The Jewish Case Against Unplugging

Technology and Faith Can Go Hand in Hand

Connected: Is there some way to moderate our digital connection?
Getty Images
Connected: Is there some way to moderate our digital connection?

By Elissa Strauss

Published March 05, 2014, issue of March 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Jews can be pretty proprietary about guilt. We’re almost proud of it. If an outsider, after binge-reading Philip Roth, came to the conclusion that guilt is what fuels our emotional engines, we would experience that particular delight of feeling completely understood. And yet, when it comes to guilt, the thing we might feel most guilty about is not really being as guilty as we think we should be.

With our first step on Ellis Island, European Jewry entered a totally new and all-consuming breed of guilt — a Puritanical one, which is at once unspoken and omnipresent. This particular mix of regret and shame is a product of America’s religious founders, a group of people who are so fearful of human impulse and emotion that they formed a society that deified abstinence. The Puritans are long gone, but their culture of guilt remains.

The latest target of this very American breed of guilt is technology. The rapid ascent of smartphones, tablets, apps and social networking has incited a chorus of fearmongers and naysayers telling us to unplug, or go on digital detox, or recharge by uncharging or cure our digital attention disorders. The Jewish cultural organization Reboot’s “Sabbath Manifesto,” which aims to put a “modern spin on the tradition of a weekly day of rest,” places unplugging on the top of its list and is encouraging everyone to take part in the National Day of Unplugging, happening March 7–8.

The problem with all this unplugging isn’t that people might use their smartphones less; I think we can all agree that for many, that would be a good thing. Instead, the issue is that we good little Puritanical Americans, Jewish and not, are viewing our relationships with our cell phones in the context of addiction. We are encouraged to go cold turkey, to rinse ourselves clean of the foulness injected into our bodies and souls by our Twitter-scrolling hands. God help us all.

Where is the moderation here? The acknowledgement of self-restraint? [Because many of us, possibly most of us, are not addicted to our smartphones, or have any other detrimental psychological conditions as a result of using technology. Instead of being encouraged to power down, shouldn’t we be encouraged to trust ourselves and our ability to control ourselves around all those shiny white iPhones and the pretty little apps? Maybe we could even learn a few tips on how?


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!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • 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.