It is with great interest that we read the article “For Many Orthodox Teens, ‘Half Shabbos’ Is A Way of Life” (June 24) because it captures the challenges that Shabbat observance poses for what has been called the iGeneration. The very public flouting of normative Shabbat restrictions when it comes to texting on Shabbat is supported by our study of the religious beliefs and behaviors of Modern Orthodox day school students.
However, our findings do not support Steve Lipman’s claim that “some say half of Modern Orthodox teens” text on Shabbat, based on his limited sample of 17 students. In fact, when our representative sample of some 1,200 Modern Orthodox high school students were presented with the statement “I text message on Shabbat,” 220 students, or some 17.7 percent, agreed and 853 students, a full 68.8 percent, completely disagreed.
Our study is the first empirical research to confirm the sea-change phenomenon of students’ digital social-religious lives. Unlike most other research findings about religious observance that show girls outperforming boys, in our study girls and boys are equal in terms of the prevalence of texting on Shabbat. This, we believe, reflects the incredibly powerful social magnet that texting represents in the consciousness of teenagers, whether male or female.
Unfortunately, this issue extends beyond texting. In fact, our study (www.yuschoolpartnership.org/texting) shows that 13.5 percent of Modern Orthodox youth are using cell phones on Shabbat and 15.5 percent are surfing the web. Additionally troubling is that of those who claim to be fully Shabbat observant, 12.2 percent still admit to texting on Shabbat.
These findings demand the collective attention of all individuals and organizations working with Jewish youth to support their religious development. Already, these issues drive our work with school leaders, teachers and students at Jewish day schools across North America to meaningfully connect religious beliefs to Jewish religious actions. No doubt, the future of the Jewish people as we know it depends on such efforts.
Dr. Scott Goldberg Director, Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration
Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at Azrieli