Wednesday, November 03, 2010


I'm coming to this a bit late (via ADDeRabbi), but Dr Alan Brill has a fascinating post about a new phenomenon amongst religious teens: 'Half-shabbos'.
I was asked by an Jewish educator- principal if I know what it means when current HS kids ask each other if they keep “half shabbos” or “full shabbos?”
Since I know the lay of the land, I said sure it is texting.
He said: Your right. The kids call someone who texts (and tweets and posts) on Shabbos as keeping half-shabbos and those who don't, full shabbos.
This phenomena is more widespread than just the average modern orthodox. I have seen rabbinic kids here who wear black hats admit that they text on shabbos.
The educator said that the kids consider it part of daily verbal communication.
Much of the discussion on the blogs seems to revolve around the teens' relationship with their cellphones; whether texting is seen as a 'teen' activity which they will give up, on Shabbat, as they grow older; whether they are so addicted to texting they actually cannot give it up; and whether a heter can be found to text on Shabbat (depending on what the issur actually is). A couple of commentators also speculated that the teens felt this was a 'private' violation of halachah, as phones are easy to hide, as opposed to, say, turning on and off a light or using a computer.

To my mind, these kids are not 'privately' violating Shabbat. They are not 'just' texting, but also tweeting and even 'posting' (presumably facebooking?). These leave very public evidence, complete with time stamp, of breaking Shabbat. That's the whole point of social media; it's about connecting with others.

But these teens don't care about breaking Shabbat in front of others. They do it entirely casually, and have found an ingenious way of having their cake (feeding their social media addiction) and eating it too (remaining in the Orthodox fold): "Half-shabbos" (ADDerabbi says the terminology comes from the Syrian community). Once upon a time, crossing such a clear Shabbat boundary - for example, turning a light on or getting into a car - would have been accompanied by tremendous trepidation and guilt. Now, a chunk of the next generation has conveniently managed to side-step all this emotional and theological upheaval, by placing themselves on a shomer-Shabbat spectrum.

Now, they're not entirely wrong on this. We are all somewhere on that spectrum; most people break Shabbat in some way and we all manage to explain away, in our minds, our own violation, whether it be pushing a stroller (another very public act), tearing toilet paper, or sticking the wrong food on the hotplate. People are capable of living with great contradictions and, once committed to an Orthodox lifestyle, few people think that their own particular Shabbat sin (or sins of any kind, for that matter) removes them from the category of 'observant'.

Nevertheless, in communal eyes, there are some Shabbat sins which drop you off the spectrum altogether, usually the more public ones, and certainly few Orthodox adults will have much sympathy for kids posting on Facebook on a Saturday. The kids, whose social lives depend on their facebook page to an extent most adults cannot appreciate, but who rather like the rest of their comfortable Orthodox lives, are just extending that spectrum, with a faux-innocent nudge and a wink.

Personally, I think these kids are on to something. I'm thinking about adopting "half-kashrut" (yes to crab and shrimp, but the rest of my meat has to be glatt?). And it's probably only a matter of time until we hear about the new wave of teenagers, those who keep "quarter Shabbos" - texting, tweeting and smoking - coming up against their peers who keep "three quarters Shabbos" - all of the above, but only on Friday nights.

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