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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Hilchois iPhone



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Hilchois iPhone


Over recent months I have received many Shailas from my Talmidim. I love you all, because of your permanent thirst for Toirah, your ongoing quest for Mitzvois, and your ceaseless zest for looking down at the rest of humanity.

I could of course write long, academic Teshuvois for each of you. But, alas, my iPad is at the shop, and I no longer have a printed Shas, Shulkhan Oiraich, Igrois Moishe, or other Rishoinim and Acharoinim. I have gone paperless, thanks to the Shass App from Artscroll, the Rishoinim App from Google, and the Acharoim App from The National Enquirer.

So instead I will write brief responses, leveraging my extensive memory of Kol HaToirah Kooloh Baal Peh gained over years of study in the Bais Medrish, plus the guidance of a Magic 8 Ball I bought at Target on sale for six dollars and 50 cents.


Rav Pinky, this might be a Shailah you might consider answering.

I just Davened Maariv from my phone. Question: Should I kiss my phone
before quitting the App or turning my phone off?

Your Talmid,
Mordechai Hatzadik

Reb Mordechai,

I am delighted that you have asked me such a critical Shailah, a Shailah I have often been asked via text message. Unfortunately, I only check my text messages when I am sitting in the Bais HaKeesay, and so am not in a position to respond, since I type with my left hand, which is usually busy at that time.

We live in a new age, an age where our smartphones play multiple roles – not just as telephones, but as portable music players, video devices, GPS, handheld games, players of multiple Apps, Siddurim, Machzorim, Gemarras, and other Sefarim, and as portals to an astounding world of porn, including straight, gay, Thai, Russian, fetish, and amateur granny fatties. Kenainah Harrah! The smartphone and the Internet in general have democratized Yiddishkeit, along with making porn accessible to everyone! What an achievement!

Your fundamental question relates to the notions of Kedushas Hashem and Kedushas Sefer – the sanctity of the Divine name, and of holy books that contain words of Toirah. Once upon a time, the written Toirah, Toirah SheBichsav, was the only form of Toirah available, and it was handwritten on parchment or other such materials. Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that the holiness of a Toirah scroll compels one to kiss the Toirah as it passes down the aisle at Shul, as long as you do not try to get to second base on the first date. However, the remainder of Toirah, Toirah SheBaal Peh, the Oral Law, was passed down verbally from generation to generation, all the way back to the time of Har Sinai, Mount Sinai, when the Oral Toirah was first dictated by the Reboinoisheloilum to Moishe Rabbeinu and recorded by his holy parrot, Mean Mister Mustard.

However, as Klal Yisroel began to forget the Oral Toirah, they began to commit it to writing. Hence, the publication of the Mishnah by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, the writing of the Zoihar by Rabbi Shimoin Bar Yoichai, and the recording of the Baba Kama Sutra by Rabbi Eliezer Ben Coitus. This led to a fundamental Machloikess about whether the written text of Toirah SheBaal Peh contains the same degree of Kedusha as Toirah SheBichsav.

This debate became further complex with the development of the printing press. Does the mass produced printed word carry the same holiness as hand written scrolls? On this point there is debate amongst the Rishoinim and Acharoinim, with most Rabbis holding that you should kiss every religious Sefer ever printed, including Siddurim, volumes of Shas, and the collected works of Mendel the Mouse.

However, in our Dor, this issue has become even more complex. Does digital information constitute actual print, requiring you to kiss it? Or are the binary bits and bytes that blend to become online Bibles, Benchers, and Mishnah Berurahs by their very nature only temporary, and therefore do not constitute the Kedusha of the actual printed word?

To answer this question, we must look not at the format, but at the usage. A Sefer Toirah while it is in the Aroin Koidesh, hidden out of sight, is not bringing Klal Yisroel closer to Hakadoshboruchhu. But an iPhone App for a Siddur or other Sefer introduces holiness to a smartphone or tablet, and enabes Klal Yisroel to perform Avoidas Hashem anywhere at any time, even when they are looking at their iPhones while waiting on line at McDonalds for their bacon double cheeseburgers.

Consequently, smartphones and other personal electronic devices are the ultimate form of Toirah, and have a virtually endless amount of Kedusha! Combined with the fact that your smartphone also offers you a virtually endless amount of porn, I do not understand why you are not kissing your cellphone or your iPad right this minute, you Minuval!

To what is this similar? According to Rav Shmiel Kalbasavuah, smartphones are like your Bashert. In the morning she provides you with sustenance. Throughout the day she creates a Bayis Ne’eman BaYisroel, a faithful Jewish home, brightening your life and household with Toirah and Mitzvois. And at night, after she takes off her Tichel, her Shaytel, her white long sleeve blouse and her ankle length skirt, her petticoats, and her off-white padded brazier, she gets on top of you and rides you like you are Shlugging Kaporois with a Cornish game hen.

So, indeed, just as you are compelled to modestly kiss your wife at appropriate moments, you are indeed required to kiss your iPhone, your iPad and other personal electronic devices after you close your Apps for Shacharis, Minchah, and Maariv, after you close your Daf Yoimi App, and especially after you close your App featuring amateur granny Thai fatties.


Dear Reb Pinky,

I am troubled with a Shaila.  Perhaps you have already given your Talmidim the answer and, as usual, I was sleeping during the Shiur.  If so, I apologize for interrupting your Choshuva studies.

I have recently obtained a smartphone and immediately downloaded the full complement of T'filois.  One day as I was on my "Kisay Ha'Kovod" I realized that I had my virtual Siddur in my hand. Is this permissible?  Later as I was deep with Kavanah during Mincha I realized that the sacred name was scrolling on my screen then off my screen, on and off, on and off. Had I erased the holy word?  This is a troubling thought.  If it is an Aveira, how do I do Kaparah?  Should I Toyvel my iPhone?  Shlug Kaporois with it?  Boil it in water?  Bury it in the ground for a year?  Have I voided my warranty with the Abishter?  Must I leave my phone outside of the throne room?

Reb Pinky, I am very confused by the new technology.  What would Moses do?

Your Talmid,

Shmeil Shmelka


Reb Shmeil,

As cited in the Raisha of this e-mail, a smartphone such as an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy, a Nokia Lumia, or a Blackberry, Chass V’Sholom, enjoys a special status, since it can serve as the platform for learning Toirah and performing Mitzvois, as well as help you comparison shop for a lower price for toothpaste as you are standing in the dental hygiene aisle in Walgreens. But your Shailah is less about the device than it is about the electronic imaging technology used for presenting data: bits and bytes and electrons that one moment may be presented on the screen as Kiddush Levanah, and the next moment be blank, and the following moment be used to present that latest escapades of the Kardishian sisters, Koutney, Kim, Chloe, and Shifra Malka.

What is digital technology, and what is the long term impact on a device of a short term digital display?

As mentioned above, a device itself is akin to a human being who leads a multi faceted life, including learning Toirah, performing Mitzvois, making a Parnassah, Chass V’Sholom, and engaging in intimacy with his or her spouse, significant other, or a quickie Tefillin date.

But if the device is similar to a human being, the words and images presented on a digital display must be similar to the actions committed by that human being. We are told in a Mishnah in Avois that even the holiest man has moments of sin, while the cruelest of men may commit one act that earns him Oilum Habbah, a portion in the World to Come. Take Esuv HaRasha. He may have wanted to kill Yankif Avinu, steal his wives, and make his sons into slaves. But we are told in the Medrish that he was rewarded by Hakadoshboruchhu for his practice of Kibbud Uv V’Aim, as well as for always wearing a fourteen carat gold Chai around his neck. And Yankif Avinu was himself punished for the exploitation of his brother and the deception of his father by having his chosen bride denied to him on his wedding night, and by being told by his sons that Yoisaiph Hatzadick, his favorite son, was eaten by wolverines, penguins and armadillos in the desert.

Consequently, the behavior of an individual is fleeting. One day Reuvain’s actions make him beloved, and the next day they may render him despised. The behaviors, characteristics, and habits of a human being ultimately define him far more than his physical presence. In that sense, a human being is like the hardware, and his actions and behaviors are like the software, the Apps.

Here is a question for you, you Mechutziff: When we discuss Moishe Rabbeinu, do we describe his height and his hair color? Or do we talk about his accomplishments as the Eved Hashem, his great Anivus, and his marriage to a hot African Shiksa. However, even the great Moishe Rabbeinu, of whom we say “Loi Kum B’Yisroel K’Moishe Oid”, had mundane moments as well. He slept. He ate pancakes for breakfast. He occasionally washed the dishes. Not every moment of his life was filled with Kedusha.

So too with the digital displays on a smartphone. At the moment that Divrei Hashem are displayed on the screen, the smartphone achieves its Kedusha potential. But unlike a printed Sefer or a written Klaff, a digital image is fleeting. So its fundamental impermanence ensures that the device itself is not subject to the restrictions of Sifrei Koidesh, and may indeed be brought into the bathroom.

So the next time you are in the Bais Hakeesay with your iPhone, do not worry about your Siddur App. Take advantage of the brief moment of privacy to Google your ex-girlfriends, check stock prices, or go on JDate to find a hot Tfillin date for Moitzee Shabbos.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


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