Texting on Shabbat: Where do you stand?

Texting on Shabbat: Where do you stand?


A new trend is gaining steam in the Orthodox community that has many frightened for the future of observant Jewish teenagers. The phenomenon of “half Shabbat” is literally and metaphorically a hot-button issue: Orthodox teens who practice half Shabbat break the Jewish law of not working on the Sabbath by texting.

Typically for Orthodox Jews, the only circumstance in which it is acceptable to break the Sabbath in such a way is if there is a present and immediate emergency. Teens who choose to text, though, are presumably not in emergencies every weekend; like many high school teens, they do not want to miss a beat in their social groups. Some believe that the act is justifiable because Jews are only explicitly forbidden from writing letters, but in a text, letters are not physically drawn.

University City High School senior Akiva Weiman says that while he doesn’t participate in half Shabbat, he knows Orthodox teens who do. “I do not think that it is justifiable,” he said. “From an Orthodox standpoint, it is an obvious breaking of the laws of Shabbat. There is no Halachic [Jewish law] justification as to ‘writing’ texts because your cell phone is full of lights which are turned on and interacted with when you use your cell phone.”

Some Jewish teenagers have found rationalization for doing something else that traditionally was not allowed on Shabbat. According to Halacha, monetary transactions are also not allowed on the Sabbath. However, some teenagers feel that using pre-purchased gift cards in lieu of cash is an acceptable way to avoid breaking Jewish law.

Many members of the Orthodox community (teenagers and adults alike) are skeptical of, and sometimes displeased with, those who participate in activities conventionally deemed unacceptable. They feel as though teenagers are trying to find loopholes for traditions that are thousands of years old, for convenience. Whether or not people disagree with it, the trend is here, and as teenagers become more and more reliant upon their phones for socializing and communicating, it is probably is here to stay.