The Shabbos App (Yes it is Real)

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The Shabbos App was introduced to the world this week. A lot of people think it’s a hoax. It’s not. It’s very, very real.

Several people asked me what I thought about the app and I wanted to speak with someone at the Shabbos App before I wrote anything. I had a nice conversation with one of the people working on the app and feel comfortable writing about the app, their ambitions, and the consequences.

Almost everyone working on the app is Shomer Shabbos. This is not a subversive attempt to ruin Shabbat or pull people away from Orthodox Judaism. Rather, the app is for Orthodox Jews who want to observe Shabbat and use their smartphones. The developers spent considerable time and effort researching halachic reasoning and opinions on the subject. They know what they are doing and what they are up against.

I am not an expert on these matters.halfshabbos1-635x355 I have studied them several times in various forums, so I am familiar with the general principles and arguments. Do not rely on anything I say here.

Briefly, the issue of electricity on Shabbat is not simple. Every Orthodox Jew knows that it’s prohibited. Many know about the psak of the Chazon Ish who prohibited electricity based on the melacha (Biblically forbidden creative activity) of boneh (building) because activating an electric device involves completing a circuit which is a form of building. Many people also know that this is not considered an accurate description of electricity or boneh by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rabbi Auerbach famously concluded that although there is no particular forbidden labor that precludes use of electricity per se; it is forbidden because that has become the accepted halachic tradition in Orthodox Judaism. At most, this would be a Rabbinic prohibition.

This rule applies to electricity in general. There are electrical devices that can violate possible Biblical prohibitions. Using a microwave might be bishul, or lighting an incandescent bulb might be mav’ir. Smartphones raise another set of issues which are particular to modern personal electronics. I don’t think any of these would be Biblical prohibitions either. The greatest obstacle is probably tikun maneh or makeh b’patish, but these issues have already been handled with regard to electrical appliances that use a Sabbath (really Yom Tov) Mode. Once again, the Shabbos App team is comfortable navigating these areas of halacha. The problems raised by draining battery, writing, lighting the screen, generating sounds, and charging can be circumvented with technological workarounds. The Shabbos App does all this by running in the background of the smartphone and controlling those problem areas in a way that prevents the issues. Apparently, the Android OS is more flexible in this regard and thus presents a more robust solution. But even in Apple iOS, the app is functional and would potentially avoid all violations of Rabbinic prohibitions.

So it is real. And it actually does what they say it does. At least in terms of the technical aspects of halacha, it seems to avoid violating Shabbat prohibitions according to accepted halachic opinions.

The motivations of the Shabbos App team are genuine and holy. There are people who use smartphones on Shabbat right now. The way they use them is more likely to incur serious halachic problems. As a consequence, those who use them often feel very guilty. ย Not to say that they shouldn’t feel this way, but guilt can morph into a form of religious self-loathing that triggers further departures from observance in other areas. This is a terrible result. The Shabbos App might assuage some of that guilt and keep more people in the fold. They might be right about that too. I am also very sympathetic to the emotional needs of people struggling with observance and I can corroborate the guilt slicked journey off the path. I am not expressing an opinion on the importance of this effort, or whether it outweighs considerations in the other direction. But it’s a valid concern. Further, if it is permissible to use a smartphone in this manner, then maybe they actually should be used.

So far, the objections to the app carry a familiar tune. In essence, the problem with the Shabbos App is that even if it is halachically acceptable, it will ruin the spirit of Shabbat. I am sympathetic to this point of view as well. There is something beautiful about avoiding technology on Shabbat. Recently I advocated using the digital fast concept as a social benefit to keeping Shabbat on this blog. I think it might be worth turning off our devices for Shabbat even if devices were permissible. However, Rabbi Heinemann addressed this concern when similar objections were raised against his Sabbath Mode ovens. His response was that if something is permissible then it can’t ruin the spirit of Shabbat. There’s no such thing. He supported his position by noting that when the Aruch HaShulchan or Rabbi Auerbach permitted the use of telephones on Shabbat the spirit of Shabbat was not a concern. Further, when they backtracked and prohibited the use of phones on Shabbat, they did not hang their hats on the spirit of Shabbat. Telephones were prohibited based on halachic concerns, not spirit of Shabbat concerns. When I asked the Shabbos App developer what Shabbat would look like if everyone would be using their smartphones, his answer reflected this sensibility. He said “Shabbat will look the way Hashem wants it to look!”

What’s going to happen when the app is released? Almost all Orthodox rabbis will prohibit it. That’s almost a near certainty. But what will the people do? Most adults will listen to their rabbis. I suspect that younger demographics might consider the Shabbos App. If they do, they will probably need to hide their smartphone use. I can’t see Orthodox Judaism adopting the app and its halachic implications en masse in the near future. But it is possible that as we become more and more dependent on technology, especially passive technology, there will be a natural movement toward greater leniency. If that does happen, I think we might look back on the Shabbat App and see it as a catalyst for that change. In the meantime, I don’t expect any significant change in the way Orthodox Jews think about smartphones, but at the very least we will be forced to talk about these issues with more halachic rigor and discussion. That is definitely a good thing.

Links: Shabbos App, Summary of Opinions on Electricity on Shabbat, VIN article.

  • avrahamb

    To be fair, Rav Moshe Feinstein, z”l, famously limited the use of electronic timers on Shabbat because of the concern that eventually everything would be automated, and it would be impossible to distinguish Shabbat from a weekday.

    • Apparently, Rabbi Heinemann doesn’t take that very seriously.

      • DF

        If R. Heineman said it as blithely as you paraphrase it, then he’s simply wrong. Of course this app will ruin the spirit of Shabbos for whoever uses it. And of course telephones would have ruined it also. Don’t tell me you think otherwise. You can quote whom you’d like, but obvious is obvious.

        • MarkSoFla

          “Of course this app will ruin the spirit of Shabbos for whoever uses it.”

          How exactly will it destroy the spirit of shabbos for whoever uses it? Give us some specific examples of how it will destroy the spirit of your shabbos.

          • JimChaplin

            Yeah, as I mentioned in a different thread, having the ability to call someone up on the phone when I know they are available would enhance my Shabbos, not detract it.

            Plus, there’s a lot of seforim & torah available on the internet that isn’t accessible on Shabbos. Sure, if people use it for gashmiut (which is likely the main reason), DF is mostly correct. It would be similar to the eruv argument in many communities IMO.

            • Enhancing your day (even if spiritually) is not the same thing as being in the spirit of Shabbos. If the spirit of Shabbos is to move your focus away from “doing” (hence melacha being defined in terms of creativity), then encouraging use of a device that is meant to to keep us connected and busy might be in fact “anti-Shabbos.”

          • It’s Not So Good

            Note — We’re talking about a smartphone, not a dumbphone. It’s something used for an awful lot more than simply calling and SMSing people. While, on the one hand, it’ll future-proof us against the day when paper texts are extinct–a Kosher Kindle will be the only way to do the daf on Shabbos, or use a siddur in shul, on the other hand . . . You don’t have to look too hard to see the negative effects of smartphone addiction during the week. All the social positives people say about Shabbos (time to focus on the children, time for spending facetime with friends, time for leisurely meals focused around conversation, time to relax without the pressures of work bearing down on me . . .) equal the negatives of smartphone addiction. Looking for facebook updates in between aliyos at shul, dashing off a work email while waiting for everyone to wash and get to the table, etc, etc, etc . . . The spirit of Shabbos doesn’t stand a chance.

            • tesyaa

              A lot of men arrange their Shabbos to spend as little time with the wife & kids as possible, between davening, daf yomi, kiddush club, shiurim and seudah shlishis. You need a better argument than “it takes away from family time”.

              • Halevai it should be taking away from family time!

              • Not Impressed

                Wasn’t aware that I approve in any way of THAT type of Shabbos either.
                But since you brought it up . . . daf yomi — in between text messages. Kiddush club, arguably improved because you can stand around drinking scotch and watching cat videos (it’ll keep you from lashon harah!). Shiurim ignored in favor of facebook cheking and, though there might be some utility in using Shazam! to identify unfamiliar shaleshudes niggunim, I hardly think you’d pay attention to the schmuess or even the conversation at the table when you’re more involved in checking fandango to see which showings of a movie you can get to soonest after havdalah.

    • MarkSoFla

      I don’t think this will ever be a problem *EVEN* if “everything” is automated. Why? Because shabbos is a special day in and of itself. We do things differently that day, even aside from things that can be automated. For example, we clean the house before, we bathe and dress nicer than usual, we light candles, we have a more festive dinner and we make kiddush, we sing zemiros, we add sections to benching (and many of us sing the entire benching unlike a weekday), we have a longer shachris, we have 8 aliyot leTorah, we have mussaf, etc. The day is completely different than a weekday even if we were to have automated lights, phones, whatever. Even if the TV were automated to show some appropriate material in the long summer afternoons, it would *still* be a special and different day!

    • Hillel Na Nach

      zt”l ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • mo

    @avrahamb 39 melachos will distinguish shabbat from weekday, not use of electricity…

  • Milton

    Rabb Fink,
    Did these developers share with you who their rabbincal backers are? And will they be releasing a more detailed explanation of the halachic rationale behind it? If the best they have to offer is the extremely superficial analysis they’ve released to date, that’s pretty embarrassing.

    • I am not at liberty to disclose these details, but yes I was given more information than what is included in this article.

      • Milton

        Well, I will keep an open mind on the halachic aspect of it if/when they provide serious names backing them up, but I am not optimistic considering what I’ve seen so far.

        • The names are not as important as the validity of the halachic reasoning.

          • Milton

            That’s one of those lines that sounds good but you and I both know that’s not true. A massive change in the way we keep shabbos requires both valid halachic reasoning and big names.

          • yonina

            Then why cant they just give out the names? To many people name of rabbanim are extremely important. To tell you the truth, this sounds extremely offensive to real orthodox judaism and no rabbbanim’s names given makes it even more laughable.

            • They will.

              • Ty

                They haven’t.

                • At the time this post was written “The Shabbos App” referred to something that could not be written within Android. (E.g. programmers are not given a function that would allow them to prevent a plugged in phone from charging.) I pointed this out at the time, but our host insisted on keeping the “yes, it is real”.

                  The goal was entirely rewritten, but that never materialized either.

                  The app was a hoax. The rabbis probably never existed.

                • Lisa Liel

                  They won’t. The whole thing was a joke. An attempt by 00 activists to push the envelope a little further.

            • Marc Klein

              Because there are Rabbis out there who like to remain anonymous. As a friend of mine said to me regarding something he is/was doing: “I endorse you but I can’t let it be known”.

              • UseYourBrain

                Rabbis are leaders. Leaders don’t remain anonymous.

                • Ben Cohen

                  So I guess what we can infer from here is that you are neither a Rabbi, a leader, or someone with any balls. Instead you remain an anonymous ghost on a blog responding to ppl who do have the courage to put a name to their mouths.

          • DF

            That statement, in itself, is not true. Halacha itself attaches great weight to the reputations of the men behind a psak din.

            • “Not as important”

              • DF

                Wrong again. The Chacham Tzvi’s arguments in favor of a Ben Chu”l keeping one day of yomotov in Israel are far more compelling than anything that can be offered in support of the Mechaber’s opinion that he must keep two. Yet the vast majority of visitors still keep two.
                Hey, I wish it were as simple as you say, that argument is more important than reputation. I’d love to use umbrellas on Shabbos. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so. A

          • Benignuman

            I understand, at least theoretically, how they are getting around the electricity issues. On those there is definitely a “yesh al mi lismichu.” But how are they getting around the kesiva problem in a way that avoid an actual issur d’rabbanan?

            • It’s not permanent.

              • Benignuman

                But that only makes it an issur d’rabbanan (like most of the things we cannot do on Shabbos). How are they getting around the issur d’rabbanan of temporary kesiva?

          • Klony

            It is quite important when most don’t have the tools to evaluate halachic reasoning.

          • Lisa Liel

            Since there’s zero validity to the halakhic reasoning, the names are pretty important. Let me guess… Zev Farber. Hyim Shafner. Asher Lopatin. Yosef Kanefsky. Barry Gelman. David Wolkenfield. Ysoscher Katz. Josh Berman. How’m I doing? I’m sure not all of those are involved, but I’d bet my last dollar that at least some of them are.

          • Seriously?!?

            The names aren’t important
            So ill gather it’s nobody reliable

      • Adam

        You are “not at liberty to disclose these details”? Whoo, sounds really secret and important. Why would a more detailed halachic rationale be “secret” information that only a few select people like yourself can hear?

        • Susan Barnes

          It’s certainly possible that the folks designing the app don’t want to release any names until they have a complete list. It is also possible they are waiting for confirmation in writing from some rabbis before they publish a list.

  • Adam Wolf

    Am I missing what the app actually does??

  • Benignuman

    Isn’t the Kesiva in texting a bigger problem with the app? I don’t see how they can get around that.

    • zachw

      Why is that a problem? Texting is only a temporary writing. (A similar reason for why one doesn’t have to worry about destroying Hashem’s names when it’s electronic.) And it apparently uses random delays for grama purposes.

      • Benignuman

        There are two problems. First, the text will remain in the two phones until they are full. That is not temporary. Second, even if those would suffice as grama, it is not something you can use in a l’chatchila situation, it is still assur m’drabbanan.

        The app might still be useful to text in a b’dieved situation.

        • ZP

          I don’t know of any posek who will honestly tell you that electronic writing is k’seivah. The actual “writing,” that is, the characters formed from a combination of pixels, is not halachic “writing,” either because it is not actually a single character, or because it ceases to show up once the charge is removed (contra “e-ink,” used in the Kindle, which stays static without a charge, and may be present a real k’seivah issue). Your first point misapprehends both the technology and the halacha. The “text” that stays on the two phones is not halachically “writing,” as the electronic data in and of itself shares absolutely no characteristics with the halachic paradigm of k’seivah.

          • Benignuman

            The writing necessary for a violation of Shabbos is not the same as the writing necessary for a Get or a Sefer Torah. Any action you take that forms recognizable letters that have meaning in sequence will be writing on Shabbos. That is accomplished with pixels is irrelevant. Now, to have an issur kesiva D’oraisa the writing must be permanent writing. You are arguing about a definition of permanence. I don’t know if you are right about whether or not this could be considered permanent writing (is something that is easily retrievable “permanent”), but even if you are right there will still be an issur d’rabbanan of temporary writing.

            You cannot write with your finger on a fogged up window on Shabbos morning even though you know that it will be gone a couple of hours later.

            • In addition, on a “retina display” or any other device where the human eye can’t see the pixelation, the issue doesn’t exist halachically. Halakhah only deals with the visible.

          • Elli Fischer

            Over 100 years ago, poskim discussed whether recording sounds on a phonograph is considered ksiva. Many considered it ksiva de-Oraysa, even though virtually all objections you raise apply to phonographs as well.
            The halakhic paradigm of ksiva on Shabbos is not connected to the formation of characters; it’s a machlokes between Ran and Rashba, and we pasken like Ran. Yeah, there’s definitely a chashash of koseiv de-Oraysa here.

        • Elli Fischer

          Your reasoning is sound Beni. The kesiva is not the text that appears on screen, but the bytes that are stored permanently in the memory of the phones, external servers, and presumably the NSA. It’s around forever.

          • Umm… kesiva is tzuras ha’os, a visual image of a letter. Not bits in memory, but the writing on the display. As ZP already reply to Beniguman 11 hours ago.

            • Elli Fischer

              As I commented elsewhere on this thread, when phonographs came out many poskim ruled that recording on a phonograph is assur de-Oraysa due to Roshem, a toldah of Kesiva. See siman 8 of Kokhvei Yitzchak vol. 3 (from a rav in Baltimore who was definitely NOT Rav Heinemann) for a good overview and maareh mekomos. You and ZP are wrong on this. There is a definite chashash issur de-Oraysa.

              • I don’t know where to find that sefer. But thanks for the correction. I thought that the discussion there was whether the wiggly grove in the record that encodes someone saying the phoneme /r/ and is visible, qualified as a “script” for the letter reish. As I had recalled it, that the visibility of the groove was an integral part of the issue. Are you sure I misunderstood?

                Eg, if you relayed a message by pouring a scent on a surface, would that be “rosheim”?

                And (new question) even if a reshimah doesn’t need to be visible, doesn’t it need to be detectible by human senses?

                • Elli Fischer

                  The sefer is on Hebrewbooks.
                  I don’t believe the visibility is an issue. Even if one can see that there are grooves, one cannot read a phonograph without the help of a machine designed to read it. I don’t see why that wouldn’t apply to digital “writing” as well; the tools to read it are entirely ubiquitous.

                • Benignuman

                  But even if you are right, how are they getting around the temporary kesiva problem? There is always going to be an issur d’rabbanan.

  • Rick Beiles

    I could see this being valid for Doctors, Shomrim or Hatzalah – but for general laypeople, just because they can’t turn off their darn phone for 24 hours, I find it horribly insulting… Comparing it to Shabbos Mode ovens is unfair as well – can you honestly say that warm food honor to the Shabbos/YomTov is on the same level as being able to text your friends? I hope not… If we can’t discipline ourselves in this inyan, then we’ve got much greater problems on our horizon – slippery slope and all…

    • JimChaplin

      I’m not sure how having conversations with people who aren’t in the same room as you isn’t in the spirit of Shabbos. With the way people are all over the world, more so than in generations past, I’d love to have the opportunity to call my grandmother or a close friend on Shabbos, when I know both of us would be around and available to chat. Personally, I think it would enhance my Shabbos, not detract from it.

      • It’s No Good

        Perhaps, but I’ll bet that–once you’ve made a couple of Shabbos calls to gramma–the majority of your Shabbos calls will be to work buddies / beer buddies, etc . . . and that they, and your blog-reading and facebooking will rob the people in your actual vicinity of your presence.

        The biggest problem with these distance technologies is that, while they give you a limited connection to people who are physically remote, they’re also, in effect, a statement to the people three feet away from you that, “I’d rather be with my friend 200 miles away than with you, so that friend will get all my attention.” A 65% connection to someone miles away shouldn’t have to come at the cost of 97% loss of connection to the person at your right arm.

    • Aryeh Baer

      As a doc, I would actually love to use this technology in the context of refuah on shabbat. One day, hopefully I can. But given the disingenuous and frankly rather insulting way this is being marketed, I wouldn’t give them a cent.

  • “Shabbat will look the way Hashem wants it to look” is the quote that properly encapsulates the misguided (albeit well-intentioned) nature of this venture. No comprehensive system of law practiced and developed by humans (divine origins notwithstanding) can include all possible situations in its myriad technicalities. The spirit of the law is as real in halacha as is the letter of the law. I’d much rather hear debate about whether this is in the spirit of the law than the assumption that the spirit of the law is irrelevant.

  • DF

    “But what will the people do? Most adults will listen to their rabbis. ”
    LOL, only a rabbi would say that! The truth is the leaders follow the people, not the other way around. The adults will act based on their own inherent judgment, which, in almost every single case, will undoubtedly be in the negative. All you have to do is look at the neato shabbos-acceptable gadgets they were coming up with at the various institutes already 30 years ago. They barely made inroads even with devices for sick people, like non Shabbos violating electric wheelchairs. Their only [partial] success was the Shabbos elevator, which was a real problem. If this app takes off, it will be a stunning surprise. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Rav Dov

    I have a great Shabbat App for televisions: leave them on all day, or set them on timers, or use your remote on Friday to tell the cable guide exactly which channel to change to every half hour throughout the day. . . .

    It is amazing how every generation poses the same things.

    No reasonable rav (i.e., Orthodox rabbi) would permit such a thing as a “Shabbat Smartphone App” for the same reason that no rav permits televisions on Shabbat to watch NCAA Saturday football games or even to watch on-demand Jewish channels.

    • JimChaplin

      It seems that your last paragraph plays into what R’ Fink is saying. Most Rabbonim generally prohibit things because of tradition & “spirit of Shabbos”, not because letter of the law prohibition (see the backtracking on allowing telephones to be used on Shabbos).
      People read gashmiut books on Shabbos, how is watching a football game any different if the TV is already on and you don’t make any adjustments to the channel or volume? One is just as in the spirit of Shabbos as the other.

      I’m not in favor of this app, but if it does keep some people closer to HaShem, then it’s more positive than negative IMO. There are too many kids keeping so-called “Half-Shabbat” now. If this lessens those numbers in some way, bully to these app makers.

      • This last argument is flawed. History shows that when we lower standards to match what the lower 20% of observing, we end up with the norm drifting down to those standards, and the same 20% doing even less. In the past two years were a history of laments from Conservative quarters about such decisions, including two of the three rabbis who ruled leniently in the driving responsum.

        • “Past performance is not indicative of future results” and circumstances are different.

          • Are They?

            how so?

          • John Deere

            Well if we’re speaking in cliches… That’s correct, but “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” Circumstances are always different. Until they’re not.
            And past performance (very) frequently informs future results. But when it comes to people/the behavior of people, it’s 99.9% indicative because human nature as a whole doesn’t change. That’s just reality.

          • Rick Beiles

            Wait, so now you are saying that there are no lessons to be learned from our past? That’s a frightening turn ๐Ÿ™

          • Aryeh Baer

            Only in Wall Street Land. In the real world it is indeed indicative. Ayin shum Santayana.

          • Holy Hyrax

            Actually past performance is a good tool to determine future results. Guaranteed no, but indicative yes? Thats one reason we learn history, to see the patterns of the past and whether to repeat them or not.

      • Aryeh Baer

        Or it will just give them an alternate path to growing out of that stage when they become semi-responsible adults trying to teach their own kids the importance of Shabbat and respect for family and friends immediately in front of you so often sacrificed to on-line relationships.

  • Raphael Lebovits

    R’ Fink, are you saying that “v’dabru davar” is a small thing? That “uvdah d’chol” is a cavalier thing that means nothing?

    • No. But it means something specific.

  • I do not know how its inventors think their modifications are sufficient. Gerama (causality to a distinct event, typically via a non-fixed delay) is rabbinically prohibited. Wiping memory to get around the problem of writing is pointless — writing is about shapes of letters, ie the screen. And even temporary writing is prohibited, again rabbinically.

    OTOH, that means there is no Torahitic writing problem to solve.

    I’m not sure the LED backlight is a real problem — not even rabbinic. The battery drain also, no problem that I can tell, since it’s entirely unobservable.

    The general problems are uvda dechol, the whole “would make it impossible to distinguish Shabbos from a weekday” issue already raised. Second, according to R’ SZ Aurbach, electricity is prohibited rabbinically because of the consensus not to use it. The power of Sanhedrin to legislate comes from it being a representative body for the Jewish People. (Much the way the Jewish People sanctify a New Moon by having the Sanhedrin do so.) Therefore, once a consensus of observant Jewry of all communities emerges to prohibit or require something for religious reasons, it goes beyond minhag into rabbinic law. Minhag Yisrael kedin, and then some.

    But if the app were marketed to doctors, where gerama would be sufficient to make it permissable, then I think they got the issues licked (as well as some non-issues).

    • G*3

      > once a consensus of observant Jewry of all communities emerges to prohibit or require something for religious reasons, it goes beyond minhag into rabbinic law. Minhag Yisrael kedin, and then some.

      “Consensus” implies that everyone agrees that this is how it should be done, rather than the way these things usually work, which is that the “consensus” evolves due to social norms and pressures.

      So rather than it being a rational decision reached by a majority of people, it just kind of happened. This method of determining halacha enshrines whatever happens to be popular, no matter how stupid or mistaken.

      • First, not my idea, but R SZ Aurbach’s. So if it seems very wrong, assume there was an error in transmission, not the idea itself. You can disagree with him, others do. But obviously he knew how halakhah well enough not to say something one of us would consider obviously wrong ab initio. (As R’ Aharon Lichtenstein’s essay implies, RSZA [who RAL names as a counter-example] precedes the era where “gedolim” assume they have expertise they don’t and end up saying silly or insulting things.)

        That said, no. Because rabbinic laws have to conform to rules. The Sanhedrin can’t pass anything, “no matter how stupid or mistaken”. The idea that electricity is either uvda dechol (would make it impossible to distinguish Shabbos from a weekday) or close enough, is the kind of basis that is common for gezeiros (rabbinic “fences”.)

    • That’s not quite the way RSZA frames the issur.

    • /b/anon

      writting in spilled liquid or sand is rabinically restricted, however on a computer screen you are not affecting anything physical, you are simply modifying the generation of light.

      I agree that writing is the biggest problem to me. however I do not think chazal has neccesarily prohibited it and it may be more akin to what the Rama brings concerning creating symbols with ones fingers: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/m/halacha.aspx?id=806

      • Actually, the light comes from back-lighting. You are twisting a crystal, which then blocks the light. That’s why LCD screens have backlighting, and why people make clip-on lights for devices that don’t.

        Some crystals polarize, which means they only let light through if the waves jitter back-n-forth in the right angle. If you take two polarizing layers and line them up, that light will still go through. E.g. if both are turned to let left-right jiggling light waves through, then the left-right waves will go through. If we twist one to be up-down passing, then no light will go through — the first sheet blocks all but the left-right, and then the second sheet isn’t letting any left-right through.

        (Quantum mechanics complicates that picture when discussing twists of less than 90deg, but this is far enough afield.)

        What if that second sheet were a bunch of tiny crystals, so small that it’s a liquid, which can be twisted electronically? Well, that’s an LCD — liquid crystal display. So, when the electricity tells it to, it twists to be perpendicular to the other polarizing filter, and no light gets through. On a regular LCD, when the power is off it will twist back to parallel, and the screen is clear again. (But black if the backlighting is off.) On e-Ink, you need power to twist it back.

        Color LCDs are the same, they just color the light first into really really tiny red, green, and blue rows, and then use the LCD to pick pixels from each row.

        (BTW, I have an Engineer’s Degree, an “all but doctorate” — I chose having the money to adopt over finishing my thesis — in Electrical Engineering. So this is a somewhat informed opinion.)

        In any case, you are twisting really tiny things. But since you are twisting bunches of them big enough of them to be visible, they matter halachically.

        • ThatGuyPosting

          What you’re seeing are essentially just shadow-puppets. You’re not seeing any of the actual things that are being moved themselves.

        • /b/anon

          thank you for the informed reply, sorry I do not check this blog much so did not see it.earlier

          but doesn’t what you’re saying confirm the idea that that the guy below ‘ThatGuyPosting’ has said, that this is essentially shadow puppets. like if before shabbos someone had cut a message into a piece of paper, and on shabbos places it over a lamp so a message is displayed on the wall. He was not ‘written’ a message….

          • Except that he’s “cutting the message” on Shabbos. Bad metaphor, since cutting something to shape raises its own Shabbos problem. So hedging back from your comparison a bit… The message didn’t exist before Shabbos, the various letter-shaped islands of light-blocking crystal are being made on Shabbos. One really is writing on Shabbos.

            Second, what you’re doing would be visible without the back-lighting (ever see a Kindle or an LCD watch?). I would just be more difficult to see.

            Last, even putting two or more pre-existing letters next to each other to make a word is problematic. The only reason why Scrabble is permissible is because they would just slide off if you let them. In fact some (fortunately not my rabbi) prohibit playing the travel edition on Shabbos.

      • MarkSoFla

        “you are simply modifying the generation of light.”

        Actually at it’s most basic, you are simply BLOCKING the light in specific areas. *JUST* like you block the light when using a shabbos lamp!

        http://www.artscroll.com/Categories/SH1.html

    • perplexed

      what about the issue of shtarei hedyotos?

      • It’s a shevus. Not a problem for the medical profession.

  • G*3

    > lthough there is no particular forbidden labor that precludes use of electricity per se; it is forbidden because that has become the accepted halachic tradition in Orthodox Judaism

    It cannot be pointed out enough times how ridiculous that is.

    > At most, this would be a Rabbinic prohibition.

    Isn’t an issur midirabanan something prohibited by a duly appointed beis din? Given that there is no longer a mechanism by which to enact new laws, wouldn’t that make not using electricity on Shabbos a minhag? And, given that it’s based on a misunderstanding of electricity, a minhag shtus.

    My theory is that when electric lamps replaced gas lamps in the ’20s and ’30s (often using near-identical fixtures), people treated the new electric lights just like they treated the actually-assur-to-touch gas lights, and the mistaken habit stuck.

    > His response was that if something is permissible then it canโ€™t ruin the spirit of Shabbat

    Technically, of course, he’s right. But that’s not at all what people mean. Most people don’t keep Shabbos (or anything) solely or even primarily because of halachic requirements. As you yourself have argued, people do what they do because they want to. They’re getting something out of it. When people say it ruins the spirit of Shabbos, they don’t mean they’re concerned Hashem will be upset with them for not honoring the spirit of the day. They mean that it will ruin what they enjoy about Shabbos.

    Sure, they could refrain from using their smartphones anyway, but without the force of a prohibition, it won’t last. And there’ll be all the other frum people using their phones, which will change the atmosphere in ways they won’t like.

    I’m all for clever workarounds, but the naysayers do have a point.

    • tesyaa

      I have seen that those who adapt to change thrive and succeed more than those who wish, futilely, that things would remain the same. I realize there’s probably something primeval about this, but I feel bad for people who are flummoxed by change.

  • Yair Spitz

    Rabbi Fink,

    Though I haven’t had the chance to speak to the developers directly, I’ve been corresponding with them over the past few days.
    Regretfully, I did not get the same sense of sincerity or scholarship that you encountered.
    My differing thoughts and correspondence with the developers can be read here: http://yairspitz.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/is-the-shabbat-smartphone-app-kosher/
    I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it as I feel the main point is being almost entirely overlooked.

    Yair Spitz

  • Lisa Liel

    Nice strawman. Except that there are plenty of objections that have nothing to do with the spirit of Shabbat. While they may get rid of some d’Orayta concerns, this whole project is like saying “Lots
    of people eat treyf. So let’s try and put a hechsher on food that’s
    only treyf d’Rabbanan so that they won’t go OTD completely.” It’s the same sort of KRL stuff coming out of YCT and the Morethodoxy blog. In fact, I’d be very surprised if the rabbis working on this aren’t uniformly 00.

  • Uncomfortable with the motive

    L’Havdil, but when I read your reasoning of, ‘holy motivations to help out those people guilty today of using their smartphones on Shabbos’ . . . My first thought was of that old psak given several decades back permitting single women to go to the mikveh because, “well, they’re gonna have sex regardless of what we say, so let’s at least attempt to have them to do it b’heter”.

  • Judah Kerbel

    I don’t think my first comment posted. My apologies if it’s a repeat.

    First of all, one posek shared with me that the ‘minhag in pesak is that we donโ€™t use eletricity (at least not directly) because we treat it as an ืื™ืกื•ืจ ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ of ืžื•ืœื™ื“. So the rest of it is utterly irrelevant.’

    Putting that aside, it seems to me very similar like the driving issue in the Conservative movement:
    *Both are/were meant to ‘enhance Shabbat’ by making it easier to ‘keep Shabbat’
    *Both are/were targeted at those who don’t fully keep Shabbat
    *In the way that allowing people to drive to shul (in my opinion) damaged the social and spiritual environment of a shul community, allowing people to use their smartphones on Shabbat will destroy the Shabbat table.

    Even if it were technically allowed, you might get people to technically be keeping Shabbat, but will it really get people to be better ovdei Hashem? That requires commitment, not just passively observing Shabbat through loopholes (which is literally what this app would be). It’ll be just another manifestation of Social Orthodoxy.

    In the secular world, everyone is trying to grapple with the smartphone disease (yes, I use one also) – in the classroom, meetings, dinner table, social environments. The Jewish community, thanks to Shabbat, has been able to have one day a week where people aren’t distracted by these things. This would hurt more than help one of the serious issues that the 21st world faces.

    The problem is, the moment this is declared ‘allowed’ and people start using it, there’s no turning back. There won’t be ‘lenient’ and ‘strict’ people – it catches on enough and everyone will be using it. Smartphones are infectious like that.

    It’s not clear to me whether other apps would be available besides texting. But if they are, Shabbat is for being with family, napping, STUDYING TORAH. Many apps on smartphones do not contribute to building a spirit of Shabbat. Email access will cause people to do business, which is entirely not part of Shabbat.

    You said: “When I asked the Shabbos App developer what Shabbat would look like if everyone would be using their smartphones, his answer reflected this sensibility. He said ‘Shabbat will look the way Hashem wants it to look!’ ” – I think that approach is entirely naive. We need to be way more careful than that, given the above issues.

    • RSZA held there was no issur of molid at all.

      • Judah Kerbel

        But we don’t use electricity, so we don’t pasken like him, no? That’s what he meant that the MINHAG is that we pasken it’s molid.

        • He said it is assur but for no particular Melacha. Click the summary link at the end of the post.

          • … and thus his line of reasoning would prohibit smartphone use regardless of how you think he got there. Actually, finding a specific melakhah would make it easier to find a way to avoid the terms of that melakhah and permit.

            Although I do think Rabbis Boyde and Jachter err in missing that RSZA calls the prohibition a derabbanan, not a minhag. Although I see that Minechas Shelomo 74 invokes the consensus of rabbinic opinions, not observance. (Which would resolve my nagging question about why he wasn’t defining Minhag Yisrael and calling it law, rather than “kedin”, only “like law”.)

            But in any case, not everyone holds like R’ SZ Aurbach, so arguing about what he means is secondary. The bigger problem is that they at most shift the problems to rabbinic (gerama).

            • I think you have to hold like RSZA. The rest of the opinions have severe problems that remain unanswered.

              • Then you would be forced to conclude that there is no way to kasher an iPhone for Shabbos. As it is prohibited to use electricity, but not because there is any specific melakhah to work around. No?

  • thebigtentyid

    What people missed, is the purpose of this app. Some religious people have an yetzer to use the phone on Shabbos and feel bad when they succumb to it. From the post, i got the impressionthat this app tries to help those addicted person .

  • Etan G

    I would just chime in to say, putting the spirit of Shabbos aside, this will lead to using your smartphone outside of the app. You’ll want to check an email, look at a Facebook post, Kanyes new music video. As dominating as our phones are during the week so it would be on Shabbos.

    With that said, people can do what they want to do. They will and should. I will continue to do it my own way for me and others are free to do as they wish. I do hope, however, that people are shown how awesome and beautiful Shabbos can be. Without that view there will always be a loophole to grab onto. Make Shabbos beautiful!

    • Holy Hyrax

      >As dominating as our phones are during the week so it would be on Shabbos.

      Exactly.

      You ever sit around a table or living room with people doing almost nothing but checking their phones? There is absolutely nothing to prevent that from happening here. I rarely see people being sensible and unless there is an actual restriction, they will simply do it all the time. And that is not even getting into the question of the youth, that regardless do it all the time and nothing will stop them from doing it on Shabbat once they find a loophole around it.

      It goes to show you that just because one may technically ‘could’ it doesn’t necessarily follow that one ‘should’ and here, i have a feeling that $$ is at play too.

      • Of course there is something to prevent that. Human decency.

        • Holy Hyrax

          Human decency than would prevail everyday. But it doesn’t. Shabbat wouldn’t be any different. Don’t get me wrong. Im not saying these are evil people, just that human weakness is human weakness and years of experience has shown us once you open the door a little, the flood pours in.

  • DKBMD

    This is the first article I have ever read from this blog. It is also the last!! YOU LOST ALL CREDIBILITY ONCE YOU TAKE QUOTES OUT OF CONTEXT AND REAPPLY THEM TOWARDS SOMETHING THAT HAS NO CONNECTION!!!!

  • tesyaa

    I don’t need this app. I have home delivery of the NYT. Shabbos is bliss, and it takes the edge off yom yov, too.

  • Adam

    “Shabbat will look the way Hashem wants it to look!” This comment seems to demonstrate clearly that the Shabbos App developer is wholly unaware of what a true Shabbos experience is meant to be; a Shabbos surrounded by faces looking down at their cell phones and checking their emails and Facebook is no Shabbos at all. The beauty of Shabbos is partially the time that it allows for meaningful quality time with family and friends.

    I’d also point out that his statement is an extreme falsehood in itself: Shabbos will look the way Hashem wants it to look? Hmm, does this mean that Hashem wants Shabbos to look like today’s reality, with the majority of world Jewry treating Shabbos like any other day? Does this mean Hashem approves of the widespread desecration of Shabbos that is the reality for the majority of secular Jewry? I guess that we must say that this is the way Hashem WANTS Shabbos to look. Baloney.

    With Yom Kippur in just a couple of days, the worldwide Jewish community would do well to provide no support for this “cause” and to condemn it completely and fervently. Judaism is not in need of ways to “cheat” G-d’s holy Torah, it is in need of ways to sustain it.

    • I think you misunderstood his point. He was saying that if something is halachically permissible then it’s part of the Shabbat experience that Hashem wants. It has to be that way. It’s not a terrible idea.

      But I also think you are using your subjective version of what you think Shabbat is supposed to be and declaring that to be the objective version of Shabbat.

      • Adam

        So if playing ball is halachically permissible, it’s “part of the Shabbat experience that Hashem wants”? It seems that this view is missing the meaning of the “spirit of Shabbos.” There is a reason people make distinctions between those things which are halachically unacceptable and those things which are not technically halachically unacceptable but go against the “spirit of Shabbos.” If all the “spirit of Shabbos” is are those things which are halachically permissible, the distinction usually made between those terms is meaningless.

        Subjective or not, I know that using a smartphone, which has reached an excess that has infringed upon healthy social relationships (in my own life as well!), is not what Shabbos is meant to be. We all have experienced (or may be ourselves) those people who cannot carry on a full conversation without constantly looking down at their cell phones. If this unfortunate phenomena encroached upon even the Shabbat day, the Jewish people would be losing a central part of what the day actually is meant to achieve– connection to Hashem and to other people in their lives.

        • Indeed, there is a fundamental disagreement about the importance of the “Spirit of Shabbos” here. I don’t disagree.

        • Jonathan Baker

          There are frum towns that have had Shabbos softball games for decades, e.g. Lake Mohegan.

      • In general, the “if Hashem allows it, He knows what he’s doing” argument works. However, when it comes to Shabbos, G-d equally intentionally left the concepts of shevus and of uveda dechol (resting and weekday activities) as concepts He mentions but for us to give concrete definition to. Unlike other mitzvos, where the feel of the mitzvah is derived from what the G-d-given halakhah and halachic process prohibit and require, Tanakh discusses Shabbos having a G-d given feel.

    • Adam: “… to provide no support for this ’cause’…” Meanwhile, the KickStarter page hasn’t even been launched yet. They don’t have a rabbi willing to put his name on it. They show either ignorance or a very idiosyncratic understanding of hilkhos Shabbos. I am not sure this will go anywhere. The question is interesting as an abstract halachic one, but it’s too early to worry about the Shabbos App as becoming a reality. They aren’t far enough along for it to be likely. Yet.

      • Jonathan Baker

        Maybe they should go to the Baptists for VC funding? You know, fund a way to get Jews to stop keeping Shabbos, making them better fodder for J4J?

  • Mordechai Weiss

    Enlightening. Thank you.

  • Holy Hyrax

    >As a consequence, those who use them often feel very guilty. Not to say that they shouldnโ€™t feel this way, but guilt can morph into a form of religious self-loathing that triggers further departures from observance in other areas. This is a terrible result.

    Right. They should feel guilty and if out if that comes some sort of self-loathing, the answer is not to coddle them and give them a sort of “pass,” but to deal with what is making them feel guilty. Deal with the core issue, not the symptom.

  • Nachum1

    And this is really something people can’t live without for one day? Too much of the modern world consists of caving in to desires instead of taking a clear look at them and asking people what they really need.

  • Harold Berman

    Seems to me the Sabbath mode oven is not an apt analogy in terms of the “spirit of Shabbat” objections. Putting an oven on Shabbat mode provides a halachic way for food to be prepared that then actually enhances the Shabbat experience. Staring at a smartphone screen for hours and texting is completely different from that. It is possible that some will use the smartphone to text each other about Daf Yomi or watch YouTube videos about Rav Kook. But it’s fair to say that the majority will use their smartphones for activities that diminish rather than enhance the spirit of Shabbat. Also in the spirit of Shabbat category – let’s face it, the whole “half Shabbos” thing came about because some people simply couldn’t give up their phones for 25 hours, and then sought to justify their behavior. That’s called an addiction. It’s ok to smoke on Chag as long as the cigarette is lit in a halachically permissible way. Nevertheless, people who smoke on Chag often do so because they have a very hard time staying away from cigarettes – again, an addiction. No addiction is healthy. Rather than focus on how to make it possible for people to spend hours in front of their phone screens on Shabbat, maybe it would be better to confront the very real and unhealthy smartphone addiction that drives the effort.

  • Dan

    On behalf of every working shomer shabbos person who does not need to answer emails or work on shabbos:

    ื™ืจื ื” ืขืœื™ื›ื ื•ื™ืฉืคื•ื˜: ืืฉืจ ื”ื‘ืืฉืชื ืืช-ืจื™ื—ื ื•, ื‘ืขื™ื ื™ ืคืจืขื” ื•ื‘ืขื™ื ื™ ืขื‘ื“ื™ื•, ืœืชืช-ื—ืจื‘ ื‘ื™ื“ื, ืœื”ื•ืจื’ื ื•

  • Here’s a follow up article. I think that if you commented here, you should read it –> http://finkorswim.com/2014/10/02/shabbos-app-tragic-commentary/

  • Hymie

    It’s not an issue for me. I quite enjoy Shabbos without my smartphone… It’s not a matter of what I’m permitted to do, rather a matter of what Shabbat means to me – separation between the Holy and the secular. Shabbat = Holy, smartphone = secular. One may bring holiness to the secular, but the reverse seems impossible.

  • elchepe

    This is made specifically for the “leave the tv on espn all day for shabbat” crowd

  • MarkSoFla

    The world is constantly changing. Especially with regards to technology. Whether or not book publishing remains as a niche business is only tangentially relevant to that fact. Over the coming decades, we *will* see great changes in the technology of homes, businesses, cities, and many other things. Just like we’ve seen changes over past decades. Some of the biggest changes will be in homes, your home will have all sorts of sensors and devices that will make them more efficient, and more comfortable, in all respects. Your home will track your presence, and your movement, to ensure that the HVAC system is working optimally to make you comfortable. It will also control your lighting, it will suppress noise, add background sounds, and a whole host of other things. Your kitchen will monitor itself, so will your fridge, your oven, your stove, your washer and dryer, etc. Your door will not have a keyhole and you will not carry a key, either your presence itself will allow you access or some device you carry will do so. And these are only the changes we can foresee, there will be others, there will always be others in the future. And eventually the rabbis will be forced to grapple with them.

    • Holy Hyrax

      I think there is a difference between things of necessity, like opening a refrigerator door vs. something like a smartphone which falls under leisure, choice an active participation. In Israel for example, I suspect that since the culture is more infused with Judaism, all those systems can hypothetically turned off for Shabbat. It would be no different than turning off the lightbulb in your fridge.

      • Might not be necessary now but it might be in a few years.

        • Lisa Liel

          So deal with it then. The only reason to bring it up now is to try and undermine the halakhic process.

        • Holy Hyrax

          For what? After a century, an automobile is still not necessary

          • Holy Hyrax

            I mean for Shabbat

          • If your entire world is controlled by intuitive technology, you won’t have a choice. You won’t be able to live without activating sensors and other electronic switches.

            • Lisa Liel

              Ridiculous. We don’t live inside science fiction books. Get back to me when we’re in such a world. Meanwhile, let’s limit our discussion to reality, shall we?

              • In some places it’s already here. Particularly in hotels and hospitals. Our world is much closer to your science fiction books than you realize.

              • MarkSoFla

                It’s starting to be real. Just look at the discussions about the video cameras at the kotel or the video cameras all over London. And most of those are “smart” video cameras connected to very sophisticated systems that actuate all sorts of electronic things.

                And you yourself brought up the more common case yesterday, the case of alarm sensors in one’s home. While it is true that frum Jews don’t activate their alarm system on Friday night, it is also true that they do not disconnect the power (it’s not even possible, because if you do disconnect power, the battery backup kicks in) to those systems and thus the sensors are still running all through shabbat.

                It is clearly not science fiction, and it’s coming a lot faster than you think it is.

                • Lisa Liel

                  Apples and oranges. If I’m walking on Shabbat and someone takes a photo of me, I haven’t done anything. Lo nitna Torah l’mal’achei ha-shareit. What can’t be avoided can’t be avoided. That doesn’t in any way create permission to act contrary to halakha. If someone is using their smart phone on Shabbat (barring doctors who have received a heter), they need to stop. Not be rendered “more comfortable” about it. And if they leave Judaism entirely because they weren’t made to feel that using a smart phone on Shabbat was okay, gut gezunt to them. Their descendents may come back. We’ve lost Hellenists, Karaites, Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews, and we’re still here.

                  • MarkSoFla

                    Not talking about the video cameras themselves, talking about the DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THEM BY CONTEMPORARY RABBIS!

      • MarkSoFla

        To you and me, a smartphone is not a thing of necessity. To the more recent generation(s), it is. That is, in fact, the main reason we are having this discussion now.

        And I agree, in Israel, because of the widespread demand, such systems will be designed to be turned off (or more likely modified) for shabbat. I loved my Tadiran Apollo fridge with it’s built-in shabbat switch! Of course, when remodeling my kitchen, I made sure to buy a KitchenAid with a shabbat switch (in fact, I got all KitchenAid appliances that were approved by Star-K).

        “It would be no different than turning off the lightbulb in your fridge.”

        No, it wouldn’t be that simple.. Today, a fridge is a stand-alone item that is separate from the functioning of the house. What I am describing are systems that are integral to the house – you would not be able to live in the house without them, nor is there even a way for them to be completely turned off. Do you know any frum Jews that turn off their HVAC systems before shabbat? Do you know any that turn their main electrical breaker off before shabbat? It will be at that level of integration*.

        * It will *HAVE* to be at that level of integration for it to work properly and be accepted as the “standard” way of life.

        • Holy Hyrax

          >To the more recent generation(s), it is. That is, in fact, the main reason we are having this discussion.

          Ya well, most of them are morons. Sorry. Most of them think it is a necessity because they are being bombarded with these social messages. I agree they are a necessity if they are conducting business – which you would have cease on shabbat anyways – but most of the new generation is not conducting business all the time. Im curious how much of the app industry is really geared toward an actual necessity vs otherwise.

          >No, it wouldn’t be that simple..

          Well, it doesn’t have to AS simple, but the point for it is that there IS an option to turn off. And if you have the capability for such technology, I don’t see any reason why that can’t utilize such technology for an off button. I mean, really, does that home HAVE to have background sounds? Even my AC has duel functions for manual or timer.

          >Do you know any that turn their main electrical breaker off before shabbat?

          No, but that is passive. With electrical breakers being on, doesn’t mean I am actually personally utilizing the electricity.

          • MarkSoFla

            “Ya well, most of them are morons.”

            They always are. And then suddenly 20-25 years later, they are us. Funny how that works.

            • Holy Hyrax

              Yup.

          • MarkSoFla

            “With electrical breakers being on, doesn’t mean I am actually personally utilizing the electricity.”

            So who is utilizing the electricity?

            • Lisa Liel

              Why does anyone need to be? But we aren’t Karaites, so we have no problem passively utilizing electricity. It’s actively utilizing it that’s the problem.

            • Holy Hyrax

              I don’t understand the question. The breakers are on. It doesn’t mean I am going to turn on a light switch on Shabbat. I am not actively using that electricity.

              • MarkSoFla

                I guess it all depends on how you define “active”. We’ve defined active to not include opening and closing the house door which allows humidity and heat in and caused the A/C to run more than it normally would have. Same for the fridge door. And same for video cameras or other security devices. We’ve defined active to not include setting timers to do such things for you on shabbat.

                But, on the other hand, we’ve defined active to include sitting on the sofa if the TV or radio happens to be on. And perhaps we’ve even included walking into a room with a TV/radio on in the definition. And we’ve defined active as including walking into the range of a door sensor that automatically opens a door.

                • Lisa Liel

                  “Active” is only an approximate English term. You can’t lawyer it, Mark. We’re allowed to benefit from things running on electricity provided that we don’t do any melacha or shevut on Shabbat. There are some other limitations, like the rules of amira l’Akum, but that’s basically it. There’s also intent to be factored in. We don’t have to hide away from electrical things, but we can’t deliberately engage them, either.

                  Furthermore, you’re assuming universally held positions where they aren’t. Not everyone holds that you can’t open and close the house door. There are differences of opinion about Shabbat elevators, too. If you open the door, it may or may not make the A/C turn on or off sooner or later. You as an individual have no way of even really seeing what effect the change in door state has, or if it has any at all. Ditto with Shabbat elevators. With a fridge light, you know very well that if you open the door, the light will come on. If you close it, the light will turn off. And what’s more, this is how you want it to work. Your intent is for the light to come on so that you can see things in the friidge, and your intent is for it to turn off so that the head from the lamp doesn’t adversely affect your refrigerated food, and so that you don’t have a higher power bill.

                  Now… if you set up a camera to record yourself and others in your house on Shabbat, it’s entirely different from a case where the city has set up cameras on the streets and you may or may not be recorded. Again, it’s an issue of intent and benefit and direct causation. Lots of variables that enter into a decision.

                  Leaving on the TV before Shabbat so that you can see it on Shabbat. No one, not even the most machmirim of machmirim, say that this is a melacha or shevut. But there are halakhas regarding things that are inappropriate behavior on Shabbat. This “shabbos app” does not fall into that category, of course. It is clearly shevut at the very least, and melacha, probably, in a number of issues. Is there also a question of it being inappropriate for Shabbat? Absolutely. Is that the primary issue? Absolutely not.

                  When you have an electric door and you know that walking up to it will open the door, it’s like the fridge light. It’s a direct consequence of your action, and you take that action for the purpose of causing that consequence.

                • Mark, your analysis defies halachic categories. The basic problem is that you’re trying to coin your own jargon rather than using the terms already in play, which reflect the actual categories and rules of the field.

                  The first issue you raise is pesiq reishei vs melakhah she’einah tzerikhah legufah vs gerama vs permissible. Which is not a matter of being “active” but of how one defines intent, and how one defines a single action vs multiple actions.

                  Thermostats are both time delayed and far from inevitable. This is what makes them different than the textbook case discussed by the gemara and rishonim — opening the door near a lamp which may be blown out either by the door’s draft or a normal wind. Or, the automatic door sensor. Both the candle and the door of which lack the time delay and are pretty much inevitable.

                  Sitting on the sofa in front of a TV isn’t a matter of “active”. It’s a matter of whether the tunability of a TV puts it under the legislation banning musical instruments. (And for Ashkenazim, whether just the fact that it’s a sound-making device would.) And also which weekday activities seem so un-Shabbos as to be prohibited as uvda dechol.

        • Lisa Liel

          It is not a necessity to the more recent generation(s). That’s a load of hooey. It’s like saying painful operations to reverse circumcision were a “necessity” to the generation of the Maccabees before the war. “I rilly, rilly, *rilly* want it” is not the same as a necessity.

          Do you have children? I’m curious, because as a parent, if my child were to say, “Oooo, Mommy, I saw this toy and I really need it!”, I’d have to be a really garbage mother to conclude from that that the toy is a necessity. Even if she were to throw a tantrum and refuse to eat, it would not be a necessity.

          • MarkSoFla

            I have 5 children, only the eldest (>15) of them has a mobile phone. But that isn’t relevant to this discussion. In fact, I haven’t succeeded to explain my argument well enough for you to understand what I am saying so I’m going to have to drop it for now.

  • AF

    Without a clear explanation of how the app doesn’t actually break Shabbos (and first you need to explain why using touchscreen IS a violation of Shabbos — and then show how the app circumvents these problems), this article basically doesn’t provide more information than its headline.

  • Arthur T

    If we’re limiting the use of timers to prevent Shabbat and the weekdays from becoming indistinguishable, then what about some rules preventing wearing the same black suit and black hat all 7 days?

  • Eliezer Graber

    I have no intimate knowledge of the app, but I am an experienced Android developer, and as far as I know, there is no possible way to do what they are claiming. I don’t know if they’re in the idea phase, and haven’t spoken to a developer yet, but I’m fairly confident that any developer would tell them that this is not possible.

  • Yitzchak Micha’el

    As one trained in electronics I have always questioned the concept of Boneh for electricity.

    • No one actually holds it’s boneh anymore. The Chazon Ish said it, but it’s not the accepted opinion.

  • sm

    You have a good point that this would be better for individuals, like teens and such who already use a smartphone. With this one, they can use it with out breaking Shabbos. But for those who don’t use the phone on Shabbos, we should continue to not do so. It’s our day with Hashem. I read a good analogy that gives an example of a couple who goes into the Yichud room, and then one of them starts texting a friend. – In general, people who don’t use it should keep Shabbos how it is. But for those who already use smartphones, this app would definitely help

    • Lisa Liel

      Except that they can *not* use it without breaking Shabbat. That’s the whole point. People who use a smartphone on Shabbat need to stop. In the Christian bible, Paul claims that the Torah made him sin, because if things weren’t forbidden, he wouldn’t have sinned by doing them. That’s an incredibly immature and bass-ackwards way of looking at things, but it’s the same rationale that you and others are using here. The solution to rule breaking is to try and stop it. Not to get rid of the rules so that people can feel better about their actions.

      • Holy Hyrax

        >Not to get rid of the rules so that people can feel better about their actions.

        Beautifully said

  • Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski

    What are the sources for the concept of “uvdin d ‘chol”?

  • perplexed

    there is an additional issue of reading on holy books on shabbos and this would fall into the category of the gezeira of shtarei hedyotos

  • Dr. Marty from Haifa

    Reminds me of the joke I once heard for allowing smoking on Shabat:
    a. A Reform Rabbi was asked if one is permitted to smoke on Shabat?
    YES. Actually, one should never smoke, but if you smoke on weekdays,
    then you may also smoke on Shabat.
    b. A Conservative Rabbi was asked the same question.
    YES. You may not smoke in shul, but at home it is okay.
    c. Finally, an Orthodox Rabbi was asked.
    YES. Provided that you sell your lungs to a non-Jew before Shabat.

  • BoruchR

    If you really want to know the motivations behind creation of this app, watch the video they created. It completely mocks people who listen to their rabbonim.

  • On a different note, and this observation on the tech side of things belongs more here than on the follow-up. You write: “A lot of people think it’s a hoax. It’s not. It’s very, very real.” I was wondering how you know that?

    The app that was allegedly being developed at the time you wrote that promised a few impossible things, like having a cycle for charging, so that the battery doesn’t always charge when plugged in. No Android app can do that — although perhaps it could be written on a model by model basis for each cell phone by doing an end-run around Android. But then, the result wouldn’t be an Android app, and wouldn’t be distributable on Google play. The feature was dropped. Was this because O wasn’t the only one to point this out, or because they proceeded far enough to realize it was not doable.

    Also, they write, “We are working with a team of highly skilled programmers for both android and Apple phones (this project however, is not for iOS).” All Apple phones run iOS. So they’re either telling you they staffed up for a non-existent Apple non-iOS version of their software or that their developers are good at iOS development even though that’s irrelevant. The implication is the former — the knowledge of the field is so weak that they didn’t realize they made a self-contradictory claim.

    In any case, the App as now promised will provide a way to text anything you can from a menu of 150 words. It is unclear which texting networks (SMS, MMS, FB, AIM, etc…) they’ll be supporting. A far more reachable goal.

  • So, as I noted in a comment written a month after the post, a few weeks after this conversation began, the Shabbos App morphed into a totally different claim, one which actually could be written for Android. (Although just claiming they were working on the first version, or that they had iOS experts working on a non-Apple version, displayed a lack of necessary knowledge to develop an app.)

    However, at last word, on Oct 22, the promised delivery date was Dec 1. No word since, despite a deadline overrun of nearly 100%.

    Who is still convinced the development effort ever was real?

  • Jp

    Have a hard time imagining someone as intelligent as R Heinemman saying something that I plies he doesn’t know what muktzeh or shvus is.

    An if he did say it, there’s obviously a lot of nuance there…bec without nuance that statement ignores countless drabbanan prohibitions.

  • ned Krasnopolsky

    And if there is a bug in the app that cause the phone to work in its usual manner? What then? Are the developers ready to take responsibility. They are putting a stumbling block among the ignorant. Certainly this should be prohibited because people will see it and think that all phone use is permitted. It should be used in case of emergency.

    • A project that had goals that can’t be met with the Android API and had a timeline of a few months is now over a year behind schedule. And it’s nearly a year since the last announcement of an ETA. I think we can chalk this down to hoax.

      • It wasnโ€™t a hoax. It was aspirational. They dropped it after they lost some of their supporters.

  • Mendel

    How real is it now?

  • Lisa Liel

    “A lot of people think itโ€™s a hoax. Itโ€™s not. Itโ€™s very, very real.”

    Um… no.