Half Shabbos

I was asked by an Jewish educator- principal if I know what it means when current HS kids ask each other if they keep “half shabbos” or “full shabbos?”
Since I know the lay of the land, I said sure it is texting.
He said: Your right. The kids call someone who texts (and tweets and posts) on Shabbos as keeping half-shabbos and those who dont full shabbos.
This phenomena is more widespread than just the average modern orthodox. I have seen rabbinic kids here who wear black hats admit that they text on shabbos.
The educator said that the kids consider it part of daily verbal communication.

Update:
The discussion continued here Half-Shabbos Again and here Why Half-Shabbos?

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32 responses to “Half Shabbos

  1. According to this definition, half-shabbos may be a question not of ritual but of addiction. There are teens who suffer severe sleep deprivation because they just can’t stop, and text all night long. In the long term, that may subside.

    I suspect that our culture needs to spend a few more years texting in order to get a better feel for texting normalcy, and how that normalcy folds into religious practice.

  2. Back in my day (!), many teenagers were said to be “addicted” to the phone, but they didn’t use the phone on Shabbos.

    And smokers manage to refrain for at least 25 hours each Shabbos, despite a physical addiction.

    Something about texting on Shabbos is socially acceptable and that makes it at least partially religiously acceptable to these teens, to the extent they admit to it and even have a colloquial name for it.

  3. It could be that those kids are not keeping a “half Shabbos”. The cell phones the kids are using for texting may not be violating any biblical prohibitions.

    When electricity was a new technology, our halakhic experts did their best to address it, ultimately deciding that it had too much of a resemblance to fire – incandescent light bulbs were heated to glowing, switches created sparks, and circuits were completed. For those and other reasons, use of electricity was prohibited on Shabbat, except via mechanical timers and the like.

    These days, LED lights create little heat and solid state/low voltage switches create no sparks. Circuits using microprocessors or sequencers may not be completing circuits.

    Maybe it’s time for our halakhic decisors to revisit the question of using electricity on Shabbat?

    • I definitely considered the possibility that there is no biblical prohibition to texting. Compare it to applying makeup – some methods of which might actually be biblical prohibitions. However, texting is not in the spirit of Shabbos, in my opinion. Wearing makeup arguably is in the spirit of Shabbos – beautifying oneself in honor of the day, for the sake of being attractive to one’s spouse, etc. But halachically putting on lipstick is more problematic than texting. Caveat that I am not an expert on any of these things.

    • Len,
      Since you are a solid state electrical engineer maybe you should write a first draft of the current state of the technology in light of halakhah? Most of the discussions on these topics were written by non-engineer non-scientist rabbis or are really discussing older technology. The Tzomet book was written in 1985 and reflected the cutting edge technology of the early eighties- Pong and an old 286. R. Israel Rozen of Tzomet thinks that the denominational debates in the US led to needless stingency. How about making an engineering model of a shomer Shabbat Ipad or Iphone and then emailing it to authorities to look it over?

      • I had a 286 on my desk at work as late as 1989. But in today’s climate, isn’t it unlikely that any prohibitions will be relaxed? Even if it’s the rosh yeshiva’s son who is addicted to texting?

      • That’s a fine idea. I’ll put it on the project stack.

      • LEDs, Electricity, and Shabbos…

        Further, the day of the printed book is coming to an end. It won’t happen in 6 months, but in 10 years, an actual printed book will be a rarity. You’re seeing University’s phasing out text books in favor of eBooks, the Kindle/iPhone/iPad model of reading is dominant.

        Most of the MO kids at University did study for classed on Shabbat, they’d read for a few hours in the afternoon. Take away that option, and school becomes REALLY REALLY hard.

        When people are at a social function and call out a Mincha minyan, the people pulling out a pocket Siddur are fewer and fewer, more people Davin/Bensch from the Blackberry/other smart phone.

        This needs to be worked out, because as books get rarer, it will become increasingly prohibitive to print books… Unless you are delusional enough to think that the Orthodox community is large enough to sustain printing capabilities. Only the largest houses own their own equipment (as opposed to limited runs), and as the number of print houses declines, the equipment will vanish or become VERY expensive.

    • It’s interesting that the intuitive rationale for considering texting to be prohibited is electricity; the far more (halakhically) obvious issue would be writing. I would tend to doubt that it can be obviated.
      Yet, Len seems to be onto something in terms of the rationale of the “Half Shabbos”ers. Electricity is an integral part of the way that we think of Shabbat observance today, writing is not.

      • Writing in a manner that’s not permanent is generally not considered to be a biblical transgression of the Sabbath. Nothing on a cell phone screen is permanent.

      • 1) Even if it’s not biblical, it’s a clear-cut rabbinic prohibition.
        2) It is permanent, even if only saved as bits of data; look at the memory, not at the pixels, as that is how the writing is stored, even if on some external server.
        3) I would argue, based on the Ran’s position in his machloket with the Rashba regarding “chak tokhot” on Shabbat, that texting should be considered ketiva de-orayta on Shabbat.
        4) My point was that in this entire discussion nobody even brought up the issue of writing, and that use of electricity is merely assumed to be the problematic issue.

    • The Chazon Ish understands electric circuits as binyan (building) not as esh(fire).

  4. Mr. Moskowitz. I wonder about LEDs as light sources. Since they are much more environmentally friendly than other forms of light, it may well kill two birds with one stone if they turn out to be Kosher as well.

  5. Baruch Shekivanti. My friend Len has said here what I was arguing recently with one of our scientist hevra in the beit midrash. I think the continuing change in technologies will eventually force a reassessment, and we will find in 25 years a plethora of things/activities technically allowed for Shabbat and Yom Tov that we now see as forbidden. I think if some poskim had the ‘courage’, it might have been revisited already. Rav Goren at least raised some doubts about telephones, for instance, back when he wrote teshuvot about communications in the IDF in different circumstances. As Len has pointed out, now the technologies are far less problematic halachicly. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach never agreed the using electricity involved a m’lacha d’oraita; and argued with the Hazon Ish over the issue. Maybe what will happen is we will see certain ‘leniencies’ come into effect in certain communities, and that will create the challenge to rethink the entire structure.

    This of course still leaves the very important problem of the spiritual and social aspects of Shabbat; but that has to be seen as a discreet issue. This, of course, still raises the issue of the kids’ use of their phones. The navi was very wise when emphasizing the less definable aspects of Shabbat like daber davar.

    Len, we await your treatise. Right after something on meditation… ;-)

    Shanah Tovah!

    • This, of course, still raises the issue of the kids’ use of their phones.

      100% of the blame goes to the parents. Why do I say that? How many kids are paying the bill? Cut off the funding and even the most addicted texter tapers down. If the kid needs a phone, give him a prepaid. At 20 cents a text he’s not going to get very far. How much money are these teenagers earning anyway?

  6. What’s interesting about texting is that it’s an act that is public with one’s peers, but private within one’s family. I don’t know whether my child is napping in his room or texting. By contrast, watching television was a public action.

    Similarly, there is a public aspect to blogging and twittering and email on Shabbat that was absent in my youth. Peers might tell me they went to a concert on Shabbat, but now I have a backlog of electronic communications from friends that accumulate on Shabbat.

  7. Whatever the merits of the norm, normative halacha is not to interact with electronic devices during the Sabbath. That prohibition, and driving on shabbat, are the cardinal signals of Orthodox Sabbath observance.

    In contrast: The prohibitions of squeezing and selecting, in the halachic literature, are much clearer than that of electricity. But when an Orthodox practitioner looks upon a person squeezing or selecting during the Sabbath, they do not see rebellion: they see someone who just does not understand halachic minutiae.

    If teens had a term for violating the prohibition of squeezing and selecting on shabbat, I would see that as a victory for Jewish education: the teens understand the minutiae so well that they incorporate them into social terms. But they’re violating what our society sees as a highly visible borderline.

    So I see the issue as not about Chazon Ish v. R. Frank etc.: rather, I ask why so many Orthodox-educated teens are rebelling openly against commonly perceived halachic norms.

  8. There is an analogy between “half/full shabbos” and “are you shomer negia”? Both are questions about beahvior that is clearly* prohibited and both have to do with “how much of a regular teenager are you?” (how do you eat watermelon on shabbos doesn’t have any “coolness” valence in the same way). Not sure what to make of that, other than that I used to think of “are you shomer negia?” as a one-off/anomalous thing driven by the special relationship between teenagers and sex, but now I might reconsider.

    * clearly in the sense that none of the kids’ rabbis will allow it, not in the sense that you can’t construct an argument for leniency from halachic sources. also “clearly” in the sense that most kids who don’t observe these things think of themselves as just not observing something, not as following some minority opinion that allows it. [A big difference is that nearly all parents would, i assume, be anti-texting, whereas many parents don’t expect full negia-compliance.]

  9. In hindsight, negiah wasn’t about sex, but about not letting rabbis colonize a certain social, teenage, profoundly American space. (Parents were ambivalent because they hadn’t let rabbis colonize that space either.)

    Texting, like negiah, is something that happens in a social, teenage space — distinct from the adult public sphere. It is a realm that opened up in modernity, and the constant efforts of NCSY evangelization against it speak to the relative failure of the halachic realm to occupy that teenage space. Being shomer negiah was a marker of personal piety. So perhaps it isn’t a surprise that when a new, form of teenage connection was created, halacha wasn’t given a veto there either.

    The thing is, regardless of one’s negiah practice when one was a teenager, once one settled down and married it was no longer an issue. In fact, efforts to apply the issue of negiah in a mature context — shaking hands — became a marker of extreme harediism.

    Texting reflects something that starts out in the teenage social space, and for the teenagers, is confined there. There is a real generation gap between me and my teenaged children in how a telephone is used and perceived. I suspect the fact that texting is located in teenage space rather than public is what enabled the practice of “half shabbos” to begin. The question becomes, what happens when these kids settle down? Will half shabbos become a teenage thing they outgrew? Or will our grandchildren not understand the world of 20th century Orthodoxy, where one’s Sabbath media consumption was limited to paper? (And isn’t there an argument to be made that reading the NYTimes on Shabbat morning is more problematic than texting?)

  10. IMHO, the wrong move in this discussion is whether texting is muttar or assur.

    Modern Orthodox teenagers for the most part are culturally Jewish. Meaning that it’s about lifestyle, not Soloveitchian submission.

    If everyone else is doing it (whatever it is whether eating out fish, eating out pizza, negi’ah, going to clubs in the Village, etc.) , then it de facto is OK.

    In the end it may turn out the eating out fish & texting on shabbos is muttar. But I don’t think that most kids care.

    In certain ways this actually confirms the teenagers Orthodoxy, as they are maintaining “Communal Standards,” & are less likely to leave Modern Orthodox Judaism in the future.

    • Yonatan –

      You make a good point about “half shabbos” being a “Communal Standard,” although a different one. I would ask, though, what defines that standard; teenagers are quite accomplished at blurring them.

      I suspect the standard is “What the rabbis/adults say, except what they can’t see.”

      So texting is OK because they’re using a tiny instrument under the table to create or read a communication no adult will ever see. Sitting down in front of the computer, though, is an act parents are more likely to see, so more likely it violates the standard. Flipping a light very likely violates the standard because it creates persistent evidence of the violation. Driving a car clearly violates the standard because it’s so public.

      If this is what’s really happening, the long-term life of such a standard will correlate to growth out of adolescence. Of course, I know lots of Orthodox practitioners in their 40s and 50s who still live their religious lives primarily on the basis of “What will the neighbors say.”

      So who knows, maybe this is the wave of the future.

  11. “I have seen rabbinic kids here who wear black hats admit that they text on shabbos.”

    What do you mean by here? What is the context in which these kids have admitted it to you? (Or did you mean the educator?)

  12. The mashgiach of the yeshiva I went to, once asked someone who was not observant (but his wife was), “How much shabbos can you keep?” The man replied, “Half of shabbos”. So the mashgiach said, “ok, until what time, and then make havdalah.” So the man made havdalah every shabbos at like 2pm.

    Eventually, the man became fully observant.

  13. Yonatan’s last post unfortunately speaks volumes about the issue and prevalent attitudes among teens. Reb Yudel’s post re NCSY’s views re Shomer Negiah is simply another way of our dumbing down a violation of a serious Torah prohibition into observing a Midas Chasidus ala standing for Krias HaTorah or Chazaras HaShatz.
    [edited by site owner – no abbreviations not known to the average English speaker.No undocumented and unverified factoids.Do not universalize individual statements. Please speak in first person rather than attacking others.]

  14. H Sragow’s point re squeezing and selecting reminded me of a Maaseh Shehayah when I was a talmid in R Riskin’s Talmud shiur. We were learning Klal Gadol and one talmid asked whether HaShem really cares about how we pick out a pair of socks. R Riskin answered emphatically yes and reminded us that all of Halacha is rooted in sweating the details, as opposed to the gorgeous hashkafic details.

  15. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah I was walking home after dinner at friends. Passing through a neighbourhood park, I passed a group of clearly frum kids — boys and girls — whose faces were illuminated by the light from their cell-phones, iPhones etc as they texted away….

  16. As I read through the comments, I wonder about the trajectory of technology. My guess is that some day (soon), we will have implants that collect our thoughts and “wifi” them to others. What then will be the halachic challenge?

  17. This from a survey of students in Orthodox high schools being conducted for NCSY:

    Do you keep half-Shabbos or full-Shabbos (basically, do you text on Shabbos), do you eat out at non-kosher restaraunts (and if so, by yourself, with friends or with family), have you been on Miami spring break and if so how would you describe your religiosity there? Is your Judaism meaningful to you? Why or why not? What (if anything) would make you care about your Judaism?

    This was posted on the blog Curious Jew

  18. Other than Shneerson, what other authorities did not actively parent?

  19. Pingback: Technology and Shabbat – 21st century variety. | Sacred and Profane

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