Israel's Newest Smartphone Gets a Rabbinic Stamp of Approval

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Cellular service provider Rami Levy Communications has begun selling the first smartphone targeted to Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The smartphone is a Nexus 4 that runs on a modified Android operating system. It lacks an Internet browser that would enable Web surfing. The phone also has no access to Google's app store Google Play, preventing users from installing a browser or any other app that rabbis might consider to be an abomination. At the same time, there is a unique app store on the phone, Afik Store, that offers 750 rabbinically approved apps. These include ones dedicated to the daily study of a page of the Talmud (written collection of Jewish religious law), grace after meals and locating a nearby minyan, or quorum of men for prayer. However, also included are financial apps, like those developed by Israel's banks, and transportation apps, such as Waze and GetTaxi.

Unlike other, stricter “kosher” phones, the new smartphone has texting, email and camera capabilities. However, the USB slot to the phone has been partially disabled to allow its use only for phone-charging and not for transferring files. The phone cannot create a local area network, which prevents users from accessing forbidden websites by latching onto a nearby computer's Internet connection.

The kosher phones will receive their unique phone numbers beginning with the digits 055-668. Rami Levy Communications said that the new smartphone will aid the working Haredi public, which needs access to email, text messaging and other communication technologies but was unable to use them until now without violating the rules of the community.

“There is no doubt that the new phone, which has installed the best protective systems in the world, will make many people's daily routines easier while preventing them from using cell phones that [are not in keeping with] the spirit of the sages,” the company said in a statement.

Rami Levy will market two models of the smartphone. One will have a memory of eight gigabytes and will be sold without warranty from the official importer for NIS 1,550. The other will have 16 gigabytes of memory, a warranty from the official importer and a price of NIS 1,900. Additional models to be offered at lower prices are planned for the future.

A Haredi man with a mobile phone. Credit: Dreamstime
A showcase for limited choice: Rami Levy's new smartphone only offers apps linked to Judaism, business and transportation.
A poster in Jersualem calling on God-fearing people not to use Apple’s hugely popular smartphone.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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