Texting on Shabbos Is the Tip of the Iceberg


text-messagingBy Yonason Rosenblum

Steve Lipman describes the phenomenon of teens educated in modern Orthodox institutions texting one another on Shabbos in the June 24 Jewish Week. So widespread is the trend that it even has its own nomenclature: “half Shabbos.”

Lipman describes a recent Shabbaton in which fourteen of the seventeen teenagers present were texting – most quite openly – on Shabbos. In a follow-up letter to the Jewish Week, Dr. Scott Goldberg and Dr. David Pelcovitz contest the magnitude of the phenomenon, but not its existence, based on their survey of 1,200 teenagers in modern Orthodox institutions. They put the percentage texting on Shabbos at 17.7 percent, with another 15.5 percent surfing the Internet, and 13.5 percent using their cell phones.

Even the latter numbers should provoke us to rend our garments. Though Lipman’s article dealt with the products of a modern Orthodox education, it would be a mistake for any Orthodox population to imagine itself immune. Worse, those engaged in the behaviors described represent only the tip of the iceberg of those who feel little connection to the fundamentals of Jewish belief – even if their alienation has not yet been expressed in action. Lipman does not describe the teenagers in question as being particularly rebellious or angry – just bored.

To state the obvious, one cannot send one’s friends “Gd Shbs” messages on Shabbos if one believes in a G-d Who sees everything that we do and Who commands us to “guard and remember” the Shabbos. A century ago, Jews cried as they went to work on Shabbos because they feared that their families would starve otherwise. Today, these youngsters transgress Shabbos restrictions casually, without even the lure of any tangible pleasure.

“I was just so bored. I had nothing to do,” they excuse themselves. I think it is safe to assume that we are not talking about teenagers who have finished Shas, or Tanach, or even the works of the Ramchal, or those who are stringent not to read secular literature on Shabbos.

Sadly, they have either not been told – or at least not convinced – of one of the greatest cures for boredom known to man: The idea that each moment, we have the potential to bring G-d’s blessings to the world through our thoughts, words, and deeds. Each of us has some unique mission, and that is true whether one is the best student in Talmud or not. Kids who view each moment of time as a precious opportunity – and not as something to be killed – need never be bored. Every neighborhood has those in need – sick or elderly or just lonely – who would delight in a visit from a lively teenager. The best way to convince our children of this point is to live our own lives with energy and enthusiasm.

FRANKLY, EVEN WERE I A SECULAR PARENT, I would tear my hair out if a child told me that he or she could not go twenty-five hours without SMSing inane messages to his or her friends. “I’m addicted,” they say. Can there be a greater confession of total inner emptiness than these teenagers’ terror of being alone for a moment to contemplate, or their inability to create a personal identity apart from the approval of their friends?

More than fifty years ago, Harvard sociologist David Riesman worried that Americans were becoming too outer-directed, because the values they possessed were almost exclusively those of their social group, not internally developed. Conformity to social norms, rather than any firm sense of right and wrong, guided their behavior. Today’s teenagers represent the culmination of those social trends run rampant.

Lipman concludes his article with a quote from one of the few teenagers at the Shabbaton not sending messages: “It’s a waste of energy to argue with the kids.” I suppose she means that teenagers are much more influenced by their peers than anything that their parents or teachers tell them. That is largely true, as any survivor of parenting teenagers knows. On a recent speaking tour in South Africa, one of the most frequently asked questions I heard (albeit in numerous variants) was: “How can I convince my teenager to do without a BlackBerry if all his or her friends have one?” Or, “How can I keep my teenager from watching movies if his or her friends have hundreds of them loaded into some handheld device?”

If the question is being asked for the first time in the teenage years, there is no easy answer. Providing a teenager with the strength of character to resist the siren call of friends is a job that must start long before bar or bas mitzvah age. Above all, it means instilling in our children a strong sense of right and wrong. I will never forget the horror on my mother’s face when, after exiting a local delicatessen, she found me, age five, with some candies that she had not paid for, or how she yanked me out of the car and marched me back across the street to pay for them. That incident took place well over fifty years ago, but it is still fresh in my mind. In that particular case, I was innocent – my mother had not heard me tell her that I was taking the candies and that she should pay for them – but her revulsion at the thought of stealing left its mark nonetheless.

Parents should talk often about right and wrong, and share with their children the temptations they face and how they overcome them. Above all, children must see their parents’ religious behavior as dictated by a desire to live in accord with Hashem’s will and not as something determined by “what the neighbors will say.” If it is only the latter, their teenage children will justifiably ask, “Why shouldn’t I be influenced by my friends, when your own religious behavior is primarily a function of social convention? Why do you expect more of me than of yourselves?”

That last question is one no parent will ever be able to answer. If we leave ourselves vulnerable to being asked, we can be sure that our children will do so in their own minds, even if they avoid addressing us directly.

{Mishpacha Magazine/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I must take offense with the first line of this article. This is not limited to Modern Orthodoxy – in the original article by Steve Lipman, he stated, “The Shabbat texters, according to anecdotal evidence, include kids who grew up in less-observant homes as well as students from chasidic or so-called black hat backgrounds.”

    Please do not attempt to paint Modern Orthodoxy in a bad light when the problem exists across other groups as well.

  2. It’s not just texting or boredom. It’s rather a lack of yiras Shamayim where they think the small things don’t matter. These kids might actually be quite spiritual and have a strong belief, but make up their own rules.
    Yesterday I spent the afternoon with such a teenager. She felt dehydrated and convinced herself to buy a smoothie at a local ice cream shop. She insisted that she’d ask the ingredients and if it contained nothing questionable, she thought it was ok. I boruch Hashem convinced her that she can’t take ingredients for granted. There could be artificial or natural ingredients (such as grape flavoring, or equipment washed with treif items which render it unkosher also. I finally got her to buy non cholov Yisroel ice cream a few blocks away at a 7-11. To me that was a victory. Forget cholov Yisroel with this child, at least it wasn’t treif! This girl is actually shomeres Shabbos (after an earlier stint of texting on Shabbos) and this is a madreiga up for her, but my point of this email is to inform parents that texting on Shabbos is probably a tip of the iceberg.
    These kids are probably eating foods they shouldn’t be (and although this girl was able to change her mind, she is better than she was a few years ago where she probably wouldn’t have even cared to listen to alternatives).
    They are probably also ingesting things which are worse than food! (use your imagination) That is very prevalent amongst those who are apathetic.

    The best solution- building good communication and trust with their mentors or parents!

  3. This is not surprising. Modern orthodoxy is a misnomer, as it has much more in common with reform than with orthodoxy. In its most laid back form, it is nothing more than a series of very convenient compromises. At its most pernicious, it aims to fight the chareidi way of life tooth and nail. It promotes a hot air philosophy devoid of any vestige of G-d or any desire to be connected to Him. Unfortunately, I am very conversant with this destructive masquerade of jewish life since I went to a very well known modern orthodox school. I never even understood what hashkafa or what my personal relationship with HKBH was until I attended seminary

  4. I really must comment that I really am not entirely sure that our Creator gave us electricity to make our shabbas more difficult to observe. Truly electricity was in the works from the beginning of time. I was told that when it came out, there was much discussion by many rabbis on whether we could use our electrical activities on shabbas and of course those who forbid it won out.
    Electricity complicates shabbas so much. We might accidentally turn on a light and feel bad about that and feel we are violators of our laws. I must say that this is an issue I struggled with over the time I became fully shabbas observant by the ultra orthodox customs. I am a B’T and looking back on what I felt was not my proper observance, the lights on shabbas were not the main concentration of what I thought was my “sin”.

  5. The cause of all this is the proliferation of gashmius. Gashmius is like junk food. Just like junk food is not nutritious and causes malnutrition if consumed in excess, so to gashmius does not satisfy the soul and cause spiritual maladies if consumed in excess. As long as our community does not spurn all the fancy houses, cars, vacations, gourmet foods, iPads, etc., etc., etc., we are not going to make any progress convincing our children the value of spirituality. They will forever be “bored” with religion.

  6. amazing how you post such stupid comments and you don’t post this. It’s obvious now which people are responsible for all the shtus (and worse online)

  7. #4: Modern Orthodoxy is not a misnomer, and has nothing to do with reform or conservative. I have grown up in both the modern orthodox world, and the bais yaakov/black hat world, so I have seen and integrated the hashkafos of both. What the yeshivish world has that the modern orthodox doesn’t is a greater respect for, and fear of, their Rabbanim, and they are more careful to keep halacha. The modern orthodox world has a greater respect for their fellow men, have more tolerance towards other people, and are in general more friendly towards strangers than the black hat world is. Judaism needs all of this: stringency in halacha, emunas chachamim, and acceptance and achdus with other Jews. Please do not bash modern orthodoxy. They are Jews just like yourself.

  8. Additionally, by confining this texting problem in your own mind to Modern Orthodoxy, you are exonerating yourself of anything Yonasan Rosenblum was trying to encourage you to do. Being good role models as parents and being excited about your yiddishkeit is something everyone in the Jewish spectrum needs to improve on.

  9. Good point, #9.

    Maybe it is time to take a stand and not allow teenagers to have cell phones. Why do they need them? Why put such a michsol in their hands? If my teenager wants to TALK to his/her friends, let them, because talking is healthy and normal. Texting is stunted un-needed.

  10. I think we have to remember that the original article that sparked this dealt with the MO world and interviews with MO kids. But of course it’s not confined to “them” (shudder at the them vs. us mindset). And I think it’s clear that the author of the Matzav article realizes this; he’s talking to the Mishpacha audience and I don’t think the goal was for the readers to do a triumphalist pat on the back thing.

  11. Yes, texting is the tip of the iceberg. The other nine-tenths underwater is what sank the Titanic. We who have spent the last twenty years exulting over the “victory” we have won in this country had better step back and take a good, long look.

    The references to peer group control are right on. More and more, we are cutting our kids off from family and throwing them into dependence on their peer groups. How can we send a fourteen year old boy away to yeshiva, allowing him to come home once in two weeks, or even only once a month, and expect him to live by our values and not by the peers who are his everyday world. How can one child teach another child how to be an adult? Even if he isn’t dorming, he is still spending almost all his time away from home and family. Girls may be at home, but usually their schedules are so demanding and the hashkafah messages from the school so strong, that they might as well be away.

    We are seeing the results in, among other things, young people who see only the outer trappings of Yiddishkeit, and miss the content. Then, of course, they figure that if there’s no content, why bother with the outer signs?

    I am so glad that I am not a young person trying to grow up in today’s world. There are difficulties far beyond the obvious ones we faced in our youth.

  12. Q: I wanted to ask you about the new (and exciting for many, nebach, unfortunately) trend of “Half Shabbos” whereas people keep full Shabbos but are texting throughout the day (hence “half Shabbos”). What’s the halacha here?

    A: There is no such thing as half Shabbos. Keeping Shabbos 99% is desecrating it 100%.

    Using any electronic devices on Shabbos is strictly prohibited, possibly even D’Oraysa as using electricity (where internal circuits are connected and completed ) involves melachos of Aish, Boneh, Soser and Molid to name a few. (See Chazon Ish Orach Chaim Siman 50:9)

    Again, there is no valid halachic permissibilty to text or otherwise use a cell phone on Shabbos Chas V’Shalom (besides in life threatening emergencies), and all who do so will ultimately have to deal with the heavenly consequences. May Hashem have mercy on His holy nation and spare them from desecrating the holy Shabbos and His holy name.

    from http://halachafortoday.com/QuestionsAnswersPage14.aspx

  13. Steve Lipman’s article states:

    “According to interviews with several students and administrators at Modern Orthodox day schools, the practice of texting on Shabbat is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially, but not exclusively, among Modern Orthodox teens.”

  14. Continued from same article:

    “The practice has become so widespread – some say half of Modern Orthodox teens text on Shabbat…”

  15. TeachersNotebook said above: “The modern orthodox world has a greater respect for their fellow men, have more tolerance towards other people, and are in general more friendly towards strangers than the black hat world is.”

    This is total hogwash considering the vitriol constantly spewed by the MO against the frum.

  16. Saddly to say..those kids know that it not correct acording to Judaism what they are doing.
    They are probably mocking our halachic postings!
    We must began an serious inspection ALL KLAL YISROEL as to what are we doing wrong.

    We must act quickly and UNITED!!!

  17. #8 I think you misunderstood my point. I bash not not individuals of the modern orthodox persuasion, doing so would alienate me from half of my family whom I love and cherish dearly. My pain and yes anger is aimed at a leadership who felt that a high school curriculum was more importantly focused on girls learning Eilu Meitzios (double Gemara anybody?) Than on teaching girls what a real bas yisroel is and can be. They left nothing to strive for in a spiritual sense. NO ani maamins no Yahadus no understanding of the koach hatefillah. Who ever once heard of Chovos Halevovos or of Rav Dessler? For that I can never forgive them. The MO leadership refuses to divulge the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to its adherents. To do so would be compelling. To teach that there is a G-d in the world and our greatest accomplishment is our close connection with him would destroy their whole foundation of doing whatever comes most conveniently. Great, have a communal connection and do what you want on the side. I maintain that in this sense they are like reform as they try to turn and twist everything to suit them. Have you so quickly forgotten about the Rabba? That’s a very dangerous intellectual contrivance. Any form of hashkafa that you think you perceive in the MO camp is by default only. I pen all this with extreme pain. Not with a sense of exultation or triumph. I forever thank HKBH for putting my mind in a different place 30 plus years ago. But I mourn those left behind. Because the longer it takes them to “get it” The less likely it is that they ever will and I know that they are missing so much in their lives because it wasn’t taught to them.

  18. #19: You obviously know nothing about Modern Orthodoxy.

    MO does not allow people to ignore halacha. We teach our children a love of Judaism, and teach various subjects including hashkafah. This is a far cry from the chareidi beis yaakovs where they just make the girls memorize things and crack the whip regarding tznius – without ever explaining any hashkafah behind it. No, we don’t pile on unnecessary chumros ad nauseum. We believe that if we establish a firm foundation of love for Judaism, then our children will follow it because they want to, not because they are forced to.

    You mentioned the Rabbah. Did you forget that after it happened, the RCA came out strongly against it? Rabbi Maroof was denied membership to the RCA because of his involvement in it. Modern Orthodoxy is firmly against female Rabbis.

    You say Modern Orthodox leadership won’t divulge the truth to its adherents. What truth is that? If anything, it’s the opposite. Teaching kids that wearing a blue shirt is wrong is teaching the whole truth?!?

    You really need to learn more about Modern Orthodoxy before you dare attack it. It is probably closer to the Judaism practiced by our grandparents in Europe and Eretz Yisrael thousands of years ago.

  19. If you’re going to edit my posts, please say so – put a bold EDITED on the bottom or something similar. Don’t change it and post it as if that was the full text of what I wrote.

  20. Poster No. 20

    I believe in practical truth evidenced by acts, precedent and history.

    What makes Judaism particularly difficult in our times is that we have absolute values and principles from acient times. Since the Torah is flawless it is WE that must adapt to Torah and not vice versa. Hence the term “modern orthodox” seems suspisious.

    The fact is that a Beis yaakov Girl is more likely to pass on those values and principles
    to the next generation than a girl defined herself as “modern Orthodox” lets not fool ourselves!

  21. #19 This has nothing to do with shirt color but it does have everything to do with what can or cannot be be considered Torahdik. Love for Judaism is very nice but its not enough. There is a whole shulchan aruch of laws that have to be adhered to BECAUSE you love G-d the Torah and the Judaism he gave you. As you mentioned, tznius is one of those laws. kindly advise whether tznius laws and hashkafa is ever taught or encouraged in your schools or promoted in your community or practiced in your own home. Because if it is then you can rightly place yourself in the camp of Torah and not in the camp of MO. Just to make an additional point clear. I have four daughters who graduated a very prominent Bais Yaakov HS. NOT ONCE in a collective 16 years was a whip cracked at them, were they reprimanded, made to feel uncomfortable or otherwise denigraded. As a matter of fact the complete opposite is the truth. Tznius was taught sensitively over the course of 4 years with each stage of their level of understanding kept in mind. The halachos were taught openly as were the hashkofos in an open forum with much give and take on the part of the students. It was an ongoing, edifying, eye opening experience for the students and they were grateful for it. I grew up in the MO world,you can’t convince me that something that is not present does in fact exist. On the other hand I suspect that you haven’t tasted the other side and that makes me sad for you. On another note the RCA took too long in articulating their position and made it seem as if some leeway was possible at some point. And lets not not forget that Rabbi Weiss is prominently MO As is the organization JOFA. They speak for Many people. If you feel differently you are welcome in the Torah Camp anytime. we take Any color shirt and Any type of yarmulke and you don’t even need a hat.

  22. Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Maasei
    Time: 7:12 PM Pacific Standard Time

    I was once privileged to hear a talk by the remarkable Maggid, Rav Shlomo Brevda, Sh’lita. He opened the presentation with a question on himself: “I am often asked: ‘Why is it that what you say is not (mentioned) in Rashi or the other Meforshim?'” He answered the charge: “What I am giving people is THE ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’s’!! (What) Rashi and the other Meforshim (are teaching you is advanced information for AFTER they can) assume you have the ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’s’!!”

    Rav Brevda then went on to strongly decry how very many people today do not have the ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’s, they do not have a foundation. Instead, they go through the motions of Limud HaTorah and Shemiras HaMitzvos — learning the Torah and doing the Mitzvos, but they have little foundation in Avodas HaShem. They have little idea of what it is to realize the Existence of HaShem and the infinite Kindness of HaShem to us and the awesome obligation of appreciation we must thus have to HaShem.

    Again, they may go through much of their lives doing the motions of Limud HaTorah and Shemiras HaMitzvos. Being based though on almost no foundation, the moment they are faced with a Nisayon — the moment they are faced with the dilema of a strong temptation to do something that is not right, their whole religious observance can fall apart.

  23. why do teenagers who until now were committed to hilchos Shabbos desecrate it with a narishkeit of texting? what is so compelling that it is a nisoyon in the first place? PLEASE someone answer this in simple terms! thanks so much.