Why Half-Shabbos?

Sometime this week, the original post on half-shabbos and the squeal on “half- shabbos again” became my all-time most read post. Why?
It is not novel. People already know about these things. Was it just the web effect of going viral? Is it the sensationalism of peering behind a door? Were educators and rabbis really unaware? Was it the name “half-shabbos”? Was it just because it talked about the community and not ideas?

My runner-up biggest posts are on Rav Kook, Rav Amital, Kugel, Green, Riskin, Sacks, and post-orthodoxy —each of these posts had content not found elsewhere. Therefore, I understand why they received many readers. The Riskin post was my third biggest post without any links or discussions on other sites and without going viral, just because I was the only one who covered the topic.
But half-shabbos?? An overheard fragment. Really! Thoughts on why?

14 responses to “Why Half-Shabbos?

  1. I’m not sure people already know about these things. Especially not in Israel where there is no flat rate for texting and teens aren’t glued to their phones like that.

  2. I think it’s fallout from Orthodoxy’s self-definition as the community that knows it is forbidden to drive a car on Shabbos. Unlike the Conservative Law Committee’s permissive opinion, Orthodoxy understood the way the halachic system “really” worked; like R’ Bokser’s minority decision opposing driving, Orthodoxy understood the “true” spirit of Shabbat. The opposition to the Driving decision created a cultural Orthodoxy which united Modern Orthodox and Agudah.

    And now to discover that expensive education doesn’t convince the next generation about the “real” halachic system and “true” Shabbat spirit. All the promises of the apologetics and the polemics are broken. It’s a lot to deal with.

    • Agreed with Prof. Larry. Many Orthodox see the halacha providing them a great solid barrier versus all the awful things out there in the world. The widespread practice within the community of texting on shabbat (not the name “half-shabbos”) is compelling evidence that the great barrier is broken, permeable or illusory.

  3. I facetiously think that people read it and wondered to themselves “is it possible that I can text on Shabbat? Did they make a new phone?”

  4. 1. Luck. I can never predict which of my posts will become popular, reposted and emailed. Sometimes it might come down to the right one person who is personally struck for some reason, and posts it on Facebook or whatever. So yes, it went viral.

    2. Many people live in a bubble. I still do to a certain extent, but I’m much more jaded than I used to be and nothing surprises me. But I can very much recall a time when I was very straight laced, living in a bubble and would have been quite shocked at the great, undreamed of world out there. If you and most people you know wouldn’t dream of flicking on a light switch it can be quite shocking to learn that apparently many people who are supposed to be Orthodox Jews – even if they are teenagers – text on shabbos. By analogy, the classic idea of the tefillin date also was/ is profoundly shocking to straight laced people who live in a bubble.

    3. Many people seem to have understood your post to be either about so-called Modern Orthodox teens OR about so-called black hat teens. People quite naturally tended to (mis)understand it in light of the group which they weren’t a part of, so more yeshivishe folks seemed to take it as further proof that MOxy is krum and more MO folks seemed to be taking it as proof that even the yeshivishe can’t reign in their kids religiously.

  5. This whole texting on shabbos thing makes perfect sense as it was often the smokers who would smoke and the tokers who would toke on shabbos. What makes this interesting is how this has moved from addictive substances to an “addictive” technology which is widespread and not hidden like cigarettes and marijuana among teens. So when parents hear about this they think “hey, my kid sends 100 texts a day, I wonder if she is half-shabossing too?”

  6. I’ll say from my own perspective – I jump to read the stuff about half-shabbos because in my mind it signifies impending doom. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but a) I didn’t know about it before (granted I’m not a rabbi or educator, but it still came as a surprise) and b) because I liked to believe that Orthodoxy had nowhere to go but up at this point in history. So it draws my attention much faster than, say, comparisons of evangelicals that I roll my eyes at to kiruv rabbis that I roll my eyes at. (I understand why they’re worthy of discussion, but that doesn’t change my knee-jerk wish that neither existed as such.)

  7. I would also have to echo the other comments regarding the lack of knowledge about this phenomenon. I have mentioned the concept of half-shabbos to people where I live and find most are suprised, though jaded enough to not be completely shocked. People are aware enough that to hear teenagers are texting on Shabbat doesn’t fully faze them. Yet, the terminology throws them off. Half-Shabbos as a term becomes troublesome for most people to hear.

    I would also suggest that this topic speaks to most shomer shabbat Jews who read this blog because it presents a real, as opposed to hypothetical, challenge of the conflict between the contemporary world and being a believing Jew who wants to follow the law. This especially goes back to the debate in the comments about the issue of whether texting violates a melacha on Shabbat or not.

  8. You know the reason.
    The post I wrote linking to your post was made a “Pick of the Day” by Jewish Ideas Daily. That’s probably good for close to 1,000 hits.

    • Elli-
      Thank you for linking to me. However, I have directly been Pick of the Day on JID -8 times, and several more times indirectly via other people’s articles none of them generated this rapid amount of action.

      • Fair enough. In truth, I should have known that. I prepare the reports from within which the picks are taken (to clarify – I didn’t include my own blog post in the report; the editors read my blog).

        Of the options presented above, I think the most significant element is the name “half-shabbos.” It wouldn’t have mattered if the area of non-observance was texting or smoking or salting wet vegetables.

        Regarding the hits, S. is right. Sometimes we write what we think is a great post, and it’s virtually ignored, and then the something else goes viral when you least expect it. People are funny that way.

  9. Can you post links to the other top rated posts you mention? I found your blog through a half shabbos link and would like to catch up…
    It struck a chord with me because I had just been speaking to a mother of teenagers who has different kids at different schools. She said one of the differences between the crowds at the schools was that the kids from the frummer school were more likely to bring their blackberries over on shabbos! I was confused because her kids are good kids, and everyone at the frum school is supposed to be shomer shabbos

  10. I suspect that “half Shabbos: was so popular because it illustrates the weakness within the Torah observant world, both Charedi and MO, as to why one is a Shomer Shabbos. Until we emphasize the hashkafic and halachic importance of Shemiras Shabbos, stories about half Shabbos will continue primarily because many of us keep Shabbos because that is “how we were raised”.

  11. To be totally honest – it made me feel normal (note that I am a Millennial, not generation Z) I always got the feeling that most people are orthodox, including family memebers (at least two family members became rabbis) because it was the socially normal thing to do.

    It makes me feel normal that these sorts of things exist, and that the outsider5 uber-piety was not in the norm.

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