Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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

From the old email bag:
Ok, DovBear, I am sure your high minded readers are going to say I committed a terrible sin in the story I am about to share, but I hold I made the right decision, and I think you'll agree.
Here's what happened.

The wife, some kids, and I spent shabbos in a small suburban hotel in an unfamiliar neighborhood. (Don't ask; long story; not your business) Pre-shabbos I googled for shuls, and found two. One was nearby and started at 8:30; the other was about a mile away and started at 9:30 (though the guy who answered my email helpfully added "We never really get moving before 9:45.") So, obviously I chose "nearby" and davened there on Friday night and found it swell. So I forgot all about the second shul.

Until I woke up Shabbos morning after 9:00. Now, let me explain to you something important about myself. I hate showing up late for anything, but I loath and despise walking into shul after the Torah is out. I find it embarrassing and nearly pointless. Half the service is over. So my snap decision when I saw how late it was was to roll over and go back to sleep. Sure, I'd miss musaf, but I'd also spare myself humiliation, and I'd be able to say shachris without rushing. My wife had other ideas. Let me explain to you something about her. She thinks showing up to shul on shabbos is the single most important thing a Jew can do. She knows this isn't true in a technical sense, but she feels its true in the strongest emotional sense. She also feels sleeping in on Saturday sets a horrible example for the kids. Now, generally I agree with her, and almost never miss shul, but it was already really late.

Then I remembered: The second shul. They start at 9:45! I can still get there before borchu! Only, where the heck are they? Unfamiliar neighborhood. Remember? With my wife glowering at me, and the minutes ticking away, I was feeling serious pressure. Then I remembered something else. The email from the second shul included an address and directions. When my wife went to the bathroom, I reached for the iPhone and quickly checked the message.

Here are some more things you should know about me. I'm 100 percent shomer shabbos. I don't drive. I don't cook. I don't turn on lights. But I made an exception that morning, because of a few things that were going through my mind:  (1) Its REALLY important to my wife that I get to shul. If I miss the minyan, it will absolutely ruin her day (and mine, too) (2) Getting to shul is also really important to me! Minyan, kaddish, kedusha, krias hatorah -- I take all those things seriously. (3) Setting a good example for my kids is also important and, most important of all (4) Using an iPhone on shabbos is only borderline forbidden. I say this based on the following (I'm not a scholar, but this was the truth as I understood it that morning):

100 years ago the rabbis debated about using electricity on shabbos and if I remember correctly a few serious names thought it was ok when heat or light weren't generated. The iPhone generates neither and if as recently as 100 years ago some big name Rabbis thought using electricity on shabbos was ok, how serious an offense can this really be?

Now, I'm not advocating for all Orthodox Jews to start using their iPhones on shabbos. I understand that this would ruin the spirit of shabbos, and cause all sorts of cultural problems. I think the rules should stay as they are. But I am also growing more and more certain that I made the right move that shabbos morning, or at least the right move for me.  I think its perfectly ok for reasonable people (like me) to make private decisions (like that one) based on the things that seem to matter and make sense at the time. Sure, its also a good idea to talk things over with a knowledgeable expert like a Rabbi when one is available, but doing your best with what you have isn't a terrible alternative.

Ok, long letter done. DovBear do you agree?
[Posted with permission]

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