Half-Shabbos goes Viral for Real (Updated)

It took a while for the Federation paper geared at senior citizens to catch up with my original post last year on half Shabbos.

For those arriving from this half-journalist story based entirely on anecdotal evidence on half-shabbos, know that this is not a message board or chat room. (The older not-in touch author cannot tell the difference.) Comemnts are good, but please read the rules for comments.

An anecdotal article is not usually good journalism or even news, especially for a Federation secular and liberal readership. It may deserve a back article as human interest or as reporting a buzz, but without statistics it is not front page news. But this topic is perfect for a paper who editorial slant for a secular audience runs the gamut from right wing Conservative to left wing Modern Orthodoxy. In a prior article from this same author on the phenomena of Evangelical Orthodox rabbis- the author could not tell the difference between new age and Evangelical.

It seems I cannot live down that original short post and its sequel half-shabbos again?
In the meantime, it has been re-posted on over 1250 FB walls and many tweets. Let me know the best of what people are saying. Also for some we can see how people are using this as a Rorschach image.

In the meantime, I first noted the phenomena with the younger gen y/ millennials – those now 24-27 about 5 years ago. But they still kept it quiet and felt it was a deviance.
Not so, the younger gen z – those in HS now are those who cannot live without their phones.
We do need real studies but it does seem that a high % of mainstream Modern Orthodox FFB kids from committed families are texting on shabbos right now in 2011. This may be a short term blip. Statistics on BT’s, Public school youth, Bais Yakov and year in Israel may be different.
We need to note that it may be a passing wave. It may peak for a certain number of years and we cannot assume that current pre-teens will continue the trend.Without hard statistics it is hard to pin it down. Is it peaking now or getting worse? Many trends tend to be over by the time the media picks up on it.
We need an empirical quantified study if we want to talk about it as a social phenomena.

Why do they do it?
1] Some are truly addicted to the dopamine of computer use, as are some adults. I was told that Rabbi Abraham Twerski has observations on that aspect.
2] For others, it is like telling them not to talk or communicate for 24 hours and they feel trapped. Many of general newspaper articles on teen’s today emphasize that aspect.
3] For a small percentage this is a rejection of shabbos and relgion. Some of it is permanent.
4] But for most they will outgrow it with time. Bear in mind that adolescent rebellion is normal.
5] For some it is peer pressure- all their friends are online. Personally I think this is the biggest group. It is like not being shomer negiah.
6] For others, this is no big deal. Either because the social media age is not in their hilkhot Shabbat books, so from an anthropology perspective it is not categorized. It is still neutral. Or because they consider it a small item. They already know that they are not following every detail in their hilkhot shabbat books.
7] For many this eases the burden or boredom of shabbat observance.
8]Finally, for some it is compulsion and escape. Kids need to contact their boyfriend or girlfriend, or escape the family by contacting those outside of the family.

In all of these, dont assume it is permanent. A kid may do it in 10th grade and then give it up by the end of 11th.

It is interesting that no parents were quoted in the article. Besides the fact, that the author of the article and editors dont have kids in HS anymore, what would be the parents perspective? Last decade they complained their kids were too frum. What are they saying now?

Other issues that thicken the plot:
1] Much of Centrist orthodoxy is based on popular culture, media, and social media.Even the youth group activity and outreach is media based.

2] Shabbos is just not exciting for them. An adult shabbos table with adult guests who whine about taxes or tuition is boring. And long Shabbos afternoons or late Friday nights are dreadful bondage in a parent’s home. Those who were attracted to Orthodoxy between ages 20-35 find community, warmth, and connection in the shabbos table and that was Orthodoxy’s success these past 30 years. But that is not fun for a hormonally raging teen.

And somehow the game of RISK is no longer in. There is less of go out and amuse yourself. All amusement is now bought, done via media, or designed by companies like Disney.

3] There really is a technology gap, in which books and study will all be done online before we know it. It needs to be solved ASAP. Someone will need to take Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to a new level.

4] Currently, there is no Orthodox youth culture that can turn to something to make them superior to their parents. There is no new Hasidut, Mussar, new learning Style, or spirituality to serve as a goal. For many this seems like a problem of the religious coldness of the community.

5] The religiosity of the parents is not as “ideal halakhic” as the rabbis and ideologues want to make it. It is not the lax or indifferent parents but the average even in an above average community. Much of it with real or perceived justifications: I need it for work, I am ill, my case is special, I asked my pulpit rabbi, my youth adviser said it was OK 35 years ago, I read it somewhere in a book, the sale wont go through, i was hot so it was medically needed.

What did I miss? What are the comments of FB and twitter?

Final question:
For the dictionary- Is the correct spelling half-shabbos (with dash), halfshabbos (one word) or half shabbos(two words)?

Update- from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education FB page

“Perhaps it would be valuable to teach the value of self-control in the context of smart phone usage. Kids would get that very quickly.”

18 responses to “Half-Shabbos goes Viral for Real (Updated)

  1. Reading through this half shabbos mess on one side and recalling the writings of Rabbi Frimmer, the Koziglover on the other, I am struck by the lack of the limmud zechus in contemporary orthodoxy. Fine, texting on shabbos is not ideal. Neither is davening after the zman, using a telephone or light on shabbos, wearring passul teffilin, working until R Tam zman on friday or any of the other things Polish American and Lithuanian posekim like Frimer and Hirschensohn routinely defended as less than ideal but somewhat justifiable. I guess yisroel kedoshim heim etc. doesnt cut it in the neoHalachic discourse.

  2. My gut is that limmud zechus is for grownups- was it ever directed at the nonconformity of children? I would say the angst is about controlling kids as much as any transgression per se.

  3. Does this behavior signal a major shift in Orthodox behavior patterns? I’ve personally noticed some Orthodox Jews going from “I’d buy a kindle but I do most of my reading on Shabbos” to “I bought a kindle, and I think it’s ok to use on Shabbos.”

    Technology is reshaping how we consume and interact with media, and how we talk with one another. Will Shabbat remain an untouched oasis? There’s something quite different about turning on a TV on Shabbat and sending a text message. Texting depends on the existence of a network of people, known to one another, who text each other on Shabbat (and perhaps then excludes, more and more, the network of people who do not.)

    If this trend is the result of technology shifting our communication and behavior patterns, what will this do to the halachic paradigm of Orthodoxy? No doubt, neither kids nor adults follow all the rules, and non-halachic behavior is normative in many MO communities (eg women wearing pants, men shaving with razors, etc.). And yet, texting on Shabbat violates strong taboos, at a time when the acceptable range of behavior in an MO community has become narrower and narrower. Does half-shabbos have the potential to cause a rift in the Orthodox community like the mechitza once did?

  4. Reading on a Kindle on Shabbos? Isn’t the Shulchan Aruch (and Mishna Brura) pretty explicit in banning the reading of novels and newspapers on Shabbos?

  5. Digital socializing on Shabbat as a normative behavior is both stimulated by and dependent on the presence of a core peer group who are known to one another to be texting or online on that day. The literature on school-based interventions for bullying has many examples of programs that target the social acceptablilty of being a bully or a bystander through peer pressure. The success of such programs might serve as a model for prevention efforts (together with creating viable alternatives for Shabbat social activities, more meaningful Shabbat education and experience, etc.) based on shifting student attitudes toward digital socializing, such as creating a campaign for students to publically pledge their whole-Shabbat observance. This might include, for example, a slogan or motto that can can be posted as a Friday afternoon status update or Twitter hashtag (or for those who still *yawn* email, an automated reply), such as “Thumbs Up for Shabbat,” or a graphic that can serve as a replacement profile avatar for Shabbat (c.f., http:/on.fb.me/shabbos).

  6. I don’t see half-Shabbos in the terms Mr Shalev is asking about. We are not in the same place we were when mechitzah was an issue.

    This is more about kids who want to water down Shabbos and yet aren’t in full rebellion. I think the contrast is to Kids at Risk, who chafe at the bit and therefore reject the whole thing (at least temporarily) and try to disaffiliate from the community (at least on the overt level). These kids are more loyal to the general message than that. So, I would say it actually has a positive side.

    The cause? IMHO, it’s that High Schools don’t try to inspire anymore. “They’ll get fired up in Israel.” “They have NCSY.” I actually have heard a principal slip and say this, but I think as a subconscious thought influencing educational priorities, it’s ubiquitous.Never mind that NCSY, like every charity, is tightening it’s budget and at least in New Jersey are keeping their focus more tightly on their kiruv mission, not less. (And I have that directly from NJ and national NCSY staff.) Israel will fix all.

    We created a pendulum adolescence: from the time they get their first cell phone until Israel, they are less religious and less observant than we would like. Then the parents complain about how far they “flip out” in Israel. And eventually the pendulum comes to equilibrium, and they aren’t that far from where they started.

    (And that’s assuming your kid isn’t one of those living in the Ben Yehudah Triangle passing around the hookah even at the end of the year…)

  7. If the Torah does not have the power to keep people in the fold, then maybe there’s something not quite right about the message it gives.

  8. Regarding the spelling, contemporary usage is moving toward removal of hyphens and combining words into one. Therefore, a new term should probably be “Halfshabbos”. However, it seems awkward to me. I would go with hyphenated “Half-Shabbos”. “Half Shabbos” seems to me to imply that they only observe half the time of Shabbos, e.g. Saturday morning and some of Friday night but go to a party or the like after the meals.

    • two words unless a compound adjective (“half-shabbos observing”). no reason to hyphenate or run together halfshabbos any more than shomernegia. unless people start to pronounce it as one word, by for example stressing the first syllable over the others. i think most of the one-wordification is with things that otherwise would properly have a hyphen, which half shabbos should not.

    • to be trendy, it would be halfShabbos, which would be a good name for a web site that forwarded text messages with a randomized delay, to make it actually a grama… though my experience with SMS is that there may be a grama delay built in to the network.

    • I agree with Gil’s maskana. While contemporary usage is going away from hyphens, it hasn’t removed them completely, and it often removes them only after first having them for a while.

      And “half-Shabbos” differs from “shomer negiah” in that: a) the word “half” is often hyphenated (see “half-life”); and b) it’s followed by a proper noun.

  9. Something that i have noticed is that I rarely see modox kids flip out anymore (except for maybe the already frum drs kids). I think the reason for this is the proliferation of smartphones in the modox yeshivas.

  10. Yitz, I think it’s MO currently growing through a less judgmental period. Another aspect of what I wrote earlier… No one is making them choose between the MO sociological label and their e-communication addiction. Earlier I emphasized this in contrast to chareidim, where they would be forced to choose between communal affiliation and addiction, and quite often addiction will win.

    The flaw in my theory is the implication in the story that there are a measurable number of half-Shabbos observant yeshivish kids who also are holding on to communal identity. If I were convinced it was true rather than thrown in as a sop to MO partisans, I would be forced to rethink.

  11. On the halachic issue, some historical context can be found in the 1911 Otzar Yisrael entry for Telegraph/Telephone. See:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pagefeed/hebrewbooks_org_2594_32.pdf (article starts on the previous page).

  12. I have to disagree with the comparison of texting to addiction. One of the key components of addiction is that it is controlled by context. It is actually a well documented phenomenon that orthodox smokers are generally able to abstain from smoking on shabbat with little difficulty (Dar et al. 2005; Shiffman, 1991). Which means that when the context contradicts an addictive behavior the addictive behavior is significantly easier to deny. Which leads to one of two conclusions:
    1) the context of shabbat (to these teens) does not contradict texting (they don’t see it as a violation)
    2) It is not that they are addicted to texting and acting in an out of control way but that they would simply rather txt than keep shabbat.
    My bet is with the second point, I see no reason to call this an addiction and take the responsibility out of their hands.

    • Finally, a voice of common sense/reason. The reference to smoking is exactly on point. Chain smokers manage to make it through shabbos without lighting up.

  13. i wonder if the teens that are texting are also doing other things as well: eating in non kosher restaurants, computer and tv use on shabbat….
    according to my teenage daughter over 70% of her class text on shabbat but most(those that text) also do the other things above as well. is it a general laxity or something else?

  14. Pingback: הטכנולוגיה מאיימת על שמירת השבת « מינים

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