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David Booth, a conservative rabbi who helms Congregation Kol Emeth in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, said that he plans to use the teshuvah in a workshop about Sabbath observance at his synagogue this fall. “This idea of untethering is a big deal in Silicon Valley,” he said. “There are addictive things about these technologies. To tell everybody once a week to go untether is greatly healing and freeing.”
Booth said that he sees the effects of tech addiction when he counsels married couples who are more focused on the Internet than on each other. In his personal religious practice, Booth’s family enters the Sabbath by unplugging the house’s wireless Internet network before lighting the Friday night candles.
Schmeltzer’s video also riffs on tech dependency. “The gadgets make us lazy, we gotta take it easy,” the break dancing robots sing. And at another point, “Instead of searching Google, I’m busy making kugel.”
“It’s not a secret that I myself am a sufferer of being crazy with the phone,” Schmeltzer told the Forward. When the iPhone was released in 2007, Schmeltzer was among the first to buy it, waiting on line outside an Apple Store in the Palisades Center mall in upstate New York. Today, he said, his hands are constantly cramping from texting too much. He plans to take up yoga for his hands to relieve the pain.
“Now we understand the beauty of Shabbas that we got thousands of years ago,” he said. “The truth is, we can make Shabbas in the middle of the week, for one hour a day.”
In fact, many Jews, both Orthodox and secular, seem to be taking mini-Sabbaths during the workweek to create distance between themselves and their gadgets. Mordechai Lightstone, director of social media at the Chabad news site Lubavitch.com, said that he blocks the Internet on his phone during his three daily prayers and that he puts away his phone altogether at family meals.
Schevitz said that she has a no-phone policy when she is in the car with her children. And Nevins silences his phone when he’s talking to another person or eating a meal.
“For our ancestors, Shabbat was the cessation of manual labor,” he said. “Today we are information workers, and so maybe our challenge and our opportunity is to shift the way we handle information on Shabbat.”