A cell phone rings. Heads turn. The perpetrator surely knows he is being gawked at by dozens of disapproving faces, but can’t acknowledge them. The shame is too much and the show goes on. The cantor keeps singing, the rabbi keeps preaching and lucky for this congregant, it’s Yom Kippur. God can forgive them for the unfortunate timing of an incoming telephone call, right?
Well, I’m not so sure. We haven’t spoken lately, but I can’t imagine God being too pleased. After all, He came to Moses through a burning bush, not a Skype call. He gave the Hebrews the 10 commandments on two tablets. No, not a black iPad and a white iPad. Real tablets.
Clearly, when Abraham founded Judaism, he didn’t account for Blackberries. His son Issac didn’t account for iPhones. His grandson Jacob didn’t account for Droids. We were left with a pretty raw deal, needing to dictate for ourselves the guidelines of mixing technology and religion. We aren’t doing so great.
I belong to a Reform synagogue in Syosset, N.Y., and I understand the implications of living in an area of wealthy doctors, lawyers and businessmen who can’t afford to turn their phones off for a few hours, for whom religion comes second to their working lives.
Regardless of the branch of Judaism you belong to, or how observant you might be, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It means serious business, the day when you atone for a year’s worth of transgression and sin. What is it saying to God if you go to services, supposedly to gain a closer connection to Him, but instead choose to text away?
Adam Talmud, a senior majoring in marketing who identifies himself as a Conservative Jew, highlights that the issues don’t lie only in the Reform Movement.
“It’s disrespectful,” Talmud said. “I understand not everyone keeps laws of Shabbat or whatever holiday it is, but like, you’re in that kind of atmosphere, you’re there to pray. You should separate your secular world from your religious world because of where you are.”
Of course, this all sounds like a bunch of nonsense to non-observant Jews, or non-religious people in general. What does God care — if such a deity even exists — if I accidentally left my ringer on, or if I shot someone a quick text during a Torah reading?
If you choose to lead the secular life, that is your decision and there isn’t anything wrong with it. But understand that technology and religion are oil and water, and the secular and religious worlds are having an increasingly difficult time getting used to each other, which isn’t to say that using and valuing both is impossible.
“My shul uses microphones, but they turn them on before Shabbat starts,” Talmud added. “You do make some concessions, but to an extent. You use the technology to enhance the experience, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
People attend services for a variety of reasons. Some go to have a stronger connection with God, some just to have a greater spiritual presence in their life. But increasingly, and especially in Reform Judaism, people just go to go.
So the solution is simple. If you’re going to attend services for a reason you can’t properly cite, just don’t go. You’d like to think you’re doing yourself a service by going to services on the holiest day of the year, but it winds up being a hollow practice.
There doesn’t seem to be anything sacrilegious about using technology, but in doing so during services on the holiest day of the year, you’re going to piss a lot of people off. Beyond the disgruntled faces of turning heads are disheartened congregants whose attempted connection to God, or heightened feeling of spirituality, has been disrupted.