This year’s National Shabbat of Unplugging is not this Shabbat, but next Shabbat, Shabbat T’rumah. The reminders of this year’s Shabbat of Unplugging” keep popping up on Facebook and elsewhere, and every so often, I comment with a link to this musing I wrote for last week’s parashat, Yitro, five years ago. I recognize that I may be in a small minority, especially among my Jewish educator friends, choosing not just to eschew the National Shabbat of Unplugging, but to actively make an argument why I choose not to participate, and hopefully encouraging others to consider their own reasons and motivations for doing so. By all means, if you feel it’s the right thing to do, do so. I have received, over the past few years, some positive and encouraging feedback about my thought on the “Shabbat of Unplugging,” and a fair share of rational and passionate arguments taking issue with my position – which I value just as much. This year, my thoughts were discovered by some outside the Jewish community who share my strong belief that religion need not be, perforce, counter-cultural, and that technology can actually be a means of enhancing our religious practices and lives. So I am offering up a revised and expanded edition for this year.
Parashat Mishpatim is a rich parasha, and I have written much about it, and if your goal or interest is to think about this week’s parasha, I commend to you the previous years’ musings for Mishpatim listed at the end of this one.
Because I wrote this musing 5 years ago for parashat Yitro, it references that parasha. Mishpatim has a different focus, but I’ll do my best to make that connection as well in this revised edition
Why I Won’t Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging.
This week I had intended to write about something completely different from what you will read following this introduction. I am, as I often do, wrestling with the many uses of Ani Ad”nai that we find in the Torah as rationalizations as to why we should observe some particular commandments. In Yitro, with the first iteration of the ten commandments, we find the grandfather of this concept in the first commandment. Although the formulaic Ani Ad”nai is not used even once in the ten commandments, it is somewhat implicit, and at the very core of the first commandment. You should heed all that is being said here simply because
“I am Ad”nai your G”d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage…”
In the midst of struggling yet again with this “do it because daddy says do it, or daddy will punish you” theology, I read a most enlightening blog post on this very subject, for this very parasha, from Rabbi Menachem Creditor. You can read it on his blog. His words have given me a handle, after all these years, to redeem this most troubling of theologies, by standing it on its head (or side.) I won’t give it away. Go read it and see what you think.
[2017 – Parashat Mishpatim is oddly devoid of the “Ani Ad”nai” rationalization. There is no apparent justification for its many, many laws, with the exception of 23:9 admonishing us to not oppress the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt. Given the first words of parashat Mishpatim, however, it would seem that the revelation at Sinai which immediately preceded it provides all the rationale and justification required for all that parashat Mishpatim entails. “These are the rules you shall set before them:” Note well, too, that the very first rule is about the fair treatment of slaves!]
So I decided to take this week’s musing in another direction, also based on something I’d read. A colleague posted to Facebook the first of many links I expect to see this year to the good folks at Sabbath Manifesto promoting this year’s National Day of Unplugging. I commented on her post, shooting from the hip, explaining why I had some reservations about endorsing this idea. Then it struck me that here in the parasha we read for the first time the fourth commandment, a rather explicit commandment regarding Shabbat. Here was an opportunity to expand on my thoughts about that. Herewith, those thoughts.
It seems like such a great idea. A national day of unplugging. I’m not convinced that this is such a great idea, and I’m not certain I would want to participate in it (I haven’t participated in either of the previous two years, and it wasn’t for lack of knowledge of the event. However, I can’t say that, until now, I didn’t participate by deliberate choice.)
[2017 – I have continued a purposeful non-participation since 2012. Oddly, this year’s national Shabbat of Unplugging also coincides with the annual “Shabbat Across America.” More on that later.]
For some of you, dear readers, this isn’t even an issue on your radar screen. Your Shabbat observance may or may not routinely exclude the use of technology. Perhaps you make your Shabbat choices based on the standard embraced by the Reform movement and other forms of liberal Judaism – that of informed choice. You don’t need the folks at Sabbath Manifesto telling you what to do to make Shabbat more meaningful, even though you might agree with some of what they say. Your choice is not determined by rabbinical fiat. If your leanings are Reconstructionist, perhaps you apply the Kaplan standard of giving the past a vote but not a veto. If you’re in the Conservative fold, you may be struggling to see how halakha might evolve to deal with our ever increasing dependence upon and relationship with technology. There was a time when I might say that an orthodox Jew has no issue with this either-they just observe the halakha and don’t use technology on Shabbat – so they are already unplugging. (But not literally-witness the KosherLamp, Shabbat elevators, and more.) However, times are changing. Witness the increasingly present idea of “Half-Shabbos” adopted by young orthodox youth eager to use their smartphones on Shabbat afternoons.
[2017 – “Half-Shabbos” as a thing has been around since about 2010. It is still a thing. That it is rarely talked about or commented on these days is, in my view, a somewhat tacit acceptance of its reality. As this artilce suggests, it might also be an affirmation that the trend to the right in Modern Orthodoxy that began in the 1990s stalled and is even reversing itself. See this 2014 article from Tablet http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/184233/shabbat-phones]
I’ve always considered myself somewhat cross/multi/post-denominational Aspects of all the various modern Jewish philosophies are part of how I determine how I live. On this issue, I don’t know that my understanding of Shabbat and its purpose must, perforce, involve disconnecting from the world through avoiding/unplugging technology. Yes, there is value in focusing on the immediate world, but I also believe there could be value on Shabbat in staying connected. They ask “can you survive a day without technology?” as if we were a society of addicts. Yes, aspects of technology are addictive. Nevertheless, I ask why survive a day without technology? Will this automatically make someone a better person? Of that I remain uncertain. The other nine points of the Shabbat Manifesto make sense. It’s just that first one that has me concerned. Consider that maybe what we need is a Shabbat Plugged-In.
What’s the motivation behind those proposing the day of unplugging? I don’t doubt for a second that it is, in part, a sincere effort to help people discover the everyday wonders around them, to give people a chance to slow their lives down for a moment, to assist them in connecting with their understanding of G”d. The folks behind the Sabbath Manifesto, the folks from Reboot, are not dogmatic. They make it very clear that it is up to every individual to interpret and utilize their ten principles. They offer different examples of what it might mean to refrain from using technology, to be mindful of one’s health, etc.
So I want to make it clear that I have no argument with the folks from Reboot, and I genuinely encourage you to engage in your own dialog with their principles/proposals and see how they might work for you. I have, and in so doing, have come to the conclusion, at least currently, that the first principle, “avoid technology” on Shabbat, doesn’t ring as true for me as the other 9 principles. I accept that this just might be my own gut reaction, an assumption, that, however unintentional, the principle harkens back to an obeisance to a tradition simply because it is one. A rabbinical interpretation of an uncertain commandment. A rigid adherence to a worldview that may no longer apply. Technology is no longer ancillary to our daily life. For better or worse, technology has become integral to our way of life.
Avoiding technology on Shabbat sounds to me as if it could be just another bone thrown to tradition as a result of the collective Jewish guilt of liberals Jews who continue to believe that there is something not genuine about their Judaism because they do not do everything that traditional Jews do and/or not do on Shabbat, because they are not shomer Shabbat.
Religion is not automatically pro-simple. There’s very little that is simple about Judaism. Asceticism exists in many religions but it is only one of many ways to be religious. Now, that’s a drastic comparison. Living the life of an ascetic, an Essene, so to speak, is not at all akin to taking a day off from the use of technology once a week, or even once a year. The idea of a national day of unplugging is not entirely anathema to me. I can certainly see value in stepping away from technology once in a while. I even try to do that whenever I am using my computer – planned breaks. Where things fall flat for me is the linkage to Shabbat. Especially so because I believe that my use of technology on Shabbat can actually enhance my Shabbat experience.
(The day is coming, my friends. We’ve had electronic/digital siddurs for over a decade. A bit clumsy to use on phones-I remember how tricky it was on my PDAs from Palm and HP, and later my first true smartphone, a Motorola Q, to try and use the electronic siddur and Tanakh I had on them. Now we have siddur and Jewish text apps for phones and tablets. There have been traditional siddurim and texts available electronically for years. Now the Reform movement, somehow always behind Chabad and the orthodox world when it comes to utilizing the latest technology (and I say this as someone who was active in the early days of the Reform movement’s first forays onto the web, even serving on an Internet committee) has finally made their new siddur, Mishkan Tefillah, available on iOS.
[2017: In that 2012 musing, I neglected to also mention the increasing use of projection and “visual T’filah.” I’ve also not seen any rapid adoption of the use of electronic siddurim, but the concept is still new, and still challenging even for very liberal Jews. One main reason it is challenging, I believe, is precisely for the reasons I’ve noted in 2012 – a still influential idea among liberal Jews that somehow their Judaism is less authentic.]
(Sidebar: As an Android user, and a working class Jew who can’t afford Apple’s always higher pricing, I sometimes wonder why there is this stereotypical idea that Jews and iOS go together. It’s an almost deliberate denial of the “Jews as cheapskates” stereotype – because there’s little doubt, at least in my mind, that Android gives more bang for the buck than iOS. “We’re not cheap. We only buy from Apple!” Has anyone ever done an actual survey to see if more Jews own iPhones than Android, Blackberry, or other devices?) I have digressed from my digression, so back to my original digression before we get back to the main topic!)
[2017 – this issue is still with us, though I have seen a gradual erosion of the domination of iOS devices in the Jewish community.]
[2017 – I must say, at this point, that I see projected liturgical text, enhanced by “visual t’filah” as a more viable alternative than eReaders at services. It is related to the reason that decades ago I abandoned, whenever I could, printed and handed-out songsheets – first replaced by overhead transparencies, and, for the last 15 years or so by Powerpoint or Keynote slides. Then the people involved are not looking down at their songsheet – they are looking up to see the projection, and thus you can see them and connect with them. (And we’re saving trees.) I don’t think printed siddurim are going away anytime soon. Personally, I hope projected text becomes the preferred replacement as opposed to eSiddurs. Only time will tell. Maybe it will be something totally different. Maybe text projected right in front of us through head-worn devices, or VR glasses? Maybe we’ll all be worshipping “together” in real time, but each in our own location through VR technology. The possibilities are staggering.]
So yes, the day is coming. People will be worshipping using eReaders, tablets, phones. [2017 – Or some of the even newer and more radical ideas I suggested above.] When this is all people are using – when the printed book has become a rare sight – what will we Jews do on Shabbat? Will Reform congregations allow their use on Shabbat, while Orthodox shuls not? Will the Conservative movement’s committees endlessly debate the topic while the movement’s members and synagogues simply choose for themselves, but only hire clergy who follow the halakha as it stands? Will Reconstructionist congregations see the already prevalent divide between traditionalists and modernists often inherent in their congregations become wider and perhaps lead to a fractious schism? (The Renewal types will either be busy meditating or chanting in drum circles, and trying to stay out of the fray. There, have I been an equal opportunity offender?) Will the Institute for Science and Halacha, that venerable bastion of modernist traditional Judaism, that gave us Shabbat elevators, work with scientists and engineers to help create the eSiddur equivalent of the KosherLamp that can be used on Shabbat? Will we find a way to create a fully digital “sefer Torah” (and yes, there could be an inherent oxymoron in combining the words digital and sefer-unless we expand the definition of what sefer means in an all digital age.) The day will come, like it or not, when we Jews will certainly be using some forms of technology on Shabbat, because there will be no alternative, and our religion will have evolved to adapt to that. What will the Sabbath Manifesto of that future time ask us to consider in order to enhance our Shabbat experience? I’m not sure “avoiding technology” will be in the mix.
That’s enough digression for now. Now back to the main topic.
[2017 – In Parashat Mishpatim, we read:
שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲשֶׂה מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ שֽׁוֹרְךָ וַֽחֲמֹרֶךָ וְיִנָּפֵשׁ בֶּן־אֲמָֽתְךָ וְהַגֵּֽר
Six days shall you do your work, but on the seventh you shall cease (from labor,) in order that your ox and ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed.
The Hebrew doesn’t really say “cease from labor,” – a more direct translation would be “Six days you shall make your making (or do your doings,) and on the seventh day you shall Shabbat/cease in order that…” One can reasonably infer that the “ceasing” applies to the “making” or “doing” but that’s still a pretty broad and non-specific definition. No wonder the rabbis felt they needed something concrete to determine it. Note, too, that this verse in Mishpatim doesn’t speak of ceasing for one’s own sake, but for the sake of their animals, slaves, and resident aliens. In fact, even if you go back to the commandment for Shabbat found in parashat Yitro chapter 20, it doesn’t mention any reason for ceasing from one’s own labors on Shabbat except to note “because G”d did it.” So there’s a bit of inconsistency here. The commandment for Shabbat says that one, their family, their slaves, and their animals, the resident alien should rest because “G”d did it” and “made Shabbat holy.” Here in Mishpatim it says do it “for the sake of” your slaves, animals, and the resident alien, so they may be refreshed. Nothing about for the sake of refreshing yourself. Perhaps that can be inferred, but why not be explicit? Perhaps, in reality, we are being commanded to actively do things that enable our family, slaves, neighbors, animals, and the strangers who live among us can rest from their labors. If my Shabbat obligation is to enable others to rest on Shabbat, might that not require me to actually be doing things myself? Might not technology enable and enhance that? I recognize this is a radical interpretation of what Shabbat asks us to do, but Torah left the opening – I just explored it.]
To know how to deal with the use of technology on Shabbat, we must first ask ourselves what, exactly, we are supposed to do/not do on Shabbat? It says in the ten commandments (and in the creation narrative) that G”d rested, but it doesn’t say that we must or should rest. It only says what we shouldn’t do: M’lakhah. Therein lies the rub. What, exactly, is m’lakhah?
Now to be fair, a bit later, we come upon Exodus 31:12-17
And Ad”nai said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I, Ad”nai have consecrated you. You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from his kin. Six days m’lakhah may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a [Sabbath of complete rest] holy to Ad”nai…
From there it goes on to the “v’shamru.” Now you tell me where that says we must rest? Maybe that [Sabbath of complete rest] thing? It’s in brackets because we don’t really know what the text means. It merely says it is a Shabbat Shabbaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths. A ceasing of cessation, or a cessation of cessations. Could the text be any more obtuse? Let’s face it: though we’re used to using it that way, the Hebrew word Shabbat doesn’t really translate directly to mean rest. Stopping or ceasing may be better translations.
So as far as I am concerned, it is not at all clear that we are commanded to actually rest, in the modern meaning of the word, on Shabbat. What we are commanded is to not do any m’lakhah.
The word m’lakhah is defined in scholarly biblical lexicons in many ways. Among those definitions are:
- a trade mission or business journey
- business or work
- handiwork or craftsmanship.
The word is generally used to describe work in the sense of things that one needs to do to live or earn a livelihood. As usual, the rabbis took a different tack to define it. Working from the creation story, they noted that it says that G”d “rested” (really just another form of Shabbat, vayishbot) from G”d’s m’lakhah. Assuming this meant G”d rested from all the work required for creation, they linked m’lakhah with creative acts, thus creating a different category (for there can be business work that isn’t necessarily creative.) Since m’lakhah appeared both in creation and the ten commandments, the linkage was obvious, they thought. Nice, but then they gummed up the works by linking it all to the creative acts involved in building the beit hamikdash, the Temple, in addition to the basic acts required by human beings just to survive (like baking bread, making clothing, writing, building shelter or a house.) Thus was born what we now see defined as m’lakhah according to halakhic principles.
Thirty-nine specific areas of creative effort are noted. I won’t get into a specific discussion about each of them here, though I will note I find some of them strange. The prohibition of “putting the finishing touch on something” (makeh bapatish, literally, striking with a hammer) seems particularly odd, considering that Shabbat is the recognition of G”d doing exactly that-putting those last finishing touches on creation. In fact, I might be so bold as to suggest that this is why the Torah says (in Gen. 2:2) that on the seventh day G”d finished the work that G”d was doing – words which have vexed readers of the Torah from the start. So it seems to me that putting the finishing touch on something on Shabbat is to honor and recreate what G”d did! How and why have we turned this upside down?
Heschel suggests that the concept of kadosh, holy, is central to Shabbat. The concept of holy is first introduced in reference to Shabbat:
And G”d blessed the seventh day and called it holy.
Now many might cite Heschel as support for the idea of an unplugged Shabbat. I suspect Rabbi Heschel himself would be a supporter of Sabbath Manifesto and a day of unplugging. After all, Heschel’s take is, simply put, that Shabbat is about being in time, rather than being in space, which we do the rest of the week. The festivals, Heschel argues, though they celebrate events in time, are fixed to timings in the natural world – moon phases, seasons, and thus, he says, tings in space. Shabbat is independent of anything in nature and space – it is a celebration of time. He says:
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world. (A.J. Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning For Modern man)
Is there something inherent in technology – computers, cell phones, smartphones, tablets, etc. that make them about space, rather than time? Perhaps. However I would also argue that these technologies might actually allow us to transcend and hallow time. Technology, for example, allows us to be places we are not, and to be in more than one place at the same time (albeit virtually.) Technology allows us to be in our own time and the past simultaneously. Technology just might be exactly what is needed to be celebrating time rather than place.
[2017 – I’m not alone in believing this. Later in 2017, Rabbi Elizabeth Wood wrote about why she doesn’t unplug on Shabbat for the RJ Blog: http://blogs.rj.org/blog/2012/11/20/why-i-dont-unplug-on-shabbat/ . Then, from a very different perspective, there was this New Yorker article by Casey N. Cep in 2014: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-pointlessness-of-unplugging. Predating even my own musing in 2012, is this thought, though uncredited, I believe written by Rabbi Laura Baum, then with OurJewishCommunity.org, the original online streaming synagogue: http://www.ourjewishcommunity.org/to-unplug-or-not-to-unplug-on-shabbat/]
I’ve written many times about the anamnesis prevalent in Jewish ritual – ways of making the past present. Technology is a wonderful tool for making that happen. With technology, we could be at our Seder table and at Sinai or the Reed Sea at the same time! [2017 – We could experience the plagues, the Exodus, the revelation at Sinai. We could visit Abraham in his tent. Imagine, the entire Torah, indeed, the entire Tanakh, as an immersive virtual reality experience. If it were possible, would we truly deny ourselves that experience on Shabbat?]
[2017-The Seder idea has been rumbling around my brain since 2012, and I am still trying to figure out how to create a truly interactive virtual reality Seder. If this idea intrigues you as well, please be in touch, and maybe working together we can make it a reality.]
As I stated near the beginning of this musing, it’s a matter of what you do online or with the technology, not that you are just using or not using it. I might use the technology to study, to engage in social action activities, to be part of an extended virtual community. Instead of the false dichotomy of “during the week we use technology and on Shabbat we don’t” why not “during the week we use technology for all sorts of things, but on Shabbat we use technology only for a higher purpose, in service to G”d and the spirit of G”d’s Shabbat.” I do not believe it has to be either/or. Item two on the Sabbath Manifesto is “connect with loved ones.” is that connection any less worthwhile if it is done using technology, as that might be the only way to do it?
[2017 – Since 2012, I have grown even more convinced of the value of connecting with loved ones on Shabbat using technology. Instead of a perfunctory “Shabbat Shalom” phone call before Shabbat starts, why not an active and prolonged conversation on Skype?]
During the week I utilize computers to deal with the tyranny of work. On Shabbat, might I not use a computer in a way that is totally free of how I use it for work? Maybe I’ll use it to create a song, or a poem. (Oh wait, that’s creative isn’t it? Well, as I said before, I’m not sure the rabbis got that right anyway.) Maybe I’ll use it for something that, for me, enables me to totally experience the idea of “Shabbat Vayinafash” which I like to think of, as I’ve written in musings before, of G”d’s refreshing or re-souling G”d’s self. Who am I to judge how another experiences Shabbat? If playing Angry Birds, or Candy Crush helps you be in the spirit of Shabbat, then why not play? If reading is something you usually do on Shabbat, does it really matter if you use a Kindle or a Tablet instead of a book?
I’ve often heard even shomer Shabbat Jews refer to a Shabbat recharge. Now there’s irony in this simile/metaphor. (For you purists, I might argue that it is not at all clear if this is a simile or a metaphor. It can be the simile “Shabbat is like a battery being recharged” but it could also be the metaphor “Shabbat is a recharging.”) Can there be recharging without violating prohibited m’lakhah? Certainly not in a physical, scientific sense. What about in a spiritual sense? If using technology helps provide my spiritual recharge for Shabbat, is that truly wrong?
[2017 – Looking back over this musing from 2017, I wonder how I could have failed to mention the very similar experience that music and Shabbat have for me. When I am playing my piano at services, or conducting a choir, or leading a service from a keyboard – that is my spiritual connection, my spiritual recharge. As I have said to so many over the years, what comes from my fingers and hands when I play my piano at a service is my t’filot, my prayers. Additionally, many have been the Shabbats when I have relaxed and refreshed myself at home by sitting at my piano and playing.]
What about mitzvot and Jewish values? The rules for Shabbat permit some violations for the sake of saving a life. If I turn my cell phone off, I might never know of that opportunity. My cell phone might enable me to perform an act of kindness or support for another on Shabbat. Maybe someone I know has an emergency, or a car accident, or a death in the family. Maybe a friend is feeling down and needs cheering up. Maybe a family member needs my assistance. Maybe a friend is studying Torah alone and needs a partner. If someone is alone and needs community, they could attend one of the virtual synagogues on the web. Is this truly wrong? We arrange for shut-ins to see services through live streaming (some synagogues have done this for decades just by phone, by the way.)
[2017 – the growing trend of streaming Shabbat services to me demonstrates the potential hypocrisy of an “unplugged Shabbat.” So the hundreds, maybe thousands of people that are now deriving spiritual nourishment and sustenance from lived-streamed Shabbat services should be denied the experience so that some liberal Jews could feel good about their authenticity by observing a day away from technology? How does that serve the entire community?]
[2017 – And speaking of community, as I noted earlier, this year’s National Shabbat of Unplugging also coincides with “Shabbat Across America and Canada”, an event that exists to promote “a synagogue-based program that encourages synagogue/Jewish center members to invite their friends, neighbors and co-workers to participate in a joyous Shabbat meal and experience.” (From the NJOP – National Jewish Outreach Program website description of the program.) It’s wonderful that this event brings people together IRL (in real life.) Consider the potential if this program were extended through technology, real-time interactive video, virtual reality, etc. so that thousands across the U.S. and Canada were all participating together!]
Here’s another way technology could enhance my Shabbat experience. If I go to services and get inspired, by traditional standards, I’d just have to keep the ideas in my head until Shabbat is over. I couldn’t write a note, record a voice memo, make notes on my smartphone or tablet. Chances are by the time Havdalah came around I’d have forgotten. If I used technology to help me remember, I could perhaps make my life, or that of someone else, or even the whole world, better.
[2017 – does this indicate an over-dependence upon devices for remembering things? Perhaps. Our ancestors certainly appear to have been better at remembering things without aids. Our sacred texts were passed down orally at first. At the same time, the amount of things to know and remember in this world have increased exponentially over the millennia – and technology – starting with writing, then printed matter, then recording technology and now digital technology has provided the tools to enable us to keep track of it all.]
Now, all this being said, I will state that my own Shabbat practices have varied widely over the years. For many periods in my life, I did refrain from using technology on Shabbat, from answering the phone, checking email, writing articles, etc. I did refrain from doing commerce or business on Shabbat (though there’s that catch involving anyone who is a Jewish professional and what it is that they actually do on Shabbat to meet the needs of the congregation or community.) I found ways to unplug during Shabbat.
Now I have reached a point in my life where I find that technology allows me to experience my Shabbat in ways that actually enhance it. So I’m not sure I’ll unplug on for the National Day of Unplugging. I may unplug on other occasions or other Shabbats. I may even unplug that Shabbat – but not because it is the National Day of Unplugging, but rather because I choose, that Shabbat, to do so.
So consider this my little plug for not unplugging on the National Day of Unplugging for the wrong reasons. Technology is not inherently evil, not inherently contradictory to the goals of Shabbat. Technology is a tool, and it can be used for good or evil. Maybe, if we focus on only using it for good on Shabbat, we can help bring about a world in which technology is always used only for good all week long as well.
[2017 – As time moves on, technology increasingly demonstrates its ability to be used for good or evil. This particular year, with all the political sturm und drang, many are continually advocating unplugging from Facebook, the news, etc. There might be something to that – or there might not. Some people might need that break more than others. We are living in a Dr. Who-like “Weeping Angels” reality in which we fear averting our eyes lest we be overtaken. We worry what the powers that be might do if we turn away but for a moment. I read one person who suggested that we need not let FOMO-fear of missing out- drive us; it’s OK to take a little technology/Facebook/Online/News break because there are enough of us that we can cover for each other. Perhaps. I am not entirely convinced of that. Some also argue that Shabbat is a time for respite from all the political turmoil, the craziness that is happening in our world. Consider however, for a moment, that Shabbat may be precisely the time, when we need to actively renew our commitment and engagement to the values that our tradition teaches us to practice.The internet has been replete with articles explaining why Jewish people went to the marches on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Orthodox women and men did participate, and orthodox (and even Chabad) congregations provided meals and other types of support.]
[2017 – So if unplugging is your thing, do it. I encourage you to think about why you’re doing it, and do it with intention. For me, I’ll intentionally be finding ways to utilize technology in service to G”d and Judaism that day, as I do on many other Shabbats. Yes, I do take an occasional unplugged Shabbat, and even an unplugged weekday. I do step away from my computer, I do shut off the cell phone. I do step away from technology. Once in a while, I do still observe Shabbat in the manner observed by those the orthodox community would consider shomer Shabbat. I do those intentionally as well. I do enjoy, and understand why G”d might ask us to do this. Nevertheless, my understanding of what G”d is truly asking us to do on Shabbat is informed, but not restricted by the rabbinical interpretations – and that understanding can lead me to embrace technology on Shabbat in order for me to fulfill my understanding of what G”d is asking us to do on Shabbat. My prayer is that this Shabbat, and especially next Shabbat, the “Shabbat of Unplugging,” you do the same, whatever your understanding is.
©2017 (portions ©2012) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on Parashat Mishpatim:
Mishpatim 5776 – Might For Right
Mishpatim 5775 – Revisiting Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5774 – Chukim U’mishpatim Revisited
Mishpatim 5773 – No One Mounrs the Wicked
Mishpatim 5772-Repairing Our Damaged Temple
Mishpatim 5771 – Getting Past the Apologetics
Mishpatim 5770 – Divine Picnic
Mishpatim 5769 – Redux 5757/5761 Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5768 – Justice for All
Mishpatim 5767-To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink
Mishpatim 5766 – Mishpatim with a Capital IM
Mishpatim 5765-Eid Khamas (revised)
Mishpatim 5764-Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5763-My Object All Sublime
Mishpatim 5762-Enron Beware!
Mishpatim 5761-Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5760-Chukim U’mishpatim
Mishpatim 5759-Eid Khamas-Witness to Violence