The Shabbos App - A Modern Day Sa'ir La'azazel
Yom Hakippurim is called a Shabbat Shabbaton, or as Mechon Mamre translates it, "A sabbath of solemn rest." It is the ultimate Shabbat. This year, this is especially true, since Kippur falls out on Shabbat.
The Jewish people's commitment to Shabbat is one of the fundamentals of our faith. It is mentioned in the Aseret Hadiberot and its laws were given over even before we reached Mt. Sinai. It is one of the few Mitzvot which we absolutely require a new convert to observe fully and it is one of the few Mitzvot where we say that one who desecrates it publicly is considered a Mumar for the entire Torah and his wine becomes prohibited.
There are two very public events taking place in the Jewish world right now regarding Shabbat that warrant attention.
The first is The Shabbos Project, a beautiful initiative started by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein of South Africa. Last year, he started it for his own country of South Africa and was wildly successful. This year, he has gone global, even spurring on local versions of this project. Even some celebrities are getting in on it:
The world-wide Shabbat event is scheduled for this Parshat No'ah, at which time those who already keep Shabbat are encouraged to invite those who don't do so yet over to their house to see and experience what a Shabbat meal is all about at least for that one Shabbat. What a wonderful initiative and a great way to start off the year right after the high of the holidays!
But as the Zohar teaches us, with every great thing that comes into the world on the side of Kedusha (holiness), there is an equally powerful force on the side of Tum'ah (spiritual uncleanliness). This is derived from the verse in Kohelet 7:14 גַּם אֶת-זֶה לְעֻמַּת-זֶה, עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹהִים [God hath made even the one as well as the other]. Notice, as well, that the Rashei Teivot of that verse make up the word עזאזל (Azazel). The two goats that were used during the service on Yom Hakippurim were to be exactly the same in appearance, height, etc. One is offered on the Mizbe'ah (LaHashem) and the other is shoved down a cliff (La'azazel). This is because את זה לעמת זה עשה האלקים.
The "le'umat zeh" to the Shabbos Project is something called the Shabbos App. Apparently, a bunch of Jewish software developers decided that it would be a good idea to develop a smartphone app in a technological way that would make it "permissible" to text on Shabbat.
From their kickstarter profile:
We are a team of ehrlich’e yidden who want to make it easier to be a frumm’e Yid. Today, there are too many Yiddin going “off the derech” because they find Yiddishkeit too cumbersome and outdated. It doesn't need to be so!
In fact, there are lots of things that we as frum Yidden keep today that are not based on anything other than some chumros and minhugim according to a very small number of obscure Poiskim. Our goal is to change that and empower people with the knowledge that they can be good ehrlich’e Yidden and still keep up with the times.
Machloikes l’shaim shamayim is an integral part of Yiddishkeit as challah, chulent and gefilte fish. Rashi, Toisfes, and The Rambam pioneered the way and we can only imagine what they would hold of the Shabbos App. What we do know is that they would not be quick to pass an opinion in either direction, pro or against, without carefully weighing the information and taking into account that it is 2014.
Perhaps one thought to reflect upon would be the possibility of this Shabbos App bringing more Yidden to shemiras Shabbos! How many half-frei Yidden would be more frum if not for their phone being used on Shabbos? How many Yidden have elderly parents or teenagers and the stress and worry of their well being takes away from their munuchas Shabbos? How many Yidden feel that Yiddishkeit is old fashioned and antiquated and crave that their Yidishkeit grow with the times?
So much of Yiddishkeit creates separation and division. Now is our chance to bring everyone together and to be open to new opportunities and endless potential.
It is our hope and tefilah that the Shabbos App will enhance the Shabbos for everyone, and make the Reboin’eh Shel Oi’lem smile down from above.
Yiddishkeit is outdated, old-fashioned and antiquated? Keep up and grow with the times? Taking into account that it is 2014? These statements sound to me like they want to follow in the footsteps of the Conservative Movement, who originally wanted to follow Halacha, but not if it doesn't keep up with the times. "The times" always trumps halacha in their view. The fact is that Halachot brought down by many Poskim have very much kept up with the times, but within the confines of halacha. The group starting this app claim to be within the confines of halacha, but trying to fit Shemirat Shabbat into smartphone use is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. No matter what you do, it will not fit. The halachic problems that it purports to solve are not being solved. And even if they would solve all halachic issues, the Hashkafa behind it is (pardon my Yiddish) krum. Just as allowing single girls use the Mikveh is a terrible idea and will end up causing more problems than it tries to solve, the same with allowing gerama-based smartphone use on Shabbat. See also Rabbi Yair Spitz's good post and Rabbi Bechhofer's good post about it. In addition, the video that the app creators produced, besides being full of errors, is full of Bizui Talmidei Hachamim to boot.
No rabbi worth his Semicha will permit using this app, let alone support it, for non-Piku'ah Nefesh situations. As such, the creators of this app, if they go through with this project, will be considered in the category of Poretzei Geder and Mahti Et Harabim. I wish no such distinction upon them, and hope that the holiness of Yom Kippur will come upon them, prompting them to think twice about creating this app.
Whatever you do, stay away from this Shabbos App like you stay away from the Sa'ir La'azazel - lest you go down the cliff along with it.
Gemar Hatima Tova - may we all be sealed in the Book of Life.