A Simple Solution to Solving Shabbos Texting!

June 23, 2011

Earlier today, Rabbi Steven Weil, the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union noted that, “Everyone’s tweeting about it.”

You may ask, “what is the proverbial it?”

In this case, Rabbi Weil is referring to the The Jewish Week article that highlights the increasing phenomenon of Orthodox teens texting on Shabbos! Indeed, there are already several terms coined for this behavior such as: Half-Shabbos or Shabbos Texting.

Before we even discuss this topic, I want to ask the following question: should this topic be discussed in the open?

I believe the sagely Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai already answered this question for us. The Talmud (Bava Basra 89a-b) relates that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was debating discussing a particular topic in public and ultimately remarked, “Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I do not speak.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai resolved his dilemma on the basis of a passage in Hoshea (14:10) that states, “The ways of Hashem are straight.”

The Maharsha suggests that the reason why he decided to publicize corruption and sin was that even if a sinner may stumble—by putting this information out there—there will also be honest people who will be saved from making mistakes.

I believe that this same resolve can be applied to the now very public discussion of Half-Shabbos.

As someone who educates young Jewish women hailing from all across North America, Administrators and Educators (ranging from the Bais Yaakov world to the Modern Orthodox world) have over the past two years, turned to me for my personal input as far as how to deal with this silent—and now seemingly louder—crisis.

Frankly, this phenomenon should come as no surprise. The use of texting seems to be the preferred form of communication with a teenager. In fact, according to this recent report, the average teenager sends 3,339 texts per month. Moreover, teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month.

That’s more than 6 texts per waking hour!

Despite us sitting in the year 2011, the above mentioned figures are in line with the words of the Talmud. After all, the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) notes that a woman is innately more of a communicator, by teaching us that, “Ten measures of speech descended to the world and women took nine measures of speech.” And so, while I have no concrete statistic in front of me, I’d venture to say that this issue is arguably even more prevalent with teenage Jewish girls.

So…how can we even begin to tackle this issue?

I know that there are those who may reply by saying it’s finally time to rewrite the typical Yeshiva High School curriculum. I’ve heard others privately comment that our sons and daughters need to focus on the basic fundamentals of our faith. In other words, our kids should learn more about topics discussed at an Aish Discovery Seminar, and not be bogged down in the archaic Aramaic language of the Talmud. Alas, I will leave these suggestions aside.

I believe the answer to beginning to solve the crisis of Shabbos Texting starts with the one word that defines what teens are doing when they text. That one word is: communication.

In my capacity as Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s I have the unique opportunity to travel to various Jewish cities and neighborhoods throughout North America. In so doing, by davening at the local Shul or visiting a kosher eatery I enjoy being able to get a firsthand look at Jewish Americana.

And so, I’m pleased to have seen signs in various schools and other community establishments that beseech people to respect the prayer service by not texting during Minyan. Likewise, I saw a sign in several Yeshiva High Schools that encouraged a strict adherence to the laws of Lashon Harah by reminding students to “think before they text.”

These signs are nice. They are graphically pleasing and looked catchy. They communicate to the reader an ever important Jewish ideal. Moreover, the poster encourages teenagers to join committees or groups that will help create awareness towards Lashon Harah, Tzniut, and so on and so forth. However, before printing any more signs asking people to not text and to Daven, I believe we need to have signs and campaigns that champion, restore and evoke pride to all who observe Shabbos!

Just as Yeshiva High Schools have a S.N.A.P. (Shomer Negiah And Proud) Committee I encourage any school to have a S.S.A.P. (Shomer Shabbos And Proud) Committee. We must do something even at a student/grassroots level that will engage our youth to learn about the beauty of Shabbos and not simply be, as one person cited in The Jewish Week article said, “bored.”

The desecration of Shabbos is a dangerous spiritual disease in our midst that cannot be taken likely. At a physical level, the Surgeon General’s warning steers people from cigarettes. At a spiritual level, we must communicate and steer our children and students just how very meaningful Shabbos is to us. Fittingly, it was just announced this week that the Surgeon General will further communicate to the public at large the dangers of cigarettes. The Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packs will soon be replaced by a much larger and more graphic a) image and b) warning! If the Surgeon General is upping their awareness I believe we need to do our part on a spiritual plain and create an infographic and campaign to educate teens about what sanctity, and by extension, how fully celebrating Shabbos allows us to experience kedushah in the physical world.

Without this form of communication, countless Orthodox teenagers will sadly view Shabbos as and not a day filled with kedushah. Rather, it will simply be a day to nap and read the paper. Frankly, I must admit that I could see myself also getting pretty bored if this was my understanding of Shabbos. I mean, let’s be honest. Who reads the newspaper anymore?

I hope that this article will come as a wakeup call to us all.

I hope that many are invigorating to communicate or to explore once again the beauty of Shabbos.

In so doing, we can begin to restore Shabbos as The Holy Day of Rest before it simply becomes known as, The Holy Day of Texts!

If you have any insights on this topic please share them in the Comments Section

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12 Responses to “A Simple Solution to Solving Shabbos Texting!”

  1. AP on June 23rd, 2011 9:59 pm

    This is very well put, practical, and keeps things in proportion (unlike many other tweets/blogs and articles). Do you think there is any value in limiting or reconsidering the way in which the “adult” frum/Orthodox world approaches this “issue”? I have been wondering if teens who read and pick up on all this talk will develop a sense of animosity towards the more authoritative-type figures they see in many frum adults who are pecking away at the keyboard on these issues. Will this add more tension between Orthodox teens and “us”. I considered writing something to this effect, suggesting we all reconsider the keywords we use in communicating our thoughts and insights. In an age where hashtags and infobits matter so much, shouldn’t we try and take a more positive approach? Eliminate using target words such as “teens” and other isolating words… I could be wrong. It might not make a difference and be worth all risks entailed to allow mechanchim and parents to tackle this issue (come to think of it, I don’t like this word either…) As someone who has rather recently graduated teen hood, I feel uncomfortable on behalf of those being targeted in most of the articles out there… almost defensive for my slightly-younger counter parts… My point is, I like your article especially because it takes a less observatory or analytic perspective. It’s pretty practical.

  2. Mark on June 23rd, 2011 11:06 pm

    I hope that many are invigorating to communicate or to explore once again the beauty of Shabbos.

    The “beauty of Shabbos” has been the answer to every question of Shabbos observance among our kids. Mainly because we don’t want to focus solely on the “don’t”s. But what will we say to the kids when they say that Shabbos is more beautiful to them with texting than without? After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

  3. Rabbi Michael Green on June 24th, 2011 12:36 pm

    I encourage anyone to follow the comments that came about from this post with Rabbis and laymen alike here: http://twitter.theinfo.org/84028552814661632

  4. Shonnie Topas on June 26th, 2011 6:17 pm

    Thank you, Rabbi Green! …always very interesting topics.

  5. Rabbi Michael Green on June 26th, 2011 6:27 pm

    Thanks Shonnie! It’s a real pleasure getting feedback from a former student :)

  6. Phil Chernofsky on July 11th, 2011 9:26 am

    I’m all in favor of ratching up the education of the positive sides of Shabbat observance, the beauties of Shabbat, etc.

    But I wouldn’t dismiss or even push to a back burner, the “don’t” aspect of Shabbat.

    Our teens must be told – clearly and unhesitatingly – that texting on Shabbat is forbidden by halacha, as is driving a car, going to the movies, watering the lawn, making a cup of coffee…

    Specifically for those who consider themselves “reasonably” observant of mitzvot, they need to hear that a once a month cheeseburger for an otherwise kosher-keeping Jew is not ACCEPTABLE. Neither is shoplifting once in a rare while, etc.

    Texting on Shabbat is not half-Shabbos. It is desecration of Shabbat. Chilul Shabbat. I believe teens can understand that message if it is presented without hedging.

    Tell kids the stories of what previous generations – maybe their own grandparents – gave up to keep Shabbat. Giving up texting is nothing compared with real sacrifices made throughout our history.

    If a teen (or anyone) is okay with all other Shabbat observances except for texting, then texting is the person’s only real challenge in this area. And that means that one who succumbs and texts on Shabbat is not just violating a small, insignificant portion of Shabbat, he is giving up his Shabbat.

    Giving n to one temptation of many can be treated one way; giving in to one’s all-consuming, single Shabbat temptation must be seen, not as an isolated thing, but as something that impacts on the whole of the person’s observance.

  7. Rabbi Michael Green on July 11th, 2011 4:00 pm

    “:But I wouldn’t dismiss or even push to a back burner, the “don’t” aspect of Shabbat.”

    I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. I believe that it’s easier to swallow the DONTS when one appreciates/sees the postive/the beauty/dare I even say…the spirituality of The Day of Rest.

    “Texting on Shabbat is not half-Shabbos. It is desecration of Shabbat. Chilul Shabbat.”

    I agree. That is why I prefer the term: Shabbos Texting. We should call it is….call a spade a spade, already calling it Half-Shabbos (albeit that may be the term used by some of those who partake in this activity) is caving in and only further misguiding one as to the true ideals of Shabbos.

  8. susan mayer on July 22nd, 2011 6:01 am

    It is not a problem just amongst girls. The boys have to text their pot dealers to know where to meet them and then where to meet their friends to smoke. The boys smoking cigarettes during the week in public with kippas on is disgusting, at least the pot smoking which they believe brings them closer to Hashem is done in private.

  9. L. Haniford on August 1st, 2011 5:50 am

    An idea: Create a text-free on Shabbos club.

    In the schools you’d have a special club which would go on the kids resumes for when they wanted to attend a paticular seminary or for when they’re ready to get married. The students would get certificates for every month that they’re text free on Shabbos. The mothers would confiscate their daughters phones on Shabbos and then both Mother and daughter would sign a paper verifying that the student was text free that month. You could also let the status affect whether a person got to be valedictorian of the class etc.

    Just a little bit of outside pressure would work. And if you don’t think so then remember when you were kids when there was an award for being on-time to school. For myself that was a powerful motivator and I really think the schools can play a great role in solving this problem as well.

  10. Yehoshua Friedman on October 20th, 2011 11:02 pm

    How does Shabbos texting even get started? You cellphone is muktzeh. You don’t have it. You go to shul and walk around in a frum environment and you have something bulging in your pocket? I’m from the older generation, but I just don’t get it. Negiah I get, I’m not that out of it. But how can there be even a pretext of Shabbos observance here. I’m missing something.

  11. Rabbi Michael Green on October 23rd, 2011 4:36 pm

    1. Today, cellphones are typically bulging in ones pocket. One can still go to Shul on Shabbos..shuckle..and yet sneak away to the restroom or anywhere else to text…

    2. Negiah we all can get. This issue however, the issue of a new form of communication is one that if one doesn’t text/communicate in this manner, they will struggle to understand. However, once one realizes that this is how teens do communicate nowadays, they will understand just how difficult it may be for some to stop communicating in this method…cold turkey so to speak, for Shabbos…a day that is hard for them to see the beauty in….

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