Kosher Smart Phone Arrives as Ultra-Orthodox Tech Taboo Shifts

Israeli Rabbis Approve Phones That Don't Surf Web or Call

Not Too Smart: New rabbi-approved ‘kosher’ phones are being marketed to ultra-Orthodox Israelis. They are like their high-tech treyf cousins, but disabled to avoid the internet or even phone calls.
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Not Too Smart: New rabbi-approved ‘kosher’ phones are being marketed to ultra-Orthodox Israelis. They are like their high-tech treyf cousins, but disabled to avoid the internet or even phone calls.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published September 18, 2013.
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Gulian said that his company launched the phones because in today’s business environment it is becoming increasingly hard for Haredi professionals and businesspeople to manage without connectivity on the go and without SMS messages.

He said it also did so to rectify the situation wherein Haredi consumers “pay more and receive less” — because when they buy voice-only phones they also then need to purchase extra devices like a GPS units instead of being able to use the apps their phones would otherwise have.

The phones retail at $450 or $530 depending on the size of the memory — less than most other smart phones in Israel. But the general public can’t take advantage of them.

To apply for one, you have to complete a form outlining your reasons for needing a smart phone, and secure the approval of your rabbi, whose name and phone number must be written down so that the company’s supervising rabbis can decide whether they think that you can be trusted to use it responsibly. They accept work-related reasons, but not requests for recreational — or what they deem frivolous — use. They decline applications from young yeshiva students who are meant to be focused on their religious studies but do consider older applicants.

But despite all the precautions, it’s a cutthroat market out there, and the Rami Levy cells face competition from phones that boast even less perks.

Nativ is a company that specializes in Haredi communications, and it has just launched a less smart, and hence more kosher, smart phone.

Its “Mugan” — which means “protected” — is an LG Optimus L7 II that has all the limitations of the Rami Levy phone, including the acceptance procedure and vetted applications store, plus it has been stripped of the ability to make and receive calls. This is apparently an attempt to limit their use to work hours and other times when they are essential.

The “Mugan” doesn’t just boast less capabilities, it has more prestigious rabbinic backing. Rami Levy hasn’t yet revealed its rabbinic credentials, but whoever it has recruited won’t rival its competitor’s. The “Mugan” is approved by none other than the leader of the battle against smart phones — The Rabbinic Committee for Matters of Communications.


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