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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The committee operates under a group of Haredi rabbis that includes Ashkenazi leaders like Aharon Leib Shteinman and Shmuel Wosner, as well as the revered Sephardi cleric Ovadia Yosef. And even with that supervision the “Mugan” is $2 cheaper than the more basic Rami Levy phone.

A spokesman for the Rabbinic Committee, Rafael Meir, was disparaging of Rami Levy’s phone during a conversation with the Forward, saying that it has “no kashrut”: “Even if they bring a rabbi [giving approval], it needs to be approved by the Committee, not a rabbi from the fringes.”

Haredi rabbis argue that they haven’t capitulated to the technology they previously shunned. Baruch Shapira, a rabbi who was close to the late Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected Ashkenazi Haredi rabbi of recent years, said that he regards the launch of new kosher phones as a tool in the battle against the mainstream smart phone.

Shapira — who regards only the “Mugan” as kosher — said that its launch will weaken the attraction of iPhones and the like, by offering a kosher alternative to these “totally prohibited” devices.

But while Shapira presented these modified smart phones as an example of rabbis innovating to shape their community, researcher Amiram Golan sees it differently.

Golan, academic head of the new Center for the Study of Ultra-Orthodox Society at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, said that he thinks that the general Haredi public has pushed the rabbinic leadership to accept smart phones by failing to fully observe their ban. He said of the rabbis: “They are very practical. They know that you cannot have curbing rules on a public that cannot withstand them. And more and more people close to the rabbis understand this situation.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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