Take My iPad, Please!

Gadget Rules Place Needed Limits on Technology

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published June 25, 2012, issue of June 29, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For the gadget-toting Jew, a recent announcement from the Conservative movement about new Sabbath guidelines on the ban on electronics might sound like a flight attendant’s canned directive before takeoff: no cell phones, smart phones, digital cameras or even e-readers.

But beyond the traditional halachic reasons for pressing the “off button” on the Sabbath — the Torah’s ban on “work” reinterpreted for modern times — the guidelines contain an insight that speaks to the spiritual health of our society: The very gadgets meant to make our lives easier are now shackling us to our work and isolating us from the people around us. And Judaism’s oldest mandate — the Sabbath — might be the key to untethering ourselves.


Click to view a slideshow.

“Using electricity makes us powerful,” wrote Rabbi Daniel Nevins in the guidelines, which were approved by a committee of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in May. But Nevins, who is dean of the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, cautioned: “Our digital servants have the tendency to become tyrants, and it is nearly impossible to escape their reach. Instant access leads to the loss of privacy and the erosion of social intimacy.”

The fear that gadgets are taking over our lives or becoming an extension of our bodies is not new. But right now, a broader anxiety seems to be rippling through the Jewish community’s disparate, divided domains.

Less than two weeks after the Conservative movement released its Sabbath guidelines, Hasidic pop star Lipa Schmeltzer — who inhabits a far different Jewish world — posted a YouTube video infused with a similar perception of gadgets taking over even in his insular subculture. The video features Schmeltzer and a dancing chorus line of companions dressed up as silver robots, looking like the Tin Man from the classic 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

The film is based on a highly allegorical novel by Frank Baum, a disillusioned prairie populist, in which this character, who lacked a heart, symbolized modern urban industrial man. Once healthy and productive, he is now reduced to an unfeeling and dehumanized worker. In Schmeltzer’s video, his Tin Man character sees Hasidim and their children in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn flocking to electronics stores, obsessed with gadgets and games, oblivious to their human relationships. He and his fellow robots admonish viewers to “hang up the phone.”

In May, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men packed Citi Field stadium in Queens for a rally against the moral dangers of the Internet. The protest, which was advertised on the Internet itself, inspired countless punch lines. But it also contained nuggets of universal wisdom: “Even secular studies agree that children are being turned into ‘click vegetables,’” said one speaker, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, according to an article in The Verge. “Bored? Click something else.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.