Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Computer Use on Shabbat

This post has nothing to do with Lotus or IBM. It does have to do with computers and technology and a different view of making use of them. Do not take my references to religious guidelines as fact for the beauty of Judaism is much of it is open to discussion.

The Jewish Press
arrived today, better late than never after last week's snow but we usually get it after the weekend.

In the 12/31 issue on Page 10 are 2 articles of interest.

The first is a reprinted article from June 2009 which is available online and titled "IDF (Rabinate) Developing Shabbat-Friendly Keyboard, Computer Screen".

The second, which is available online from the Jerusalem Post, is titled "Siddur Going Digital, But Not For Shabbat"

The first article is about צהל or the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) trying to come up with a way for a computer, among other items, to be used on Shabbat. There are whole sections of the Israeli army that are full of Shabbat observant people and this is not an easy issue to grapple with for some of them. It should be noted that in case of danger to one's life or others they can break Shabbat, "normal" times on base or in the field pose other questions.

While I can not debate all the halachic(religious legal reasoning) reasoning, suffice it to say that there are in effect boundaries that can be leveraged for these situations. It is not to say that just anyone can use them, although some may argue to do so, but these are for specific circumstances and go talk to your Rabbi or Rav if you have questions. Many are on Twitter by the way should anyone be interested.

Now what is of interest to note, especially in the 2nd article, is Artscroll, the leader in Judaica print houses, will not put their Shabbat siddurim and Chag machzorim in digital print...for now. The reason is:

But ArtScroll’s most popular books - its Shabbat and High Holidays prayerbooks -- will not be coming out for e-readers like the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. The reason?
The Shabbat prohibition against using electronic devices is a major barrier.
“The vision of people coming to shul on Shabbat with their e-siddur just doesn’t cut it,” Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, president of the Orthodox-run publishing house, told JTA.

The view Artscroll is taking is deliberate and probably appropriate for the time being. One should not cause another to break the laws of Shabbat, no matter whether you argue there are Torah laws or Rabbinic in nature.

If, for example, an iPad or similar device could be designed in a way that could conform to halachic standards, would it be "in the spirit of Shabbat"? This is an altogether different issue.

One can watch TV on Shabbat or listen to the radio, but not change channels or volume or do anything else with it, is it in the spirit of Shabbat? Are discussions about work or anything not to do with Shabbat acceptable or not?

It is not an easy discussion to have.

While many in the print publishing world say everything is going digital, there is still a percentage of people who love the feel of a book in hand. Or for religious reasons can not or will not use the electronic devices. For many it is not an issue, and never will be. Personally I enjoy not knowing what is on or happening anywhere or if there are problems at work for 25 hours a week. It is also a time when I can catch up with my reading.

To close with a media related societal reference, in the "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan " movie, Spock gives Kirk an antique copy of a Dickens classic, "A Tale of Two Cities", as a birthday present and proceeds to read it after a brief dialog.

KIRK: Oh, by the way, thank you for this.
SPOCK: I know of your fondness for antiques.

I guess life just may imitate art...someday.