A Simple Solution to Solving Shabbos Texting!
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