New York – A soon to be launched Kickstarter campaign, which hopes to raise funds for the development of what is sure to be a much-discussed smartphone app, has already become a topic of conversation several days before its launch.
Designed by California resident Yitz Appel and a group of developers who describe themselves as Orthodox Jews, the Shabbos App attempts to circumvent any halachic issues that arise while texting on Shabbos.
Developer Yossi Goldstein of Colorado likened the Shabbos App to other innovations that have evolved over the years, including the Shabbos elevator, the Kosher Switch and Shabbos modes for ovens.
Goldstein noted that many rabbonim would not be in favor of the Shabbos App, particularly in the more yeshivish circles.
“Any time you get involved with anything electronic on Shabbos it is going to be controversial,” Goldstein told VIN News.
Goldstein was quick to note that the Shabbos App is not aimed at encouraging anyone to start texting on Shabbos.
“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 derech.” explained Goldstein. “Many people are already keeping a half Shabbos because they find that they can’t get off their phones and they feel like once they are already breaking Shabbos they might as well give up on other mitzvos too. Hopefully this will alleviate that.”
The Shabbos App addresses several issues 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 app claims to circumvent those problems by keeping battery usage at a constant level, introducing a delay on display of characters entered, as well as the option of wiping all text at periodic intervals, muting the phone’s sounds and keeping the screen permanently illuminated.
According to Goldstein, there are several rabbonim on board with the project who he described as “Orthodox and knowledgeable in Torah and halacha.” He hopes to have their names listed on the app’s web page in the near future, but declined to name them at this time.
Calling texting “the plague of our generation,” Goldstein said that the problem continues to escalate at an alarming rate and touted the Shabbos App as the solution to the problem.
“Soon every kid will be texting on Shabbos,” said Goldstein, the father of a 15 year old son. “We might as well make it muttar.”
The Shabbos App is completely unacceptable from a halachic standpoint, according to Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Orthodox Union.
“There is a famous Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim that says that at times something can be halachically permissible but is still not permissible,” said Rabbi Elefant.
“Assuming that this is halachically permissible, and I’m not convinced that it is -what they consider to be a grama, is not in our experience a grama. And even if one could make an argument that it is halachically permissible, it is very distasteful and not permissible on Shabbos.”
Noted halachic authority Rabbi Yair Hoffman said that while the app could transform texting from an issur d’oraysa to an issur d’rabanon, it is still strictly forbidden and should be avoided at all costs.
“It is clear to me that this will make texting a rabbinic prohibition according to many poskim,” said Rabbi Hoffman. “Texting cannot be done in a manner that is not at least a rabbinic prohibition. If these poskim are indeed real then they are left field poskim because the universal norms of psak halacha are that every angle that they have gone through is at least a rabbinic prohibition.”
Rabbi Hoffman observed that according to some, texting with the Shabbos App would be still be an issur d’oraysa and is also contrary to the spirit of Shabbos.
“In addition to the meta-halachic considerations here that would undermine the practice of yiddishkeit and the d’veykus that the yomim tovim and Shabbos have been designed for thousands of years to achieve, this is something that, in my opinion, should not be pursued.”
Allowing that there might be some value to the app for those in the medical field Rabbi Hoffman said, “If doctors require it and it is truly pikuach nefesh, , then when you have issues that are not time-is-of-the-essence, but still life threatening, there may be a use for it.”
But Rabbi Hoffman was unequivocal on the Shabbos App’s suitability in any other situation.
“It should not be available as an app for the general public,” said Rabbi Hoffman.
Scoffing at the notion that allowing texting on Shabbos would enhance the observance of other mitzvos Rabbi Hoffman remarked, “For someone to text, and to continue texting on Shabbos, will not enhance their Judaism.”