New Shabbos App Creates Uproar Among Orthodox Circles
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New Shabbos App Creates Uproar Among Orthodox Circles

Developers claim app will eliminate problems the iPhone poses on Shabbat, but rabbis don't buy it.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Don’t want to give up your iPhone on Shabbat? There’s an app for that.

Though the use of electronic devises is conventionally prohibited on the Sabbath, a new iPhone app called the “Shabbos App” claims to eliminate these problems.

Designed by California resident Yitz Appel and a group of developers who describe themselves as “Orthodox Jews,” the Shabbos App promises to circumvent several halachic issues posed by the iPhone, including rising heat of the phone’s battery with usage, the prohibition against permanent writing, chimes that notify users of incoming texts and the phone’s screen lighting up when receiving or entering text messages.

The proposed solution: the app claims to keep the battery usage at a constant level, wipe all text at periodic intervals, and keep the screen permanently illuminated.

Texting on Shabbat has long been a concern in the Orthodox community, the issue particularly pertinent to teenagers and young adults who feel increasingly dependent on their smart phones.

“Our main goal is to let people who are already texting on Shabbos know that they can text on Shabbos and not completely fall off the derekh,” app developer Yossi Goldstein of Colorado told the U.S. website Vosizneias, whose target readership is Orthodox Jews. The "derekh," or "path," refers to Jews who strictly observe Orthodox ritual.

But while teenagers might be on board, the app is not an easy sell among Orthodox Rabbis. The controversial App is already creating an uproar. Several Orthodox rabbis have already condemned the app, including Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Orthodox Union, who called the app “very distasteful and not permissible on Shabbos.” Rabbi Elefant, along with other Orthodox rabbis, claim that the app doesn’t eliminate the issues it claims to prevent.

The Shabbos App website ignores these objections, and says the App will be available on the App Store and Google Play for $49.99, starting on February 15. It plans to seek $25,000 on Kickstarter.

“The Shabbos App will give us all a way to keep shabbos with all the stringencies and still take full advantage of the wonderful technology the world has to offer,” reads the app's site.

editor@jewishweek.org

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