unpopular, rabbinic decision under specific and limited circumstances.

**Like I said I don't know anything about the electricity debates of the last century. This second point only holds water if, in fact, a big name*** ruled using electricity is permitted on shabbos. If no such big name exists the whole point is moot.

*** What's a "big name?" We're all free to answer that for ourselves. 

So why do I say you were wrong to use your iPhone on shabbos? I'll get there in a second, but first I want to say that as far as wrongs go, this one was pretty minor. There was no victim, and no witness to be corrupted or confused by your poor example. I imagine all of us sometimes break Torah and rabbinic laws in private, and for reasons far less noble than the ones you gave, so I'm not inclined to cast stones. However, I still think you made a mistake when you decided to operate your iPhone on Shabbos which I will, with the help of God, explain in the next post

FINAL WORD PART 1: I know this sounds wishy-washy but consciousnesses is wishy-washy. Different things matter to different people. Ultimately, we all do what feels right, for reasons that make sense to us at the time. The guy who used his iPhone on shabbos did the same thing.  I can't criticize that.


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