Passers-by look at a new iPad in a window display.
Passers-by look at a new iPad in a window display. Photo by Reuters
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For the gadget-toting Jew, a recent announcement from the Conservative movement about new Sabbath guidelines on the ban on electronics might sound like a flight attendant’s canned directive before takeoff: no cell phones, smart phones, digital cameras or even e-readers.

But beyond the traditional halakhic reasons for pressing the “off button” on the Sabbath — the Torah’s ban on “work” reinterpreted for modern times — the guidelines contain an insight that speaks to the spiritual health of our society: The very gadgets meant to make our lives easier are now shackling us to our work and isolating us from the people around us. And Judaism’s oldest mandate — the Sabbath — might be the key to untethering ourselves.

“Using electricity makes us powerful,” wrote Rabbi Daniel Nevins in the guidelines, which were approved by a committee of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in May. But Nevins, who is dean of the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, cautioned: “Our digital servants have the tendency to become tyrants, and it is nearly impossible to escape their reach. Instant access leads to the loss of privacy and the erosion of social intimacy.”

The fear that gadgets are taking over our lives or becoming an extension of our bodies is not new. But right now, a broader anxiety seems to be rippling through the Jewish community’s disparate, divided domains.

Read more at the Forward.